Lagenorhynchus albirostris (Gray,
English: White-beaked dolphin
Spanish: Delfín de pico blanco
French: Dauphin à bec blanc
Lagenorhynchus albirostris ©
Würtz-Artescienza (see "links")
The white-beaked dolphin has a robust appearance. The dorsal fin
is in the middle of the back, erect and strongly curved. Adults
grow between to 2.4 and 3.1 m long and may weigh between 180 and
350 kg. Males usually grow larger than females. The coloration is
typically black on the back, with a white saddle behind the dorsal
fin and whitish bands on the flanks that vary in intensity from
a shining white to ashy grey. Belly and beak are normally white,
but the beak may be ashy grey or even darker; it may appear that
a white beak is missing. The beak is only 5-8 cm long (Kinze, 2009).
Populations in the eastern and western North Atlantic are separable
on the basis of skull characters (Mikkelsen and Lund, 1994) as well
as on the basis of the control region of the mtDNA and microsatellites
(Banguera-Hinestroza et al., 2009 submitted). Based on these and
other data, four distinct management units have recently been suggested:
western North Atlantic, Iceland, Northern Norway and British Isles
and North Sea (Evans and Teilmann, 2009).
This is the most northerly member of the genus Lagenorhynchus and
has a wide distribution. Animals in the northernmost part of the
range occur right up to the edge of the pack-ice (Carwardine, 1995).
The species is found in the immediate offshore waters of the North
Atlantic, off the American coast from Cape Chidley, Labrador, to
Cape Cod, Massachusetts; the Southwest coast of Greenland north
to Godthab; off the European coast from Nordkapp in Norway south
through the North Sea to the British Isles, Belgium, the Netherlands
and Denmark . L. albirostris is vagrant to France, the north coast
of Spain, the Strait of Gibraltar, and the Mediterranean Sea (Rice,
1998). It is only seen occasionally in inner Danish waters (Reeves
et al. 1999) and the Baltic proper (Kinze, 2002).
Distribution of Lagenorhynchus
albirostris: cool temperate and subarctic waters of the North
Atlantic (Hammond et al. 2008; © IUCN;.enlarge
Kinze (2009) identified four principal centers of
high densities: the Labrador Shelf including south-western Greenland,
Icelandic waters, the small stretch along the Norwegian coast extending
north into the white Sea, and the waters around Scotland including
the northern Irish Sea and the North Sea.
The main concentrations around the British Isles are off northern
Scotland (including the Outer and Inner Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland
islands) and along portions of the Atlantic coast of Ireland. It
is common in the northern and central North Sea and in the Kattegat
and Skagerrak between Jutland (Denmark), Norway and Sweden. It is
the most common delphinid stranded and sighted in Dutch waters and
is common around the Faroe Islands. (Reeves et al. 1999; Kinze et
3. Population size
In portions of the north-western Atlantic published estimates indicate
a population of at least several thousand white-beaked dolphins
shoreward of the 200m contour between St. Anthony, Newfoundland,
and Nain, Labrador (Alling and Whitehead, 1987) and in coastal and
offshore waters east of Newfoundland and south-east of Labrador.
In the Gulf of St. Lawrence for instance, 2,500 white-beaked dolphins
(in 1995 and 1996) were counted solely in the Strait of Belle Isle
and the extreme north-eastern Gulf (Kingsley and Reeves, 1998).
It seems that at least a few thousand white-beaked dolphins inhabit
Icelandic waters and up to 100,000 the northeastern Atlantic including
the Barents Sea, the eastern part of the Norwegian Sea and the North
Sea north of 56°N. The total number of white-beaked dolphins
throughout the North Atlantic thus may be in the high tens or low
hundreds of thousands (Reeves et al. 1999 and refs. therein).
The most recent total abundance estimate for European Atlantic continental
shelf waters was 22,665 (CV = 0.42) in 2005 (Hammond and Macleod
2006). The highest densities occurred in the waters of western Scotland.
Numbers in the North Sea and adjacent waters, with a population
of 10,562 (CV=0.29) and no statistical difference from previous
estimates of 7,856 (CV = 0.30) obtained in the 1994 SCANS survey
(Hammond et al. 2002).
