Lissodelphis peroniisouthern right whale dolphin

Geographic Range

Southern right whale dolphins (Lissodelphis peronii) have a circumpolar distribution near the sub-Antarctic Polar Front, which is the location where Antarctic surface waters that are moving northward sink below sub-Antarctic waters. It has also been commonly seen year-round around Chatham Island and the Falkland Islands. Their range reaches as far south as the Antarctic Convergence around 58 to 61 degrees south latitude and as far north as the Subtropical Convergence off the shores of Peru and Chile. (Riffenburgh, 2007; Rose and Payne, 1991; Skinner and Chimimba, 2005)


Southern right whale dolphins are pelagic, occupying cool waters that are deep offshore and are 8 to 19 degrees Celsius. They often dive to depths of 200 meters in search of food. (Jefferson, et al., 1994)

  • Average depth
    200 m
    656.17 ft

Physical Description

Adult southern right whale dolphins are predominantly white on their ventral side and black dorsally. On the posterior flank, the two colors meet and curve downward to the flipper insertion, then swing upward to the melon, which is the swollen portion of a dolphin's head that produces vocalizations, in front of the blowhole. The beak, the anterior melon, and the flippers are white. The dorsal side of the flukes are grey. Variations have been reported, including white spots on the head and the amount of the black and white coloration. Calves are born with brown or grey areas instead of black and white, but develop adult coloration within their first year. The southern right whale dolphin is characterized by a lack of a dorsal fin or ridge. The genus name, Lissodelphis, describes this characteristic. It is derived from the Greek words lisso, meaning smooth, and delphis meaning dolphin. Some additional body shape characteristics include: a slender, compressed body, a short but well-defined beak, small, recurved flippers, and slightly concave flukes with a deep notch in the median. These dolphins are normally 2 to 3 m long, rarely exceeding 3.1 m. Adult weights can reach 59 to 100 kg, with males being larger. (Jefferson, et al., 1994; Jefferson, et al., 1993; Kalman, 2003; Klinowska, 1991; Newcomer, et al., 1996)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Average mass
    59 to 100 kg
  • Range length
    3.1 (high) m
    10.17 (high) ft
  • Average length
    2 to 3 m


There is no published information on the mating systems of southern right whale dolphins. Even though the exact calving season is not known, most sightings of calves are in winter or early spring. Research suggests that males reach sexual maturity at lengths between 212 and 220 cm and females between 206 and 212 cm. (Jefferson, et al., 1994)

Little is known about the reproduction cycles of the southern right whale dolphins. Only six pregnant female dolphins have been seen stranded, and the reproductive behavior of these individuals were not investigated. (Cruickshank and Brown, 1981; Jefferson, et al., 1994)

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • viviparous

Nothing is known regarding parental investment strategies of southern right whale dolphins.


No published data report on the lifespan of the southern right whale dolphin in the wild. However, in a closely-related species, the northern right whale dolphin, the lifespan is listed as 42 years. It is expected that the southern relative's lifespan is similar. In captivity, southern right whale dolphins do not survive long. The average dolphin lives just 3 weeks, but one has been recorded living up to 15 months. (Jefferson, et al., 1994; Newcomer, et al., 1996; Visser, et al., 2004)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    1 to 15 months


Southern right whale dolphins are gregarious, meaning they are sociable and prefer being surrounded by others. The average herd size is 210 individuals, although reports of herd containing up to 1000 individuals exist. Southern right whale dolphins interact with other marine species, including dolphins and pilot whales. When swimming in slow-moving groups, the dolphins only expose the head and blowhole above the water surface to breathe. In fast-moving groups, the herds may demonstrate two different strategies. The first strategy is to swim rapidly just below the surface, quickly rising to breathe, then going back under. The other strategy is to also swim rapidly at the surface, but to perform low angle leaps and create a surface disturbance. They also perform numerous tricks while swimming fast including belly flops, side slaps, and fluke slaps. With their long, slender bodies, they can also reduce the amount of drag by taking numerous tail strokes while the rest of the body is primarily out of the water. Southern right whale dolphins are known to be fast swimmers, but very few direct speed measurements in open ocean are on record. When diving, individual dolphins have been recorded to dive for 10 to 75 seconds, but entire herds can dive up to 6.5 minutes. In the company of other species, southern right whale dolphins will usually ride the bow waves created by ships in the ocean. When alone, most dolphins avoid ships. (Jefferson, et al., 1994; Jefferson, et al., 1994; Jefferson, et al., 1993; Newcomer, et al., 1996)

Home Range

There is no reported home range for southern right whale dolphins.

