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The teeth can be used to identify families and even age cetaceans once they have passed away.

The teeth can be used to identify families and even age cetaceans once they have passed away.

Top left and middle, lumbar vertebrae from a harbour porpoise and pilot whale respectively, and top right, thoracic vertebra from a pilot whale.

Top left and middle, lumbar vertebrae from a harbour porpoise and pilot whale respectively, and top right, thoracic vertebra from a pilot whale.

With 37 members, the delphinid family is the largest and most diverse of all the odontocete families.

With 37 members, the delphinid family is the largest and most diverse of all the odontocete families.


Whales, dolphins and porpoises belong to the Order Cetacea. The following taxonomy provides the most complete and up-to-date* reference in terms of current research in the field of cetacean classification. The list provides common (vernacular) names, scientific names and the names of subspecies where these have been described. A number of the subspecies below have not yet been named, and in such cases these are simply referred to as subsp. in the list. The common names assigned for these animals are typically based upon their distribution.

The links below are directed to a detailed fact sheet for those cetacean species most commonly found in the Moray Firth study area.

Order CETACEA (87 species)

Suborder MYSTICETI: The Baleen (Moustached) Whales (14 species)

Baleen whales are filter feeders which sieve food from the seawater with baleen – hair-fringed plates made from keratin (the same material as our fingernails). The minke whale is the most common of the baleen whales in the Moray Firth, although other mysticete species recorded in these waters include the fin whale, sei whale and the humpback whale.

Family Balaenidae. Right whales

Eubalaena glacialis North Atlantic right whale  
Eubalaena australis Southern right whale  
Eubalaena japonica North Pacific right whale  
Balaena mysticetus Bowhead whale  

Family Neobalaenidae. Pygmy right whale

Caperea marginata Pygmy right whale  

Family Eschrichtiidae. Gray whale

Eschrichtius robustus Gray whale  

Family Balaenopteridae. Rorqual whales (8 species)

Subfamily Megapterinae

Megaptera novaengliae Humpback whale  

Subfamily Balaenopterinae

Balaenoptera acutorostrata Minke whale

B. a. acutorostrata Atlantic minke Whale
B. a. scammoni
North Pacific minke Whale
B. a. subsp. Dwarf minke Whale

Balaenoptera bonarensis Antarctic minke whale  

Balaenoptera edeni

Eden’s whale  

Balaenoptera brydei

Bryde’s whale  

Balaenoptera borealis

Sei whale

B. b. borealis Northern sei whale
B. b. schlegllii Southern sei whale

Balaenoptera physalis Fin whale

B. p. physalus Northern fin whale
B.p. quoyi Southern fin whale


Balaenoptera musculus


Blue whale B. m. musculus Northern blue whale
B. m. indica Indian Ocean blue whale
B. m. brevicauda
Pygmy blue whale
B. m. intermedia
Southern blue whale

Suborder ODONTOCETI: The Toothed Whales (73 species)

This group contains the beaked whales (Ziphiidae), the freshwater river dolphins, the beluga and narwhal (Monodontidae), the dolphin species (Delphinidae), the porpoises (Phocoenidae) and the sperm and pygmy sperm whales (Physeteridae and Kogiidae). Of the beaked whales, only the Northern bottlenose, Sowerby's beaked whale and the Cuvier's beaked whale have been recorded in the Moray Firth. Sperm whales sporadically occur in this area of the North Sea, but the individuals entering this shallow Scottish firth usually become stranded on the beaches.

Family Physeteridae. Sperm whale

Physeter macrocephalus Sperm whale  

Family Kogiidae. Pygmy sperm whales

Kogia breviceps Pygmy sperm whale  
Kogia simia Dwarf sperm whale  

Family Ziphiidae. Beaked whales (21 species)

Ziphius cavirostris Cuvier’s beaked whale  
Berardius arnuxii Arnoux’s beaked whale  
Berardius bairdii North Pacific bottlenose whale  
Tasmacetus shepherdi Tasman beaked whale  

Subfamily Hyperoodontidae

Indopacetus pacificus Indo-Pacific beaked whale  
Hyperoodon ampullatus Northern bottlenose whale  
Hyperoodon planifrons Southern bottlenose whale  

Mesoplodon hectori

Hector’s beaked whale  

Mesoplodon mirus

True’s beaked whale  

Mesoplodon europaeus

Gervais’ beaked whale  

Mesoplodon bidens

Sowerby’s beaked whale  

Mesoplodon grayi

Gray’s beaked whale  

Mesoplodon peruvianus

Pygmy beaked whale  

Mesoplodon bowdoini

Andrew’s beaked whale  

Mesoplodon bahamondi

Bahamonde’s beaked whale  

Mesoplodon carlhubbsi

Hubb’s beaked whale  

Mesoplodon gingkgodens

Ginko-toothed beaked whale  

Mesoplodon stejnegeri

Stejneger’s beaked whale  

Mesoplodon layardii

Layard’s beaked whale  
Mesoplodon densirostris Blainville’s beaked whale  

Family Platanistidae. Indian river-dolphin

Platanista gangetica Indian river-dolphin

P. g. minor Indus river-dolphin
P. g. gangetica Ganges river-dolphin

Family Iniidae. Amazon river-dolphin

Inia geoffrensis Amazon river-dolphin I. g. humboldtiana Orinoco river-dolphin
I. g. geoffrensis
Amazon river-dolphin
I. g. boliviensis
Rio Madeira river-dolphin

