Phocoena spinipinnis (Burmeister,
English: Burmeister porpoise
Spanish: Marsopa espinosa
French: Marsouin de Burmeister
Phocoena spinipinnis © Wurtz-Artescienza (see links)
The body is robust with a small, blunt head and relatively large
flippers. The dorsal fin is set behind the midline, triangular in
shape and canted backward in an unusual fashion for a cetacean.
The Spanish name for this porpoise "marsopa espinosa"
meaning "spiny porpoise" refers to the series of tubercles
present on the leading edge of the low dorsal fin. Colouration varies
from dark to brownish grey on the back and sides, and a light grey
on the ventral region. A dark patch often surrounds the eye. A dark
grey stripe runs from the chin to the base of the flipper. A pair
of stripes is also present on the abdominal region. Maximum reported
length is 200 cm, and maximum weight 105 kg (Reyes, 2009), however
of 402 Burmeister's porpoises examined in Peru the largest female
measured 183cm and the largest male 182cm. The heaviest specimen
weighed 79kg (Reyes and Van Waerebeek, 1995).
P. spinipinnis ranges on the west coast of South America
from Paita (05°11'S), Peru, south to Valdivia (39°46'S),
Chile; on the east coast of South America from Santa Catarina (28°48'S),
Brazil, south to Chubut (42°25'S), Argentina; and in coastal
waters around Tierra del Fuego (Rice, 1998).
Distribution of Phocoena spinipinnis:
temperate and subantarctic coastal waters around
South America (Hammond et al. 2008; © IUCN; enlarge
Whether Burmeister's porpoise has a continuous distribution
throughout its range is unclear. There are numerous gaps in the
known distribution along both Atlantic and Pacific coasts, but it
was thought that many or most of these simply reflect a lack of
survey effort in the areas concerned (Brownell and Clapham, 1999).
Rosa et al. (2005), however, assessed the genetic differentiation
among Burmeister's porpoises from different localities in Peruvian,
Chilean, and Argentine waters. Clustering analyses indicate a major
population differentiation along the South American Pacific coast,
separating Peruvian from both Chilean and Argentine individuals,
which has implications for conservation strategies.
3. Population size
There are no quantitative data on abundance (Carwardine,1995; Hammond
et al. 2008; Reyes 2009). Burmeister's porpoise is very difficult
to detect in any but calm conditions, a fact that may explain the
discrepancy between the assumed abundance of this animal in coastal
waters on the one hand and the relative rarity of field observations
on the other. The animal's respiratory and diving behaviour does
not lend itself to easy observation: swimming is highly unobtrusive,
surfacing is quiescent, and relatively prolonged dives of 1-3 min
are common (Brownell and Clapham, 1999).
4. Biology and Behaviour
Habitat: This is essentially a coastal species, which sometimes
frequents rivers and estuaries and, off Tierra del Fuego, is occasionally
observed inside the kelp line. Its habitat preferences seem to closely
resemble those of the harbour porpoise, which is typically found
shoreward of the 60m isobath, but occasionally they have been recorded
offshore in up to 1000 m of water (Brownell and Clapham, 1999 and
refs. therein). Although the species prefers close distance to shores
of 100 - 1000 m and water depths of 5 - 25 m, there have been records
from more offshore waters, 50 km from the coast of Argentina (Reyes,
Burmeister's porpoise is found associated with a broad range of
water temperatures. At the southern limit of its distribution near
Cape Horn and Tierra del Fuego, water temperatures range from 3°C
in June to about 9°C in the summer months. To the north, the
species appears to be associated with temperate waters in the two
major northward flowing currents of South America, the Humboldt
and Falklands Currents. The highest recorded temperature associated
with a Burmeister's sighting was 19.5°C in Golfo San José,
Argentina (Brownell and Clapham, 1999 and refs. therein).
Behaviour: A limited number of observations indicate that
it is a very shy animal. Some records suggest that small groups
scatter when frightened, or approached by a boat, and regroup later.
(Carwardine, 1995). There are no reports of porpoising or bow-riding
(Reyes, 2009). Behaviour is inconspicuous; they breathe with little
surface disturbance (Jefferson et al. 1993).
Schooling: Very little is known about the natural history
of this species. Most sightings are of less 2-8 individuals, but
aggregations of up to 150 have been reported in waters approx. 30
m deep, presumably associated with foraging behaviour (Van Waerebeek
et al. 2002; Reyes, 2009).
