Difference Between Dolphin and Porpoise

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: April 30, 2023


Difference Between Dolphin and Porpoise

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Though dolphins and porpoises may seem like two peas in a pod, their resemblance goes no further than the fact that they are both marine mammals—there are rare but notable variations worth noting between the two!

Stumped by the various characteristics of dolphins and porpoises? No need to fret; you're far from the only one! Although the two species may appear alike, distinct qualities distinguish them from each other. Let's take a closer peek at the discrepancies between these two sea-dwellers!

Dolphin Vs Porpoise

At first glance, porpoises might look like pet terriers with their short beaks and stocky body shape, but they are smaller than dolphins with a triangular-shaped dorsal fin, and their mouths are closer set. Plus they tend to stick to shallow coastal waters while dolphins prefer to dip into the depths.

Dolphins: friendly, gray, and showing off their acrobatic skills – they know how to make an entrance! Porpoises? Less flashy, more commonly black and white, and with a different way of navigating the world – they’ve got a "buzz" sonar. On the other hand… you do you, guys!

The most remarkable difference between dolphins and porpoises is their build; whereas dolphins are slinky and trim, porpoises are plus-sized and much rounder in shape. Moreover, porpoises are generally darker in hue and boast an unmistakably stout form. To top it all off, dolphins possess tooth-like structures that typically come in cone shapes while porpoises typically bear teeth with a spade-like shape.

Dolphins make that signature high-pitched "cha-ching!" sound with their echolocation, whereas porpoises stick to their low-key, low-frequency "churr" for their audio signals.

One subtle difference between dolphins and porpoises is their diet. Porpoises feast on a delectable selection of seafood that includes fish, squid, and crustaceans. The diets of dolphins and porpoises differ slightly and porpoises feast upon fare fit for an oceanic kind, including fish, squid, and crustaceans.

Difference Between Dolphin and Porpoise in Tabular Form

The similarities between dolphins and porpoises can confuse, but fret not—they remain two separate species. Don't worry though, this chart should help you tell them apart.

Parameters of Comparison Dolphin Porpoise
Dorsal Fin Shape Long, pointed Round or triangular
Size Larger than porpoise Smaller than dolphin
Feeding Feed on fish and squids Feed on squid and small fish
Teeth Conical and sharp teeth Flat and spade-like teeth
Body Shape Long, streamlined body Short, stubby body
Color Grey, white, and black Grey

Dolphins are distinct for their long, pointed fins and suave shape. Whereas porpoises are notable for their round or triangular fin and typically flat teeth, dolphins' teeth are sharp and conical. Looking up, you're also likely to find them larger than porpoises. Overall they dine on fish, squids, and crustaceans.

What is a Dolphin?

One may often ponder, "What is a Dolphin?" One would probably know that these aquatic mammals are incredibly playful and intelligent, but what sort of creatures belong to the Cetacea order, consisting of whales, dolphins, and porpoises? Of course, those creatures are dolphins!

Not to mention, dolphins have curvier dorsal fins, generally making them bigger than their porpoise pals. Plus, the beaks on dolphins are more pointed and recognizable, whereas porpoises have a flat, triangular honker.

Dolphins have a reputation for being smart and fun-loving creatures. With the ability to communicate effectively — sometimes even using the clever trick of echolocation, which helps them 'see' underwater — these majestic animals can even be taught to show off with stunts like aerial jumps and spins. Impressive, right?

Dolphins may look like your typical fish with their sleek bodies, but there's so much more to them! They have some truly astonishing skills, like using echolocation to sense their environment and using it to capture prey. On top of that, they are the only aquatic mammals that know how to "speak"! Pretty incredible, wouldn't you agree?

Dolphins sure do love socializing, forming pods – sometimes up to a thousand strong – and sticking with their group for the long haul! Their communication and interactions are quite advanced, and the wild is a perfect place to observe them cooperatively searching for food and having fun times together.

Humans have been fascinated by these animals for centuries, often viewing them as symbols of luck and good fortune. Unfortunately, this has led to their being hunted and kept in captivity by various cultures. On the upside, more and more people are beginning to appreciate the significance of protecting dolphins and their native habitats.

Dolphins certainly know how to win us over with their remarkable behavior: curious and friendly, as many beachgoers can attest to when dolphins meet them near the shore. It's no surprise that these charming creatures have won the world over, enchanting us with their talent for unleashing the power of imagination and filling our hearts with joy.

What is Porpoise?

If porpoises had you scratching your head and wondering what in the world they were, don't worry! Here's the scoop: these creatures belong to the Cetacea suborder along with dolphins and whales and have more compact figures, round heads, and beak-like snouts. Mostly these amazing creatures hang out in pods of about five to twenty, though their social interaction is nowhere near as impressive as our beloved dolphins.

When it comes to length, porpoises usually measure from five to six feet! Despite their small stature, one should not be fooled; some species of this animal can weigh up to two hundred pounds - which is quite a hefty payload! They've got a blunt, triangular melon and huge eyes to boot. As far as habitat goes, they like to congregate in shallow, cost-aline areas close to meals of seagrass, small fish, and mollusks like squid and clams.

Porpoises have impressive diving capabilities, allowing them to venture hundreds of meters into the depths of the ocean in pursuit of food and shelter. But it's not all down in the depths - if you're lucky, you can witness their remarkable aerial acrobatics and playful leaps as they traverse closer to the surface!

