Size: 2.4-3 m (8-10 ft)

Weight: 180 - 350 kg (400-770 lb)

Diet: Mostly cod and haddock, also capelin, herring, sandeels and pollock

White-beaked dolphins are toothed whales which belong to the dolphin family. They are one of the most commonly sighted whale species in Faxaflói bay. White-beaked dolphins are very curious and often swim in the bow waves alongside fast ships and boats, thus, common companions of whale watchers in Faxaflói bay. These energetic dolphins are solidly built and stockier than other species of dolphins, a characteristic of smaller whales that have adapted to colder habitats. White-beaked dolphins are most often seen in smaller groups, although occasionally several groups will merge into larger pods with over 1,500 animals. Its name is derived from its light-coloured or white beak. 

Behaviour

White-beaked dolphins often gather in social groups which do not necessarily consist of closely related individuals but rather of both related and unrelated individuals around the same age and sometimes of the same sex. Young male white-beaked dolphins are known to gather into “bachelor” groups, and many groups will often join together into larger groups near feeding grounds, such as Syðra-Hraun. White-beaked dolphins can often be seen playing and hunting around baleen whales such as the humpback, fin and minke whales.

White-beaked dolphins are extremely fast swimmers and are believed to be able to reach speeds of up to 40 kph (25 mph) during the quickest spurts. White-beaked dolphins do not dive to any great depths while hunting prey and usually stay between 5–45 m (16-148 ft.). Dives of any greater depths would be considered an exception.

Reproduction

White-beaked dolphins reach sexual maturity between the ages of 7–12 years, and the female’s gestation period is between 11–12 months. The calves are born in July and August, a year from conception. The group to which the mother belongs helps her raise her young and protects them from danger. Females calve every 2–3 years.

Vocalization

White-beaked dolphins use a variety of whistles to communicate. They also use echolocation on a particularly broad frequency range. They use echolocation to navigate in deeper waters and in the search for prey. The whistle of white-beaked dolphins reaches a significantly higher frequency than is known among other dolphin species. White-beaked dolphins are the loudest at the surface while feeding but rather quiet while travelling or resting.

Habitat and distribution

White-beaked dolphins can only be found in the North-Atlantic Ocean, where they are widely spread along coastal areas all the way from Massachusetts on the east coast of the United States north to Svalbard and Russia.

Life expectancy and population size

It is estimated that around 30,000 white-beaked dolphins inhabit the coasts of Iceland, with an estimated worldwide population of 100,000 animals. White-beaked dolphins are not considered an endangered species. Little is known about the white-beaked dolphin’s life expectancy, but the oldest found was 47 years, and they are therefore estimated to reach an age of 50 years.


Edda Elísabet Magnúsdóttir, Marine Biologist