Food: Feeding is on demersal and pelagic fish, such as anchovies
(Engraulis spp.), hake (Merluccius gayi), silverside
(Odontesthes regia), sardine (Sardinops sagax), jack
mackerel (Trachurus murphyi) as well as squid (Reyes and
Van Waerebeek, 1995; Reyes, 2002; Garcia-Godos et al. 2007). The
stomachs of some Chilean animals also contained small snails, crustaceans
and mollusc egg capsules (Brownell and Clapham, 1999 and refs. therein).
Reproduction: There appears to be a protracted summer birth
peak; most births in Peru apparently occur in summer to autumn.
Gestation lasts 11-12 months (Reyes and Van Waerebeek, 1995; Reyes,
There is no evidence of seasonality in occurrence either off Peru
or Chile and both sightings and by-catches (Peru) are made in all
seasons (Van Waerebeek et al., 2002). A year-round population of
Burmeister's porpoise appears to exist in the Beagle Channel, suggesting
site-fidelity; sightings have been made in every month except August
and September. Data on seasonal movements are sparse and come largely
from entanglements and incidental sightings. At Golfo San José,
Argentina, P. spinipinnis is observed almost exclusively in spring
and summer. This suggests that seasonal movement (either north-south
or inshore-offshore) does occur, although whether this is correlated
with water temperature or abundance of prey is unknown. Seasonal
porpoise movements inferred from capture rates of the "corvina"
fishery off Valdivia, Chile, with animals caught inshore (up to
18.5 km from the coast) in summer, and offshore (18-37 km) in winter,
are biased by fishing methods: fishermen move their nets offshore
in winter. Although it is unclear whether this by-catch truly reflects
movements by the porpoises, it is possible that Burmeister's porpoises
migrate offshore to match seasonal movements of potential prey,
sardines (Brownell and Clapham, 1999 and refs. therein). Movements
of porpoises following sporadic cold-water intrusions associated
with the Subtropical Convergence may account for sightings as far
north as Uruguay and Brazil (Reyes, 2009).
Direct catch: The most extensive known takes occur
in Peruvian waters, where Burmeister's porpoise is caught primarily
in net fisheries, and where it has been used extensively for human
consumption. Mortality in Peru was recently estimated as >450
per year and the high mortality is cause for considerable concern
(Van Waerebeek and Reyes, 1994; Van Waerebeek et al. 1997). Reyes
(2002) states that annual captures in Peru may account for up to
2,000 animals, but current numbers are unknown (Reyes 2009). At
least some gillnets are set with the direct intent to capture porpoises
(Van Waerebeek et al., 2002). It is widely suspected that Burmeister's
porpoises were shot or harpooned for use as crab bait in southern
Chile, although this has been reduced due to modified fishery operations
(Reyes, 2009). However, because quantitative data are lacking, the
current extent of this problem is unknown.
Incidental catch: By-catch occurs in various areas
with-in the species' range, including Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay
and Brazil. Coastal or shark gill net fisheries are responsible
for mortality in Burmeister's porpoise in Argentina (>12 per
year), Tierra del Fuego, and, to a lesser extent, Uruguay. Takes
are poorly documented in all areas (Brownell and Clapham, 1999 and
Between 1991 and 1998, observers stationed at the port of San Juan
in southern Peru observed the landings of 214 Burmeister's porpoises.
Most of these animals were captured in 1992-1994, when the fishers
were mainly using surface-drift gillnets to target a pelagic schooling
fish called cojinova (Seriolella violacea). Capture rates
were much lower in 1995-1998, when fishers were mostly using fixed
demersal gillnets and shellfish diving, due apparently to a lack
of surface-schooling cojinova in the vicinity (Majluf et al. 2002).
This clearly shows how alterations in gear type can reduce cetacean
More recently, South of Santa Cruz and in Tierra del Fuego,Argentina,
the gill net fishery targeted at Patagonian blenny Eleginops
maclovinus and silverside (Atherinidae) was made responsible
for incidental porpoise mortality (Crespo et al. 2007).
Pollution: There has been only one study of pollutants in
this species on eight animals caught in gill nets off northern Argentina.
Organochlorine levels in all animals were low, a finding which is
consistent with the relatively low degree of pollution known from
local waters (Brownell and Clapham, 1999 and refs. therein).
Range states (Hammond et al. 2008) :
Argentina; Brazil; Chile; Peru; Uruguay
Phocoena spinipinnis is considered as "Data Deficient"
by the IUCN (Hammond et al. 2008). The species is included in Appendices
II of CMS and CITES.
Jefferson and Curry (1994) summarise that existing information is
insufficient to evaluate the effects of gillnets on porpoise populations,
but where this is possible, impacts often prove to be severe. Gillnets
represent the single most important threat to porpoises as a group.
