Indo-Pacific finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides)

GenusNeophocaena (1)
SizeLength: c. 170 cm (2)
Weightc. 70 kg (2)

The Indo-Pacific finless porpoise is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed in Appendix I of CITES (3).

As its name suggests, the Indo-Pacific finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides) lacks a dorsal fin (4), and instead has a ridge that runs down the middle of its back (2). The Indo-Pacific finless porpoise can also be distinguished by its rounded head, which lacks an apparent beak (2). This small marine mammal has a relatively slender body (4), which is dark to pale grey on the upper side and lighter on the underside. Colouration is paler in juveniles, developing into an almost black colouration in mature adults (2). A scattering of horny tubercles is found on the dorsal ridge, which may create an anti-slip surface when the female carries its calf on its back. However, it is more likely that the tubercles act as sensory organs, with each tubercle containing numerous nerve endings (2). 

The Indo-Pacific finless porpoise occurs along the coasts of southern and eastern Asia, from the Arabian Gulf, east to Japan and south to Java, Indonesia (5).

The finless porpoise inhabits tropical and warm temperate coastal waters (4), preferring areas over sandy or soft bottoms, including shallow bays, mangroves and estuaries. It can also be found in some large rivers (2).

The Indo-Pacific finless porpoise is a rather shy and elusive animal (4), which does not form large schools and is most often seen in pairs consisting of a female and its calf or an adult pair (2). It generally swims quietly, rarely leaping, splashing, or riding the bow waves of boats like other small cetaceans (2). This species is an opportunistic feeder, consuming a variety of schooling fishes, squids, octopuses, shrimps and prawns. The finless porpoise itself is known to be preyed on by the great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) (2).

Very little is known about the breeding biology of the Indo-Pacific finless porpoise. Female finless porpoises are thought to calve every two years, with the peak calving season varying with location. For example, on the Pacific coast of Japan calving takes place in May and June (2). It is estimated that the gestation period of species in the genus Neophocaena around 11 months and that the female feeds the calf for approximately 7 months. The finless porpoises is known to reach sexual maturity at 4 to 9 years of age and lives for up to 25 years (2).

The Indo-Pacific finless porpoise’s preference for coastal and riverine habitats makes it highly vulnerable to the impacts of human activities (2). Deforestation of mangrove areas, rampant harbour expansion and the development of shrimp farms all degrade the porpoises’ habitat, increasingly threatening this species’ survival (2) (5). Although the Indo-Pacific finless porpoise is not directly targeted by fishermen, large numbers die when they become entangled in fishing nets, particularly gillnets (2) (5).

Furthermore, high levels of toxic pollutants have been reported in areas inhabited by Japanese populations of finless porpoises, and while species in this genus tend to avoid boats (2), mortalities caused by collisions with vessels may be a problem in busy shipping areas, such as Hong Kong (1) (5).

The Indo-Pacific finless porpoise is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (3) and Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) (6). Suitable management methods are needed to conserve this species successfully (1). 

For further information on the Indo-Pacific finless porpoise see:

Authenticated (01/09/08) by Catharina Clausen, Foundation and Dr. Hao Yu Jiang, Institute of Hydrobiology.

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2011)
  2. Amano, M. (2002) Finless Porpoise Neophocaena phocaenoides. In: Perrin, W.F., Würsig, B. and Thewissen, J.G.M. (Eds.) Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals. Academic Press, London.
  3. CITES (December, 2011)
  4. Jefferson, T.A. and Hung, S.K. (2004) Neophocaena phocaenoides. Mammalian Species, 746: 1-12.
  5. Reeves, R.R., Smith, B.D., Crespo, E.A. and di Sciara, G.N. (2003) Dolphins, Whales and Porpoises: 2002-2010 Conservation Action Plan for the World's Cetaceans. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.
  6. Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (December, 2011)