- Dolphins are often mistaken for porpoises and vice versa.
- Both of these animals are mammals living in oceans across the world.
- The major differences between these mammals are location, beak shape, and personality.
Porpoises and dolphins are constantly mistaken for each other, even though their build can be quite different. They both nurse their young and have incredible intelligence. They are even both warm-blooded, just like any other mammal. Perhaps it is the shared gray color of their skin, but everything from their personality to the shape of their nose is drastically different.
In fact, they don’t even prefer the same habitat in the ocean, and only one of the two mammals lives any deeper than coastal waters. Which animal prefers to live in tropical waters? Which one is smarter? Let’s find out.
Comparing Porpoises vs. Dolphins
As easy as it is to confuse the dolphin and the porpoise in the wild, the two species are quite different. While the chart below covers some of the differences, there are 49 different species of dolphins and 7 different porpoise species.
Indo-Pacific finless porpoise
Narrow-ridged finless porpoise
Dall’s porpoise, which is the largest species.
Pacific white-sided dolphins
South Asian River dolphin
|Color variations||Primarily black, dark gray, light gray, and white||White, pink, brown, grey, blue, black|
|Nose shape||A blunt beak that blends with the rest of the face||An elongated beak that extends from the face|
|Preferred habitat||Cold waters||Temperate or tropical waters|
|Dorsal fin size||Short, sometimes rounded||Tall with a high pointed peak|
The 5 Key Differences Between Porpoises and Dolphins
Though the dorsal fin and the appearance from above the water may fool you, make no mistake – the porpoise and the dolphin have many physical and intellectual differences that can make them easy to identify.
Both are air-breathing, warm-blooded mammals, however, the differences between Porpoises and Dolphins are mainly their appearance. Dolphins are known for a long snout, larger mouths, and a curved dorsal fin. Porpoises are chunkier and have round heads with short snouts.
Let’s take a look at the ways that these two mammals vary.
Porpoise vs Dolphin: A Notable Nose
Perhaps the easiest way to tell dolphins and porpoises apart is the shape of their nose. The porpoise, regardless of the species, has a rather flat nose, and there’s no beak that extends from its face. The dolphin, on the other hand, has a rather long and large nose, extending several inches from the rest of its face.
The rest of their face is much different as well. As a result of this nose, the dolphin tends to have a bigger mouth. They also have a long and lean body and a much larger dorsal fin, directly contradicting the thicker and shorter physique of the porpoise.
Porpoise vs Dolphin: Natural Habitat
The natural habitat seems to be another easy way to differentiate these animals. Both the dolphin and the porpoise will swim in coastal waters as their main location. The porpoise requires waters of no greater than 650 depths, allowing them to live in both freshwater and saltwater. More specifically, their typical location is in northern areas of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, though some live in the Black Sea as well.
Depending on the species, dolphins have a much broader selection in their habitat. They prefer a warmer habitat, so they can be found in a tropical or temperate location with much deeper waters than porpoises will ever venture.
Porpoise vs Dolphin: Who’s Smarter?
The dolphin is constantly praised for its intelligence, but is it truly smarter than the porpoise? Both have incredible intelligence, but the dolphin wins this battle. They have much more curiosity about their surroundings and the people around them. Dolphins even have names for each other!
Don’t sell the porpoise short though! Their intelligence is controlled by a large brain as well, and they still have incredible self-awareness like humans.
Porpoise vs Dolphin: Differences in Color
Even with seven different species, there are extraordinarily few color variations in porpoises. For the most part, they are only seen in black, shades of gray, and white. In fact, the largest species looks strikingly close to the orca whale.
Dolphins, on the other hand, have many colors amongst their four dozen species. While some are deep shades of gray and white, they are also seen in a navy blue, pink, and brown. Some even have unique patterns.
Porpoise vs Dolphin: Sea Life Aggressors
Everyone sees the dolphin as the friendly and fun animal that they typically see during whale watching excursions and large aquariums, but they can be rather brutal. Dolphins have quite a reputation for hunting down porpoises in some kind of entertainment. They’ll bite and throw them, and their teeth have left markings and scars on dead porpoises that have washed ashore. Their sharp teeth leave rather large gashes along their entire body.
Porpoises, on the other hand, don’t typically reciprocate the aggression, even though their teeth would allow it.
Both porpoises and dolphins are carnivorous, meaning they hunt other sea animals. Porpoise diets consist of schooling fish like herring and mackerel. Dolphins have a much bigger range than porpoises, so their diet encompasses fish, squid, shrimps, jellyfish, and octupuses.
Summary: Dolphins vs Porpoises
|Anatomy||Long, extended nose|
Lean body, larger dorsal fin
Thick, short body
|Habitat||Tropical, temperate climate|
Range shallow to deep waters
|Intelligence||More curiosity||Great self-awareness|
|Color||Grey, white, navy, pink, brown||Black, shades of grey, white|
|Personality||Aggression for fun towards porpoises||Not aggressive unless during mating season|
Marine mammals are often mistaken for each other, as their body shapes and colors can be similar. Here are a few other commonly mistaken species:
- 10 Incredible Dolphin Facts – Dolphins are highly intelligent and social animals.
- Gray Whale vs Humpback: What are the Differences? – Different whales are commonly mistaken as each other but are very different.
- Gray Whale vs Orca: Key Differences (And Who Would Win in a Fight!) – Both sea mammals but different in these important ways.
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Do dolphins kill porpoises?
Yes. The porpoise isn’t any part of the diet of the dolphin, but they will still bite them, play catch with their bodies, and ram them. The way that they behave with the porpoise is much like the way a cat will play with a dead mouse.
Can porpoises and dolphins mate?
Yes, it is possible for these species to mate. According to recent studies, the hybrid variations of these breeds have proven to be fertile, and they can produce additional hybrid offspring.
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.