Communication and Perception

There are no recorded sounds describing southern right whale dolphin vocalizations. The closely related northern right whale dolphins vocalize in clicks at high repetitious rates, also using a few whistles. Southern right whale dolphins use echolocation to help them perceive their environment if other individuals are nearby. (Jefferson, et al., 1994; Lipsky, 2008)

Food Habits

Southern right whale dolphins primarily feed on mesopelagic fishes, describing fish that swim at depths between 200 and 1000 meters. These include laternfish, bigeye tuna, and squids. (Allen, et al., 2011; Jefferson, et al., 1994; Klinowska, 1991)

  • Animal Foods
  • fish
  • mollusks


There are no records of predation for southern right whale dolphins, but killer whales, Patagonian toothfish, and sleeper sharks are likely predators. (Jefferson, et al., 1994)

Ecosystem Roles

While effects of most parasites are largely unknown, a few are known to cause harm to the southern right whale dolphin. The trematode fluke (Nasitrema) can cause major damage to the air sinuses, inner ears, and brain. This is so severe that it has been stated as an influence in the stranding and death of some southern right whale dolphins. A Rhabditea parasite (Stenurus) damages the lungs of the dolphins, while the parasite (Anisakis simplex) causes deleterious effects on the stomach. (Jefferson, et al., 1994; Newcomer, et al., 1996)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Southern right whale dolphins are occasionally caught for food or crab bait off the coasts of Peru and Chile. (Jefferson, et al., 1993; Newcomer, et al., 1996)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known negative economic influences of the southern right whale dolphins.

Conservation Status

Currently, the southern right whale dolphin is not at the center of conservation efforts. Although they are deemed abundant, research about them is still lacking and they are listed as "Data Deficient" on the IUCN Red List. ("Lissodelphis peronii", 2012; Jefferson, et al., 1993; Newcomer, et al., 1996)


Erica Stanley (author), Radford University, Laura Podzikowski (author), Special Projects, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, Kiersten Newtoff (editor), Radford University, Melissa Whistleman (editor), Radford University.



lives on Antarctica, the southernmost continent which sits astride the southern pole.


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


The process by which an animal locates itself with respect to other animals and objects by emitting sound waves and sensing the pattern of the reflected sound waves.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


An aquatic biome consisting of the open ocean, far from land, does not include sea bottom (benthic zone).


an animal that mainly eats fish


the regions of the earth that surround the north and south poles, from the north pole to 60 degrees north and from the south pole to 60 degrees south.

saltwater or marine

mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


uses sound above the range of human hearing for either navigation or communication or both


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


2012. "Lissodelphis peronii" (On-line). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed February 08, 2012 at

Allen, S., J. Mortenson, S. Webb. 2011. Field Guide to Marine Mammals of the Pacific Coast: Baja, California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia. California: University of California Press.

Brown, S. 1973. Recent sight records of southern right whale dolphins in the Pacific Ocean. The Marine Observer, 43: 78-80.

Cruickshank, R., S. Brown. 1981. Recent observations and some historical records of Southern right whale dolphins Lissodelphis peronii. Fisheries Bulletin South Africa, 15: 109-121.

Culik, B. 2004. Review of Small Cetaceans: Distribution, Behavior, Migration and Threats. Germany: United Nations Environment Programme & Conservation of Migratory Species.

Jefferson, T., M. Newcomer, S. Leatherwood, K. Van Waerebeek. 1994. Right Whale Dolphins Lissodelphis borealis and Lissodelphis peronii.. Pp. 335-362 in S Ridgway, R Harrison, eds. Handbook of Marine Mammals, Vol. 5. London: University Academic Press Limited.

Jefferson, T., S. Leatherwood, M. Webber. 1993. Marine Mammals of the World: FAO Species Identification. Rome, Italy: Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations & United Nations Environment Programme.

Kalman, B. 2003. Dolphins Around the World. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company.

Klinowska, M. 1991. Dolphins, Porpoises and Whales of the World: the IUCN Red Data Book. Cambridge: IUCN.

Lipsky, J. 2008. Right Whale dolphins. Pp. 958-962 in W Perrin, B Wursig, J Thewissem, eds. Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals, Vol. 2, Second Edition. London: Academic Press.

Newcomer, M., T. Jefferson, R. Brownell. 1996. Lissodelphis peronii. Mammalian Species, 531: 1-5.

Riffenburgh, B. 2007. Small cetaceans: overview. Pp. 216-217 in Encyclopedia of the Antarctic, Vol. 1, First Edition. New York: CRC Press.

Rose, B., A. Payne. 1991. Occurrence and behavior of the Southern right whale dolphin Lissodelphis peronii off Namibia. Marine Mammal Science, 7: 25-34.

Skinner, J., C. Chimimba. 2005. The Mammals of the South African Subregion. London: Cambridge University Press.

Visser, I., D. Fertl, L. Pusser. 2004. Melanistic Southern right-whale dolphins (Lissodelphis peronii) off Kaikoura, New Zealand, with records of other anomalously all-black cetacean. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 38: 833-836.