Better documentation of catches and new approaches to dealing with
porpoise/gillnet interaction problems are clearly needed in order
to enable an assessment of the effects and suggest mitigation measures
in the case of Burmeister's porpoise. For conclusions and recommendations
for small cetaceans off South America: please see Hucke-Gaete (2000).
· Brownell RL, Clapham PJ (1999) Burmeister's porpoise -
Phocoena spinipinnis Burmeister, 1865. In: Handbook of Marine
Mammals (Ridgway SH, Harrison SR, eds.) Vol. 6: The second book
of dolphins and porpoises, pp. 393-410.
· Carwardine M (1995) Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises. Dorling
Kindersley, London, UK, 257 pp.
· Crespo EA, Dans SL, Koen Alonso M, Pedraza SN (2007) Interactions
between marine mammals and fisheries. In: "The Argentine Sea
and its fisheries resources. Vol. 5. The marine Ecosystem"
· García-Godos I, Van Waerebeek K, Reyes JC, Alfaro-Shigueto
J, Arias-Schreiber M (2007). Prey occurrence in the stomach contents
of four small cetacean species in Peru. The Latin American Journal
of Aquatic Mammals 6(2).
· Hammond PS, Bearzi G, Bjørge A, Forney K, Karczmarski
L, Kasuya T, Perrin WF, Scott MD, Wang JY, Wells RS, Wilson B (2008).
Phocoena spinipinnis. In: IUCN 2009. IUCN Red List of Threatened
Species. Version 2009.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>.
· Hucke-Gaete R ed. (2000) Review on the conservation status
of small cetaceans in southern South America. UNEP/CMS Secretariat,
Bonn, Germany, 24 pp.
· Jefferson TA, Leatherwood S, Webber MA (1993) FAO Species
identification guide. Marine mammals of the world. UNEP/FAO, Rome,
· Jefferson TA, Curry BE (1994) A global review of porpoise
(Cetacea: Phocoenidae) mortality in gillnets. Biol Conserv 67: 167-183.
· Majluf P, Babcock EA, Riveros JC, Schreiber MA, Alderete
W (2002) Catch and Bycatch of Sea Birds and Marine Mammals in the
Small-Scale Fishery of Punta San Juan, Peru. Conserv Biol 16: 1333-1343.
· Reyes JC, Van Waerebeek K (1995) Aspects of the Biology
of Burmeister's porpoise from Peru. Reports of the International
Whaling Commission (Special Issue 16): 349-364.
· Reyes JC (2002) Burmeister's porpoise. In: Encyclopedia
of marine mammals (Perrin WF, Würsig B, Thewissen JGM, eds.)
Academic Press, San Diego, pp. 177-179.
· Reyes JC (2009) Burmeister's porpoise - Phocoena spinipinnis.
In: Encyclopedia of marine mammals, 2nd Ed. (Perrin WF, Würsig
B, Thewissen JGM, eds.) Academic Press, Amsterdam, pp. 163-167.
· Rice DW (1998) Marine mammals of the world: systematics
and distribution. Society for Marine Mammalogy, Special Publication
Number 4 (Wartzok D, ed.), Lawrence, KS. USA.
· Rosa S, Milinkovitch M, Van Waerebeek K, Berck J, Oporto
J, Alfaro-Sigueto J, Van Bressem M, Goodall N, Cassens I (2005)
Population structure of nuclear and mitochondrial DNA variation
among South American Burmeister's porpoises (Phocoena spinipinnis).
Cons Genet 6: 431-443.
· Van Waerebeek, K. and Reyes, J.C. 1994. Post-ban small
cetacean takes off Peru: a review. Reports of the International
Whaling Commission (Special Issue 15): 503-520.
· Van Waerebeek K, Van Bressem M F, Felix F, Alfaro Shigueto
J, Garcia Godos A, Chavez Lisambart L, Onton K, Montes D, Bello
R (1997) Mortality of dolphins and porpoises in coastal fisheries
off Peru and southern Ecuador in 1994. Biol Cons 81: 43-49.
· Van Waerebeek K, Santillán L, Reyes JC (2002) An
unusually large aggregation of Burmeister's porpoise Phocoena
spninipinnis off Peru, with a review of sightings from the eastern
South Pacific. Noticiario Mensual 350: 12-17
© Boris Culik (2010) Odontocetes.
The toothed whales: "Phocoena spinipinnis". UNEP/CMS
Secretariat, Bonn, Germany. http://www.cms.int/reports/small_cetaceans/index.htm
© Illustrations by Maurizio Würtz, Artescienza.
© Maps by IUCN.