What is the Difference Between a Dolphin and a Porpoise?

Dolphins and porpoises are marine mammals in the same group as toothed whales. Mammals are warm-blooded animals that have hair and drink milk from their mothers when they are born. There are six main species of porpoises and 36 main species of dolphins. Dolphins and porpoises are related but not the same species. They are both highly intelligent creatures. They have some similarities but also differences. What is the difference between a dolphin and a porpoise? Find out below

Porpoise and Dolphin what's the difference

How can you tell the difference between a Dolphin and Porpoise?

At first glance, dolphins and porpoises look alike, but if you take a closer look, you can see distinct differences between them.


Dolphins have long, sleek bodies. They have a pointed beak called a rostrum. Dolphins are usually between 6ft-12ft long.

Porpoises have shorter, chubby bodies. They do not have a rostrum. They have smaller, rounded noses. Porpoises are usually 4ft-7ft long.


Dolphins have flexible necks. Their flexible neck makes it easy fo turn their head from side to side. A porpoise has a much stiffer neck. Porpoises cannot move their heads from side to side quickly. 


One of the main ways to tell the difference between a dolphin and a porpoise is their teeth.

Dolphins have 80-100 sharp cone-like teeth,

Porpoise does not have as many teeth as a dolphin. Porpoise teeth are not pointy like a dolphin, they are flat on top but are still sharp.

Dolphins’ sharp pointy teeth, porpoise sharp, flat teeth


Both dolphins and porpoise bodies are built for swimming. Their tails move up and down and help push them through the water. Both species’ tails are called fluke.


Both dolphins and porpoises have fins. Another distant way to tell to determine if you are looking at a dolphin or a porpoise is from their dorsal fin.

Dorsal Fins

A porpoise and dolphins both have dorsal fins (some species do not have dorsal fins, but most do). A porpoise dorsal fin is shaped like a triangle and looks similar to a shark. A dolphin has a taller dorsal fin that curves back.

Dolphin taller, curved dorsal fin, porpoise shorter, triangle-shaped dorsal fin.

Pectoral Fin

Pectoral fins or sometimes called flippers are the fins that are on each side of a dolphin or porpoise body.


Both dolphins and porpoises have a blowhole. Dolphins and porpoises need to breathe oxygen. Their blowholes let them breathe in oxygen. When they come to the surface their blowhole opens to let the air in. When the animals dive down into the water the blowhole closes so water doesn’t come in.


Both dolphins and porpoises have blubber. Blubber is a thick layer of fat that is just under the skin. Blubber keeps the dolphin and porpoise warm.

Dolphins swimming

Where do Dolphins and Porpoises live?

Dolphin Habitat

Dolphins can be found in all of the oceans of the world and even in some rivers. Different species of dolphins are found in different habitats. Some species of dolphins live in coastal areas and some in shallow waters. Some species such as the Bottlenose dolphin live in warmer climates.

Porpoise Habitat

You can find porpoises in the Northern Hemisphere. The most common type of porpoise is the Harbor Porpoise, these prefer cooler waters.

Both dolphins and porpoises live in groups called pops. Porpoises live in small groups with up to 10 members. Dolphins live in larger groups usually with 5-20 members although in some cases pods of 1,000 have been found.

Porpoise Swimming

What do Dolphins and Porpoises eat?

Dolphins and porpoises have similar diets. They are carnivores, meaning they eat meat. Different species of dolphins and porpoises eat different foods. Most eat a variety of fish including herring, cod, and mackerel. They will sometimes eat squid and octopus.

A porpoise will eat 10% of its body weight daily. A dolphin will eat about 4%-9% of its body weight daily. 

How do Dolphins and porpoises hunt?

Both dolphins and porpoises use echolocation to help with hunting. Echolocation is the use of sounds to sense what is around them. Soundwaves hit objects and other animals and bounce back to the dolphin or porpoise. This is how they can sense what is around them. 

Dolphins and porpoises also have excellent eyesight.

Are Dolphins and Porpoises Smart?

Dolphins and porpoises are both really smart animals. 

  Dolphins are often trained to perform tricks at zoos and aquariums. On vacation, you can even go swimming with dolphins or have a dolphin encounter. You might even catch a dolphin jumping out of the water or flinging themselves forward (beaching) in their natural habitat. Dolphins are friendly playful animals.

Porpoises are smart like dolphins and can be trained but you don’t often see them in zoos and or aquariums. They are shy creatures and hard to catch. Porpoises are not as friendly as dolphins and don’t jump out of the water.

How do Dolphins and Porpoise Communicate?

Dolphins make a variety of clicking sounds to communicate. The clicking sounds can be heard by the human ear. 

Porpoise makes a much higher pitch sound that cannot be heard by the human ear without help from technology.

What are Dolphin and Porpoise Babies Called?

A dolphin baby is called a calf. A baby porpoise can either be called a pup or a calf. 

Can a dolphin and porpoise interbreed?

Dolphins and porpoises do not interbreed and have babies together. 


Dolphins and Porpoises have similar predators. They are hunted by sharks and killer whales. Many dolphins and porpoises are killed by humans. Dolphins and porpoises are known to get too close to fisherman’s nets, they get tangled in the nets and die. 

Are Dolphins or Porpoises an Endangered Species? 

When we think about dolphins we usually don’t think of them as an endangered species. There are a few dolphin and porpoise species that are endangered or vulnerable. These include Australian Snubfin Dolphin, Indus River Dolphin, Hector’s Dolphin, Baji DOlphin, Chilean Dolphin, and Irrawaddy Dolphin.

There are one species of porpoise that are endangered, that species is the Vaquita Porpoise.

Differences Between Dolphin and Porpoise Quick Reference Chart

Friendly and playfulShy
Jump out of the waterDon’t jump out of the water
Sharp pointy teeth (more teeth)Sharp flat teeth (fewer teeth)
Rostrum (beak-like nose)No Rostrum (round tip)
Tall curved dorsal finshort triangle-shaped dorsal fin
Long sleek bodyshort chubby body 
Flexible NeckNot Flexible 
Live in larger groups of 5 moreLive in smaller groups of up to 10

Similarities Between Dolphins and Porpoise Quick

Reference Chart 

Marine MammalMarine Mammal
Use echolocationUse echolocation
Babies are called calvesBabies are called calves or pups
Live in groups called podslive in groups called pods
Use clicking sounds to communicate (we can hear with the human earUse clicking sounds to communicate (we cannot hear with the human ear)
Eat a variety of fish, squid, and octopusEat a variety of fish, squid, and octopus
Highly intelligentHighly intelligent
Predators Sharks, killer whales, humansPredators Sharks, killer whales, humans