However, when evaluating genetic variation in the species using
a fragment of the control region of the mtDNA, Banguera-Hinestroza
et al. (2009, submitted) found that it was extremely low (p =0.0056
± 0.0004), comparable only to values reported in cetacean
populations with historically small population sizes or which had
been strongly affected by human activities. Among the populations
that were analysed, the highest variability was found in the population
from the western North Atlantic (Canada) and the lowest in eastern
North Atlantic populations.
4. Biology and Behaviour
Habitat: This species is found mostly in continental shelf
waters of depths between 50 m and 100m and rarely out to the 200-m
isobath (Northridge et al. 1997). Distribution has been linked to
sea-surface temperature, local primary productivity and prey abundance
(Weir et al., 2007).Along the Aberdeenshire (UK) coast, most sightings
were over depths of 20-30 m (Canning et al. 2005).
Behaviour: L. albirostris may bow-ride, especially
in front of large, fast-moving vessels, but usually it loses interest
quickly. Sometimes they are acrobatic (especially when feeding)
and when breaching they normally falls onto the side or back. They
are typically fast, powerful swimmers (Carwardine, 1995).
Reproduction: Females reach sexual maturity at 8.7 years.
The mating season is in July and August, and the gestation period
lasts about 11 months. Maximum recorded age was 37 years (Kinze,
Food: In all areas where stomach contents have been examined,
clupeids (e.g. herring), gadids, e.g. Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua),
haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus), poor-cod (Trisopterus
minutus, T. luscus), whiting (Merlangius merlangus),
capelin (Mallotus villosus) and hake (Merluccius merluccius)
have been found to be the principal prey of white-beaked dolphins.
Others consumed include Scomber, Pleuronectes, Limanda, Eleginus
and Hyperoplus as well as squid, octopus and benthic crustaceans
(Reeves et al. 1999 and refs. therein).
Schooling: Along the Aberdeenshire (UK) coast, average group
size was 4.6, rising to 5.9 when calves were present (Caning et
al. 2005). Generally, groups of less than 50 are most common, but
herds of many hundreds have been seen. While feeding they sometimes
associate with large whales such as fin and humpback whales but
also with herds of pilot whales, sei whales, killer whales, bottlenose
dolphins, white-sided dolphins and common dolphins (Jefferson et
al. 1993; Reeves et al. 1999 and refs. therein). In contrast to
the Atlantic white-sided dolphin, which sometimes mass strands,
the white-beaked dolphin usually strands singly or in small groups.
Co-operative feeding has been described. Dolphins herd the fish
into a tight cluster and trap them against the surface (Reeves et
al. 1999 and refs. therein).
Sightings of white-beaked dolphins are common around Newfoundland
during the winter and spring, and fishermen along the Labrador coast
claim that they approach the coast in late June and remain until
October (Ailing and Whitehead, 1987). Densities on the Southeast
Shoal of the Grand Banks decreased from mid June to mid July (Reeves
et al. 1999 and refs. therein).
Northridge et al. (1997) concluded that white-beaked dolphins around
the British Isles have a fairly consistent distribution throughout
the year, although during spring they appear to aggregate around
two areas of concentration to the north of Scotland and off the
Yorkshire coast. At a coastal North Sea study area in Aberdeenshire,
Scotland, a peak in occurrence was found during August (Weir et
Migration over longer distances are poorly known. However, photo-ID
pilot studies conducted in the Skagerrak and Northern North Sea
established matches between these areas and the Scottish coast (Kinze,
Direct catch: There is a history of hunting for white-beaked
dolphins in Norway, the Faeroe Islands, Greenland, and Labrador.
During the early 1980s an estimated 366 white-beaked dolphins were
taken annually by the residents of 12 Labrador harbours (Alling
and Whitehead, 1987). Hunting in some areas continued in recent
years e.g. in southwest Greenland (Kinze, 2002). There is no evidence
of any major threat to this species in zones under Canadian jurisdiction.
However, careful monitoring of hunting activities in Labrador is
recommended and fisheries by-catches should be carefully monitored
(Lien et al. 2001).
Incidental catch: White-beaked dolphins have been taken
in fishing gear in many areas, and at least the Newfoundland/Labrador
by-catch is substantially under-reported in published accounts (Reeves
et al. 1999). However, incidental catches are not thought to be
high enough to represent a threat to this species (Jefferson et
al. 1993). De Haan et al. (1998) outlined possible mitigation measures
for the pelagic trawl fishery.
