The white-beaked dolphin has a stocky build and a very short rostrum. They are curious and often approach boats. White-beaked dolphins are found throughout the North Atlantic. During the summer they move northward, and can be found right up to the ice edges on both sides of the Atlantic. In Svalbard they are most commonly sighted from Bjørnøya and up to Sørkapp, but this species can visit boats anywhere along the coasts of Spitsbergen during the summer months.
The white-beaked dolphin has a stocky build and a very short rostrum (‘beak’, 5–8 cm). They have a dark dorsal surface with an erect, strongly curved dorsal fin. They have a white saddle behind the dorsal fin and indistinct white or grey bands along their flanks. Their bellies and their beaks are white.
Adults are 2.5–3 metres long and they can weigh up to 350 kg. Males are somewhat larger than females. Newborn animals are 1.2 m long and weigh about 40 kg.
White-beaked dolphins are curious and often approach boats.
White-beaked dolphins are found throughout the North Atlantic, primarily along coastlines above the continental shelf, but also in intermediate depth offshore waters. They are numerous along the coasts of Cape Cod and Massachusetts, USA, along the south coast of Greenland and in Iceland as well as in the British Isles and along the European coast, south to Denmark.
During the summer they move northward, and can be found right up to the ice edges on both sides of the Atlantic. In Svalbard they are most commonly sighted from Bjørnøya and up to Sørkapp, but this species can visit boats anywhere along the coasts of Spitsbergen during the summer months.
White-beaked dolphins are the most numerous dolphin species in the Barents Sea and although estimates are crude there are thought to be in excess of 160,000 animals in the Northeast Atlantic, with a third of this number coming into the northernmost parts of the region.
The white-beaked dolphin usually travels in small groups of 30–50 animals, although larger aggregations have been reported.
The structure of schools is not known. Like all of the toothed whales, this species uses echolocation to find their food and to move through murky or dark water. They are attracted to vessels, where they like to bow-ride briefly. They are very acrobatic, jumping out of the water and breaching. But, they generally do not stay long with a boat. Their diving behaviour has not been documented. Remarkably little is known about this species. They feed on a wide variety of fishes, and overlap with commercial fisheries quite extensively. They consume herring and capelin, as well as cod, haddock, whiting and hake. They also eat squid, octopus and various benthic crustaceans.
Killer whales and perhaps also large sharks prey on white-beaked dolphins.
Life history and reproduction
White-beaked dolphins give birth in late summer and early autumn, but very little is known about their reproductive habits or other aspects of their life history.
Age at sexual maturity is not known, but females start breeding when they are about 240 cm long and males start breeding when they are about 250 cm long.
Management status and monitoring
Shore-based fisheries for white-beaked dolphins have taken place in the past in Newfoundland/Labrador in Canada, Greenland, Iceland and Norway, and they are still hunted today in some coastal communities in small numbers. There is some incidental catch of these dolphins in trawls and bottom-set gill nets.
In Svalbard, they have never been targeted for harvest although they may have been hunted incidentally in the past. White-beaked dolphins are protected in Svalbard.