Family Lipotidae. Chinese river-dolphin

Lipotes vexillifer Yangtse river-dolphin  

Family Pontoporiidae. La Plata dolphin

Pontoporia blainvillei La Plata dolphin  

Family Monodontidae. Beluga and narwhal

Monodon monocerus Narwhal  
Delphinapterus leucas Beluga  

Family Delphinidae. Dolphins (37 species)

Cephalorhynchus commersonii

Commerson’s dolphin  

Cephalorhynchus eutropia

Chilean dolphin  

Cephalorhynchus heavisidii

Heaviside’s dolphin  

Cephalorhynchus hectori

Hector’s dolphin  

Stena bredanensis

Rough-toothed dolphin  

Sousa teuszi Atlantic

Humpback dolphin  

Sousa plumbea

Indian humpback dolphin  

Sousa chinensis

Pacific humpback dolphin  

Sotalia fluviatilis

Tucuxi S. f. guianensis Atlantic coast tucuxi
S. f. fluviatilis
Amazon river tucuxi

Tursiops truncatus

Bottlenose dolphin  

Tursiops aduncus

Indian Ocean bottlenose dolphin  

Stenella attenuata


Pantropical spotted dolphin S. a. graffmani Eastern Pacific coastal spotted dolphin
S. a. subsp.
Hawaiian spotted dolphin
S. a. subsp.
Eastern Pacific offshore spotted dolphin

Stenella frontalis

Atlantic spotted dolphin  

Stenella longirostris


Spinner dolphin

S. l. longirostris Cosmopolitan spinner dolphin
S. l. orientalis Tropical Pacific spinner dolphin
S. l. centroamericana Central American spinner dolphin

Stenella clymene

Clymene dolphin  

Stenella coeruleoalba

Striped dolphin  

Delphinus delphis

Short-beaked common dolphin  

Delphinus capensis

Long-beaked common dolphin  

Delphinus tropicalis

Arabian common dolphin  

Lagenodelphis hosei

Fraser’s dolphin  

Lagenorhynchus albirostris

White-beaked dolphin  

Lagenorhynchus acutus

Atlantic whitesided dolphin  

Lagenorhynchus obliquidens

Pacific whitesided dolphin  

Lagenorhynchus obscurus

Dusky dolphin

L. o. fitzroyi South American dusky dolphin
L. o. obscurus South African dusky dolphin
L. o. subsp.
New Zealand dusky dolphin

Lagenorhynchus australis

Blackchinned dolphin  

Lagenorhynchus cruciger

Hourglass dolphin  

Lissodelphis borealis

Northern right-whale dolphin  

Lissodelphis peronii

Southern right-whale dolphin  

Grampus griseus

Risso’s Dolphin  

Peponocephala electra

Melonheaded whale  

Feresa attenuata

Pygmy killer whale  

Pseudorca crassidens

False killer whale  

Orcinus orca

Killer whale  

Globicephala melas

Long-finned pilot whale  

Globicephala macrorhyncus

Short-finned pilot whale  
Orcaella brevirostris Irrawaddy dolphin  
Orcaella heinsohni Australian snubfin dolphin  

Family Phocoenidae. Porpoises (6 Species)

Neophocaena phocaenoides Finless porpoise N. p. phocaenoides Indo-Pacific finless porpoise
N. p. sunameri Chinese finless porpoise
N. p. asiaorientalis Yangtse finless porpoise
Phocoena phocoena Harbour porpoise P. p. phocoena North Atlantic harbour Porpoise
P. p. subsp.
Western North Pacific harbour Porpoise
P. p. vomerina
Eastern North Pacific harbour Porpoise
Phocoena sinus Golfa de California porpoise or Vaquita
Austrophocaena dioptrica Spectacled porpoise  
Phocoena spinipinnis Black porpoise or Burmeister's porpoise
Phocoenoides dalli Dall’s porpoise P. d. dalli North Pacific Dall’s porpoise
P. d. truei
West Pacific Dall’s porpoise

* Rice, D.W. (1998). Marine Mammals of the World. Systematics and Distribution. Special Publication No.4. The Society for Marine Mammalogy.

International Whaling Commission (2001). Annex U. Report of the Working Group on Nomenclature. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management.3: 363 - 365.

Hoezel (Ed.) (2001). Marine Mammal Biology: An Evolutionary Approach. Blackwell Science Ltd. Oxford.

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