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Common names: 

English: Burmeister's porpoise

Spanish: Marsopa espinosa

German: Burmeister-Schweinswal


Scientific name: 

Phocoena spinipinnis



Length: 1.70 - 2.00 m 

Weight:  80 - 105 kg 


Habitat and distribution:

Burmeister's porpoises range along both coasts of southern South America from northern Peru (05°11'S), via Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, to Santa Catarina in Brazil (28°48'S). There are thought to be numerous gaps in this wide distributional range but it is not clear if these represent true gaps in distribution or simply a lack of observation effort of this cryptic species. Burmeister's porpoises are thought to be a coastal species and are typically found inshore of the 100 m isobath (but are less shallow water dependent than Chilean or Peale's dolphins). Especially in the northern parts of their distribution Burmeister's porpoises have been recorded offshore in up to

1,000 m deep waters. We now see them regularly around Chiloé, but they are one of the hardest species to spot at sea due to their low profile, lack of a prominent dorsal fin and generally elusive behaviour. We call them the "phantoms of the sea"....



Burmeister's porpoises have been hunted mainly for crab bait in southern Chile but this is no longer considered a serious threat due to modified fishing practices. Like all porpoise species around the world Burmeister's porpoises are prone to incidental entanglement and drowning in fishing gear. The extent of this problem in Chile is not known, but there is evidence of relatively regular entanglement events off Chiloé and along the open Chilean coast to the north. In Peru, Burmeister's porpoises are caught and killed in the hundreds if not thousands every year due to incidental or directed takes which is cause for great concern.


Suggested references:

-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.

-Hammond, P.S., Bearzi, G., Bjørge, A., Forney, K.A., Karkzmarski, L., Kasuya, T., Perrin, W.F., Scott, M.D., Wang, J.Y. , Wells, R.S. & Wilson, B. (2012). Phocoena spinipinnis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. <>.

-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.

-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.

Burmeister's porpoise

Underwater photo: © Cayetano Espinosa

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