Pollution: Like other North Atlantic marine mammals, white-beaked
dolphins are contaminated by organochlorines, other anthropogenic
compounds and heavy metals (Reeves et al. 1999 and refs. therein).
Siebert et al. (1999) reported concentrations of total mercury and
methylmercury in muscle, kidney and liver samples of three white-beaked
dolphins, stranded or by-caught from the German waters of the North
and Baltic Seas.
Noise pollution: Nachtigall et al. (2008) showed that high
frequency hearing in white-beaked dolphins is the most sensitive
of any known dolphin and as sensitive as in the harbor porpoise.
Stone and Tasker (2006) demonstrated that cetaceans can be disturbed
by airguns used in seismic exploration. Small odontocetes showed
the strongest lateral spatial avoidance (extending at least as far
as the limit of visual observation) in response to active airguns.
Responses to active airguns were greater during those seismic surveys
with large volume airgun arrays than those with smaller volumes
Range states (Hammond et al. 2008):
Belgium; Canada; Denmark; Faroe Islands; France; Germany; Greenland;
Iceland; Ireland; Netherlands; Norway; Russian Federation; Sweden;
United Kingdom; United States of Amrica.
The North and Baltic Sea populations are listed in Appendix II
of CMS. However, white-beaked dolphin abundance seems also to vary
throughout the year off north-eastern North America, suggesting
possible seasonal migrations. Therefore this stock (Range states
US and Canada) should also be included in CMS App. II.
IUCN Status: "Least Concern" (Hammond et al. 2008). The
species is listed in Appendix II of CITES
According to JNCC (2007) the species is expected to survive and
prosper. However, sudies of genetic variability of white-beaked
dolphins show that its populations are highly vulnerable; the extremely
low nucleotide diversity is probably due to a reduction in population
sizes in the past, combined with the restricted habitat of this
species to coastal areas highly affected by human activities (for
example pollution and/or fisheries). It should be a priority to
study and protect populations of L. albirostris on both sides
of the North Atlantic (Evans and Teilmann, 2009).
· Alling AK, Whitehead HP (1987) A preliminary study of
the status of white-beaked dolphins, Lagenorhynchus albirostris,
and other small cetaceans off the coast of Labrador. Can Field Nat
· Banguera-Hinestroza E, Bjørge A, Reid RJ, Jepson
P, Hoelzel AR (2009) The influence of glacial epochs and habitat
dependence on the diversity and phylogeography of a coastal dolphin
species: Lagenorhynchus albirostris. Cons genetics 11: 1823-1836.
· Canning SJ, Evans PG, Santos MB, Reid RJ, Pierce GJ (2005)
Distribution of and habitat use of white-beaked dolphins (Lagenorhynchus
albirostris) along the Aberdeenshire (UK) coastline, with new
information on diet. Theme Session on Marine Mammals: Monitoring
Techniques, Abundance Estimation, and Interactions with Fisheries
(R). ICES Council Meeting Documents. Copenhagen. no. 2005.
· Carwardine M (1995) Whales, dolphins and porpoises. Dorling
Kindersley, London, UK, 257 pp.
· De Haan D-d, Dremiere PY, Woodward B, Kastellein R, Amundin
M, Hansen K (1998) Prevention of by-catch of small cetaceans in
pelagic trawls by technical means. Third European Marine Science
and Technology (Mast) Conference, Lisbon, 23 27 May 1998: Project
Synopses Vol 5: Fisheries and Aquaculture, pp. 262-266.
· Evans PGH, Teilmann J (2009) ASCOBANS/HELCOM Small Cetacean
Population Structure Workshop. ASCOBANS; Bonn, Germany, 141 pp.
· Hammond PS, Bearzi G, Bjørge A, Forney K, Karczmarski
L, Kasuya T, Perrin WF, Scott MD, Wang JY, Wells RS, Wilson B (2008)
Lagenorhynchus albirostris. In: IUCN 2009. IUCN Red List
of Threatened Species. Version 2009.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>.
· Hammond PS, Berggren P, Benke H, Borchers DL, Collet A,
Heide-Joergensen MP, Heimlich S, Hiby AR, Leopold MF, Oeien N (2002)
Abundance of harbour porpoise and other cetaceans in the North Sea
and adjacent waters. J Appl Ecol 39: 361-376.