It's not an everyday occurrence, but now and then porpoises have been known to engage with humans - from games of tag to simply shadowing a vessel, they have a reputation for being calm and welcoming.

Porpoises are perhaps a unique species with remarkable traits; serving as essential components in their habitats, by sustaining the food web, maintaining their pod's ecological equilibrium, and providing many with a delightful sight and experience if they are fortunate enough.

Main Differences Between Dolphin and Porpoise In Points

When trying to distinguish dolphins from porpoises, it's helpful to arm yourself with the knowledge of their intriguing differences! We'll dive into their physical makeup, habits, and where they typically reside, so comparative identification will be a breeze.

Dolphins typically tower over their porpoise counterparts - usually being well over twice their size. Aside from this, their distinguishing features don't stop there - dolphin dorsal fins boast a tall, curved, and distinct triangle shape, while those of porpoises appear more triangular in comparison. Not to mention, their pearly whites don't follow suit either - dolphins have conical-shaped teeth, while porpoises tend to have flat ones. Last, but not least, their flippers have a different flair too - dolphin beaks are long and slender, while porpoises have a shorter, more rounded snout.

A noteworthy contrast between dolphins and porpoises is their vocal capabilities. Dolphins can dive deep into deeper tones and produce diverse noises, while porpoises are restricted to shorter clicks. This gift of the gab is precisely why dolphins can be seen mingling more often in zoos and aquariums than their porpoise counterparts.

Dolphins are known for their sociable nature, typically engaging in playful behaviors like breaching and “towing” other aquatic creatures in their mouths. On the other hand, porpoises are predominantly solitary, exhibiting more passive behavior and not joining in on the fanciful fun.

Are we getting confused by dolphins and porpoises? No need to worry; we've got the low-down on these two species that share some similarities, but look out for the differences. Let's just stick to a few simple points and clear up any confusion!

 Physically speaking, the foremost disparities between dolphins and porpoises are evident: Dolphins possess elongated snouts, a curved beak, and an arced dorsal fin – while porpoises are equipped with shorter snouts that are conic in shape and “V” formed mouths with distinctive triangular or oval dorsal fins helping them stay afloat.

The teeth of dolphins and porpoises make for a recognizable distinction: Dolphins usually rock a set of 80-240 sharp cone-shaped chompers, while porpoises' pearly whites consist of between 6-14 flat little gnashers.

In contrast to the exuberant dolphins that regularly jump out of the water to amuse onlookers, the reclusive porpoises lead to a much more solitary existence without much social interaction.

Have you ever seen a wild porpoise or dolphin? Although telling one from the other from the odontocetes family might be a bit tricky, certain key features can help you tell them apart! It's almost like a fun game to look for the small differences between dolphins and porpoises - that is if you can spot them!

Let's dive into the differences between these two iconic sea creatures! Beginning with dolphins, these aquatic creatures tend to be larger than their kin, the porpoises, whose typical body length spans 6-8 feet, whereas for dolphins it's a range of 5-12 feet. Furthermore, dolphins have long, conically shaped noses, while porpoises are often recognized by their short, triangular "beaks." Impressive stuff!

The keen eye can easily distinguish dolphins by their fins--unlike porpoises, dolphin fins have a curved structure and are much larger. Porpoise fins, on the other hand, are both small and numerous. And let's not forget about the flippers, with dolphins having clearly defined appendages and porpoises having less visible flaps of skin!

Dolphins sure know how to throw a party - leaping and playing with each other, or even beloved toys from time to time. Meanwhile, if your idea of a party is more like a small family gathering, you'd better look out for a porpoise; they prefer not to stray from the familiar, and their tight-knit groups rarely contain more than five individuals.

 When distinguishing between dolphins and porpoises, the sound is a dead giveaway. Dolphins are quite chatty, producing several types of whistles and squeaks whereas porpoises usually remain quiet and take on a more subdued nature by staying below the surface as they travel, yet what remains true among them both is that their sounds are unique: dolphins are known for the vocalizations and water spouting from their blowholes, and porpoises for their ultrasonic clicks.

Astonish them with your newfound knowledge and make sure to marvel at their extraordinary beauty!

Not only do they look different, but they also act differently: dolphins dine on fish and are catch-and-release pros, while porpoises like to partake in a more varied diet of small fish, squid, and shellfish. And that's how you tell the two apart!

Despite their obvious distinctions, these two water-dwelling critters have a few similarities, such as their sleek figures and their habit of producing mid-frequency sounds to communicate. They both use echolocation to inspect their surroundings and hunt down prey, too.


The debate between Dolphins and Porpoise has been ongoing since time immemorial! It may be true that they have a lot in common and we treat them similarly, but they still have some mildly distinguishing traits to make them either a "true" dolphin or porpoise. All in all, it's an interesting debate!

While dolphins have certainly earned their reputation as superstars of the intelligence game, renowned for their social and communication prowess, porpoises prefer a more low-key approach - a solo life with little interaction with their peers. Despite their shared aquatic environment, it's obvious that dolphins and porpoises want nothing more than to be left alone! So it's plain to see, these two sea creatures are as different as night and day.


  • https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/dolphin_porpoise.html#:~:text=Dolphins%20and%20porpoises%20differ%20in,light%20spotting%20on%20the%20belly.
  • https://www.ifaw.org/journal/dolphins-porpoises-what-is-the-difference


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"Difference Between Dolphin and Porpoise." Diffzy.com, 2023. Tue. 06 Jun. 2023. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-dolphin-and-porpoise-1261>.

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