The following identification key is for the most common whale, dolphin and porpoise species in the Maritime Provinces.

1.  Whale, dolphin or porpoise

1a. Double blowhole; no teeth present; baleen plates hanging from upper jaw: baleen whales 

1b. Single blowhole; teeth present (sometimes hidden beneath gums); no baleen plates: toothed whales

2. Baleen whales

2a. Up to 60 feet in length; no dorsal fin; no grooves on throat; upper jaw is very arched when viewed from the side and narrow when viewed from the top, long, narrow, black baleen plates up to 6-9 ft in length; white, rough callosities on head, around blowhole, above eyes and on lower jaw: North Atlantic right whale

2b. Numerous parallel grooves on throat; dorsal fin present: Rorqual whales 

3. Rorqual whales

3a. Up to 60 feet in length; pectoral flippers white and very long (nearly 1/3 of animal’s length); top of head covered with bumps; cluster of knobs at tip of lower jaw; dorsal fin sits on top of hump on back of whales body: humpback whale

3b. Pectoral flippers much less than one-third of the animal’s length: Balaenopteridae rorquals

4. Balaenopteridae rorquals

4a. Baleen yellowish-white or slate coloured, or both: Fin and minke whales

4b. Baleen black or nearly black: Blue and sei whales

5. Fin and minke whales

5a. Up to 80 feet in length; brownish body with white pattern across back; lower right jaw is white; baleen in the front, right side is white; left jaw and baleen are black; belly and bottom of tail is white; ventral grooves extend beyond navel area; tall curved dorsal fin: fin whale

5b. Up to 33 feet in length; body dark; pectoral flippers have white band on top; very pointed, v-shaped head; ventral grooves ending before navel around tip of flippers; tall curved dorsal fin: minke whale

6. Blue and sei whales

6a. Up to 98 feet in length; blue-grey body with light spots all over; dorsal fin very far back on body; very large tail; head very broad and u-shaped when viewed from top; ventral grooves extend beyond navel area: blue whale

6b. Up to 53 feet in length; body and bottom of tail is dark; body often has oval-shaped scars; baleen black with very fine white bristles; ventral grooves end before navel around tip of flippers; looks like a fin whale but jaw is all dark; tall curved dorsal fin: sei whale

7. Toothed whales

7a. Upper jaw extends quite far past lower jaw; lower jaw very narrow: sperm whales

7b. Upper jaw does not extend much or at all past lower jaw and upper jaw about the same width: beaked whales

8. Sperm whales

8a. Up to 60 feet in length; brownish body with large square head; body is wrinkled like a raisin; bumpy dorsal fin; bumps from dorsal fin to tail; large peg-like teeth only on bottom jaw which fit into sockets in top jaw; blowhole on top of the head is situated more to the left side (not directly in middle): sperm whale

8b. Up to 12 feet in length; dark bluish-grey body; squarish, shark-like head with crescent shaped markings behind the eyes; ridge runs from in front of the blowhole to tip of head: pygmy/dwarf sperm whale

9. Beaked whales

9a. Teeth confined to lower jaw or apparently absent; two grooves on throat: northern bottlenose whale

9b. Teeth in upper and lower jaws; no grooves on throat; dorsal fin usually tall and in middle of the back: pilot whale, dolphins and porpoises

10. Northern bottlenose whale

10. Up to 30 feet in length; tube-like beak; large rounded or squared-off head; tall, curved dorsal fin located two-thirds down body; dark grey or brown body; head of male is white and often scarred: northern bottlenose whale

11. Pilot whale, dolphins and porpoises

11a. Large size (up to 22 feet in length); black whale with white w-shape (anchor) on belly; rounded, cauldron (pot) shaped head; long thin black flippers (1/5 of the body length): long-finned pilot whale

11b. Size seldom exceeding 12-14 feet in length; more than 15 pairs of teeth: dolphins and porpoises

12. Dolphins and porpoises

12a. Up to 5’6” in length; rounded body; body dark grey on back and white on belly; dark stripe from corner of mouth to flipper; short, triangular, wide-based dorsal fin; teeth peg-like and flattened sideways; no beak: harbour porpoise

12b. Size larger; cone-shaped teeth; beak present: dolphins

13. Dolphins

13a. Beak very short and well-defined; top of beak about 2 inches (from forehead to start of curve at the tip of the snout); stocky, robust body: white-beaked or Atlantic white-sided dolphin

13b. Beak moderate to long; top of beak about 6 inches (from forehead to start of curve at tip of snout): common or striped dolphin

14. White-beaked and Atlantic white-sided Dolphins

14a. Up to 10 feet in length; bottom and upper lip white (beak); body mostly black to dark grey with white to light grey patches on the side; white belly; dorsal fin very tall and curved; body very stocky and rounded: white-beaked dolphin

14b. Up to 9 feet in length; upper lip black; back dark grey, belly white and sides light grey; white patch below the dorsal fin and yellowish-tan patch on the tail stock; black eye ring; dorsal fin tall and curved: Atlantic white-sided dolphin

15. Striped and common dolphins

15a. Up to 8 feet in length; long beak; hourglass pattern on each side crossing below the dorsal fin (forms a v-shape below the dorsal fin); back dark and belly white; tan patch forward of dorsal fin and light grey patch behind dorsal fin; stripe running from flipper joint to lower jaw; high dorsal fin which is slightly curved: common dolphin

15b. Up to 9 feet in length; black to dark grey on back, white on belly; well marked, narrow black stripe running from eye along the side of the body, curving down to the anus. Another dark stripe runs from the flipper joint towards the eye; light grey patch from above eye to dorsal fin; high dorsal fin which is slightly curved: striped dolphin