· Hammond PS, Macleod K (2006) SCANS II - Report on Progress.
Document Paper prepared for ASCOBANS 5th Meeting of the Parties,
Netherlands, September, 2006. MOP5/Doc. 26.
· Jefferson TA, Leatherwood S, Webber MA (1993) FAO Species
identification guide. Marine mammals of the world. UNEP/FAO, Rome,
· JNCC: Joint Nature Conservation Committee (2007) Second
Report by the UK under Article 17 on the implementation of the Habitats
Directive from January 2001 to December 2006. Peterborough: JNCC.
Available from: www.jncc.gov.uk/article17
· Kingsley MCS, Reeves RR (1998) Aerial surveys of cetaceans
in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 1995 and 1996. Can J Zool 76: 1529-1550.
· Kinze CC (2002) White-beaked dolphin Lagenorhynchus
albirostris. In: Encyclopedia of marine mammals (Perrin WF,
Würsig B, Thewissen JGM, eds.) Academic Press, San Diego, pp.
· Kinze CC (2009) White-beaked dolphin Lagenorhynchus
albirostris. In: Encyclopedia of marine mammals (Perrin WF,
Würsig B, Thewissen JGM, eds.) Second Edition. Academic Press,
Amsterdam, pp. 1255-1258.
· Kinze CC, Addink M, Smeenk C, Hartmann MG, Richards HW,
Sonntag RP, Benke H (1997) The white-beaked dolphin (Lagenorhynchus
albirostris) and the white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus)
in the North and Baltic Seas: Review of available information. Rep
Int Whal Commn 47: 675-682.
· Lien J, Nelson D, Hai DJ (2001) Status of the white-beaked
dolphin, Lagenorhynchus albirostris, in Canada. Can Field-Nat
· Mikkelsen AMH, Lund A (1994) Intraspecific variation in
the dolphins Lagenorhynchus albirostris and L. acutus
(Mammalia: Cetacea) in metrical and non-metrical skull characters,
with remarks on occurrence. J Zool (London) 234: 289-299.
· Nachtigall PE, Mooney TA, Taylor KA, Miller LA, Rasmussen
MH, Akamatsu T, Teilmann J, Linnenschmidt M, Vikingsson, GA (2008)
Shipboard measurements of the hearing of the white-beaked dolphin
Lagenorhynchus albirostris. J Exp Biol 211: 642-647.
· Northridge S, Tasker M, Webb A, Camphuysen K, Leopold M
(1997) White-beaked Lagenorhynchus albirostris and Atlantic
white-sided dolphin L. acutus distributions in northwest
European and US North Atlantic waters. Rep Inter Whal Commn 47:
· Reeves RR, Smeenk C, Kinze CC, Brownell RL, Lien J (1999)
White-beaked dolphin - Lagenorhynchus albirostris (Gray,
1846) In: Handbook of marine mammals (Ridgway SH, Harrison SR, eds.)
Vol. 6: The second book of dolphins and porpoises, pp. 1-30.
· Rice DW (1998) Marine mammals of the world: systematics
and distribution. Society for Marine Mammalogy, Special Publication
4, Lawrence, KS. USA.
· Siebert U, Joiris C, Holsbeek L, Benke H, Failing K, Frese
K, Petzinger E (1999) Potential relation between mercury concentrations
and necropsy findings in cetaceans from German waters of the North
and Baltic Seas. Mar Poll Bull 38: 285-295.
· Stone CJ, Tasker ML (2006) The effects of seismic airguns
on cetaceans in UK waters. J Cetacean Res Manage 8: 255-263
· Weir CR, Stockin KA, Pierce GJ (2007) Spatial and temporal
trends in the distribution of harbour porpoises, white- beaked dolphins
and minke whales off Aberdeenshire (UK), North-Western North Sea.
J Mar Biol Assoc UK 87: 327-338.
© Boris Culik (2010) Odontocetes.
The toothed whales: "Lagenorhynchus albirostris".
UNEP/CMS Secretariat, Bonn, Germany. http://www.cms.int/reports/small_cetaceans/index.htm
© Illustrations by Maurizio Würtz, Artescienza.
© Maps by IUCN.