Change text size
Choose your language:

Whale Watching


Taxonomy of Whales

Classification of the order of Cetacea (whales, dolphins and porpoises)

On this page


Taxonomy represents our attempts to classify nature. The methods used to designate species and subspecies are varied and not always precise. In recent years, genetic information has been used to reclassify certain previously accepted designations of species and subspecies. Such work continues. In fact, from a management perspective, information at a smaller level than species (i.e. populations) is required. The tables below represent the list of scientific and common names accepted by the IWC Scientific Committee at the time of writing. Note that the common name ‘whale’, is often associated with species other than the ‘great whales’ (the baleen whales plus the sperm whale).

The 1946 Convention does not define a ‘whale’, although a list of names in a number of languages was annexed to the Final Act of the Convention. Some Governments take the view that the IWC has the legal competence to regulate catches of only these named great whales (the baleen whales and the sperm whale). Others believe that all cetaceans, including the smaller dolphins and porpoises, also fall within IWC jurisdiction.

The following tables are split into baleen and toothed cetaceans and include all species currently recognised by the Scientific Committee.

Suborder Mysticeti (baleen whales or mysticetes)
FamilyScientific nameIWC Common name




Family Balaenidae

Eubalaena australis

southern right whale


Eubalaena glacialis

North Atlantic right whale


Eubalaena japonica

North Pacific right whale


Balaena mysticetus

bowhead whale


Family Neobalaenidae

Caperea marginata

pygmy right whale




Family Eschrichtiidae

Eschrichtius robustus

gray whale




Family Balaenopteridae

Balaenoptera acutorostrata

Common minke whale


Balaenoptera bonaerensis

Antarctic minke whale


Balaenoptera borealis

sei whale


Balaenoptera edeni *

Bryde's whale


Balaenoptera musculus

blue whale


Balaenoptera physalus

fin whale

  Balaenoptera omurai Omura’s whale


Megaptera novaeangliae

humpback whale

 * includes more than one species, but nomenclature still unsettled



Suborder Odontoceti (toothed whales or odontocetes)
FamilyScientific nameIWC Common name




Family Physeteridae

Physeter macrocephalus

sperm whale




Family Kogiidae

Kogia breviceps

pygmy sperm whale


Kogia sima

dwarf sperm whale




Family Platanistidae

Platanista gangetica gangetica

South Asian river dolphin




Family Pontoporiidae

Pontoporia blainvillei



Family Lipotidae

Lipotes vexillifer



Family Iniidae

Inia geoffrensis





Family Monodontidae

Delphinapterus leucas

white whale


Monodon monoceros


Family Phocoenidae

Phocoena phocoena

harbour porpoise


Phocoena spinipinnis

Burmeister's porpoise


Phocoena sinus



Phocoena dioptrica

spectacled porpoise


Neophocaena phocaenoides

finless porpoise


Phocoenoides dalli

Dall's porpoise




Family Delphinidae

Steno bredanensis

rough-toothed dolphin


Sousa chinensis

Indo-Pacific hump-backed dolphin


Sousa teuszii

Atlantic humpback dolphin


Sotalia fluviatilis


  Sotalia guianensis Guiana dolphin


Lagenorhynchus albirostris

white-beaked dolphin


Lagenorhynchus acutus

Atlantic white-sided dolphin


Lagenorhynchus obscurus

dusky dolphin


Lagenorhynchus obliquidens

Pacific white-sided dolphin


Lagenorhynchus cruciger

hourglass dolphin


Lagenorhynchus australis

Peale's dolphin


Grampus griseus

Risso's dolphin


Tursiops truncatus

Common bottlenose dolphin


Tursiops aduncus

Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin


Stenella frontalis

Atlantic spotted dolphin


Stenella attenuata

pantropical spotted dolphin


Stenella longirostris

spinner dolphin


Stenella clymene

clymene dolphin


Stenella coeruleoalba

striped dolphin


Delphinus delphis

common dolphin


Delphinus capensis

long-beaked common dolphin


Lagenodelphis hosei

Fraser's dolphin


Lissodelphis borealis

northern right whale dolphin


Lissodelphis peronii

southern right whale dolphin


Cephalorhynchus commersonii

Commerson's dolphin


Cephalorhynchus eutropia

Chilean dolphin


Cephalorhynchus heavisidii

Heaviside's dolphin


Cephalorhynchus hectori

Hector's dolphin


Peponocephala electra

melon-headed whale


Feresa attenuata

pygmy killer whale


Pseudorca crassidens

false killer whale


Orcinus orca

killer whale


Globicephala melas

long-finned pilot whale


Globicephala macrorhynchus

short-finned pilot whale


Orcaella brevirostris

Irrawaddy dolphin

  Orcaella heinsohni Australian snubfin dolphin

Family Ziphiidae

Tasmacetus shepherdi

Shepherd's beaked whale


Berardius bairdii

Baird's beaked whale


Berardius arnuxii

Arnoux's beaked whale


Indopacetus pacificus

Longman's beaked whale


Mesoplodon bidens

Sowerby's beaked whale


Mesoplodon densirostris

Blainville's beaked whale


Mesoplodon europaeus

Gervais' beaked whale


Mesoplodon layardii

strap-toothed whale


Mesoplodon hectori

Hector's beaked whale


Mesoplodon grayi

Gray's beaked whale


Mesoplodon stejnegeri

Stejneger's beaked whale


Mesoplodon bowdoini

Andrews' beaked whale


Mesoplodon mirus

True's beaked whale


Mesoplodon ginkgodens

ginkgo-toothed beaked whale


Mesoplodon carlhubbsi

Hubbs' beaked whale

  Mesoplodon perrini Perrin's beaked whale


Mesoplodon peruvianus

pygmy beaked whale


Mesoplodon traversii

spade-toothed whale


Ziphius cavirostris

Cuvier's beaked whale


Hyperoodon ampullatus

northern bottlenose whale


Hyperoodon planifrons

southern bottlenose whale