information on the biology of species and the ecology of habitats found around the coasts and seas of the British Isles

White-beaked dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.
Only coastal and marine records shown



Lagenorhynchus albirostris is a toothed whale and can be recognised as such by the single blowhole and the presence of teeth. It is a member of the dolphin family with a characteristic prominent median notch in the flukes, a smooth crease-less throat and sharply pointed teeth. The white-beaked dolphin reaches up to 3.2 m in length. It has moderately long and slender flippers and small tail flukes. The dorsal fin is tall, large and located on the middle of the back. The head is smoothly sloping with a distinct but small snout. It has a complex, gradually changing colour pattern. The dorsal and lateral colouration is dark grey and the belly and beak are white. Wisp-like light grey colouration on the flanks with a light grey saddle.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Found all around the British Isles, particularly off the coasts of Scotland and in the North Sea but also south-west Britain and western Ireland.

Global distribution



The white-beaked dolphin is an offshore species and prefers waters less than 200 m deep.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Slender body up to 3.2 m in length.
  • Tall, large dorsal fin located on the middle of the back.
  • Very deepened tail stock.
  • Gradually changing, wispy colouration dark grey above, white below with a light grey saddle are and lateral wisp.
  • No distinct black lines.
  • Beak is usually white.
  • Short slender flippers.
  • Gently sloping head with a short, thick beak.
  • Straight mouthline.

Additional information

White-beaked dolphins are usually found in large pods of up to several thousand individuals. Mixed schools with other species including Atlantic white-sided dolphins, Lagenorhynchus acutus, have been recorded. Their surface behaviour is typical of dolphins with acrobatic leaps and bow-riding are not uncommon. Dive duration is unknown (Kinze, 2002).

Listed by

Further information sources

Search on:


  1. Bruyns, W.F.J.M., 1971. Field guide of whales and dolphins. Amsterdam: Publishing Company Tors.

  2. Howson, C.M. & Picton, B.E., 1997. The species directory of the marine fauna and flora of the British Isles and surrounding seas. Belfast: Ulster Museum. [Ulster Museum publication, no. 276.]

  3. Jefferson, T.A., Leatherwood, S. & Webber, M.A., 1994. FAO species identification guide. Marine mammals of the world. Rome: United Nations Environment Programme, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

  4. Kinze, C. C., 2002. Photographic Guide to the Marine Mammals of the North Atlantic. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  5. OBIS,  2018. Global map of species distribution using gridded data. Available from: Ocean Biogeographic Information System. Accessed: 2018-09-19

  6. Reid. J.B., Evans. P.G.H., Northridge. S.P. (ed.), 2003. Atlas of Cetacean Distribution in North-west European Waters. Peterborough: Joint Nature Conservation Committee.


This review can be cited as:

Barnes, M.K.S. 2008. Lagenorhynchus albirostris White-beaked dolphin. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. (eds) Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 19-09-2018]. Available from:

Last Updated: 02/06/2008