Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Cetartiodactyla Delphinidae

Scientific Name: Lissodelphis borealis
Species Authority: (Peale, 1848)
Common Name(s):
English Northern Right Whale Dolphin
French Dauphin Aptère Boréal, Dauphin À Dos Lisse Boréal
Spanish Delfín Liso Del Norte

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2012
Date Assessed: 2008-07-01
Assessor(s): Hammond, P.S., Bearzi, G., Bjørge, A., Forney, K.A., Karkzmarski, L., Kasuya, T., Perrin, W.F., Scott, M.D., Wang, J.Y. , Wells, R.S. & Wilson, B.
Reviewer(s): Rojas-Bracho, L. & Smith, B.D.
Lissodelphis borealis is widespread and abundant, with population estimates in the high tens to low hundreds of thousands throughout their North Pacific range. High levels of bycatch during the 1970s and 1980s are estimated to have reduced their population size within the last three generations by an unknown amount, but the most realistic scenarios suggest the decline was 30% or less. The primary threat to this species (high seas driftnet fishing), which caused the population decline, has largely been eliminated since 1993.
Previously published Red List assessments:
2008 Least Concern (LC)
1996 Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
1994 Insufficiently Known (K)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:The Northern Right Whale Dolphin is found in deep, temperate waters of the North Pacific Ocean, between about 30°N and 50°N.

The map shows where the species may occur based on oceanography. The species has not been recorded for all the states within the hypothetical range as shown on the map. States for which confirmed records of the species exist are included in the list of native range states.
Countries occurrence:
Canada; Japan; Mexico; Russian Federation (Kuril Is.); United States
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Pacific – eastern central; Pacific – northeast; Pacific – northwest
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:Estimates of abundance are available for a subset of the range of Northern Right Whale Dolphins. Across the oceanic North Pacific, Buckland et al. (1993) estimated 68,000 (CV=71%) and Miyashita (1993) estimated 307,000 Northern Right Whale Dolphins, with wide confidence limits, from sighting data, whereas Hiramatsu (1993) estimated about 400,000 dolphins for the same region based on bycatch data. All estimates have high uncertainty, and Buckland (1993) considered the two higher estimates to be positively biased. In the eastern North Pacific, the distribution of this species has been documented to vary seasonally (Forney and Barlow 1998), and abundance estimates along the U.S. West Coast have ranged from about 9,000 to 21,000 dolphins (Forney 1995, Barlow and Forney, in press). The average abundance in this region during 1996-2001 was estimated to be about 11,000 (CV = 26%); Barlow and Forney, in press).
Current Population Trend:Unknown
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:The habitat of this species includes deep oceanic waters from the outer continental shelf across the temperate North Pacific. They are sometimes seen nearshore, especially where deep water approaches the coast (such as underwater canyons), and apparently prefer "coastal-type" waters in the California Current system (see Jefferson et al. 1994). Ferrero (1998) observed in the central North Pacific that sea surface temperature was the most influential habitat parameter, with L. borealis occupying warmer waters than either Phocoenoides dalli or Lagenorhynchus obliquidens.

Groups of Northern Right Whale Dolphins mixed with other marine mammals, especially Pacific White-sided Dolphins (with which they share a nearly identical range) and Risso’s Dolphins, are not uncommon (Baird and Stacey 1991).

Although market squid and lanternfish are the major prey items for Northern Right Whale Dolphins off southern California, a variety of other species are taken by this species throughout the range. These include various species of cephalopods, hakes, sauries, and several species of surface and midwater fishes.

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: This species is subject to a small-scale fishery off Japan.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Lissodelphis borealis experienced very high levels of fishery-induced mortality in international high-seas, large-scale driftnet fisheries, from about 38°N to 46°N and 171°E to 151°W. Assessing the impact of this mortality is complicated by the possible existence of a coastal population off California and the Pacific Northwest that is separate from offshore populations that were subject to high levels of bycatch (Dizon et al. 1994). Total numbers killed by the North Pacific squid driftnet fleets of Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea in the late 1980s were estimated at about 15,000–24,000 per year, and this mortality is considered to have depleted the oceanic population by an unknown amount. Using a variety of assumptions about population estimates, growth rates, and bycatch levels, Mangel (1993) presented a range of analyses that indicate declines of less than 30% were most likely, although more severe declines of up to 45–75% could not entirely be ruled out under certain scenarios, including a few biologically unrealistic ones. The UN moratorium on large-scale high-seas driftnets that came into effect in 1993 relieved this pressure to a considerable extent, but the continued use of driftnets to catch billfish, sharks, squid, and tuna inside the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of North Pacific countries and some continued illegal fishing on the high-seas results in the killing of unknown numbers of Northern Right Whale Dolphins each year.

Incidental catches have also occurred in Japanese and Russian purse seines, Japanese salmon driftnets, and U.S. shark and swordfish driftnets. Small numbers have been killed in commercial and experimental salmon drift-net operations in the western and central Pacific (Jefferson et al. 1994). An estimated 386 Northern Right Whale Dolphins were killed between 1990 and 2002 in U.S. driftnets targeting sharks and swordfish off the California, Oregon and Washington (Julian and Beeson 1998, Carretta et al. 2005). A short-lived Canadian experimental driftnet fishery for flying squid killed a total of 13 in 1986 and 1987 (Jefferson et al. 1994). Northern Right Whale Dolphins have also been observed entangled in net debris in the western Pacific. The total reported take of Northern Right Whale Dolphins by Japan in 1987 was 261 individuals, of which 254 were discarded as bycatch (Government of Japan 1989).

Northern Right Whale Dolphins have never been subject to extensive directed hunt, although they have sometimes been taken in Japan’s small-cetacean fisheries. In the western Pacific, coastal fisheries off Japan have taken them for many years, with 465 reported killed in the harpoon fishery in 1949. Although this fishery mainly targets other small cetaceans, Northern Right Whale Dolphins continue to be taken (Jefferson et al. 1994).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: The species is listed in Appendix II of CITES

The most significant conservation measure for this species was the United Nations (U.N.) moratorium on high-seas driftnet fishing. In the eastern North Pacific, the U.S drift gillnet fishery has been required since 1996 to use acoustic warning devices (pingers) to reduce cetacean bycatch, although low levels of bycatch of Lissodelphis borealis have continued (Carretta et al. 2005).

Classifications [top]

9. Marine Neritic -> 9.1. Marine Neritic - Pelagic
suitability: Suitable  major importance:Yes
10. Marine Oceanic -> 10.1. Marine Oceanic - Epipelagic (0-200m)
suitability: Suitable  major importance:Yes

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
In-Place Species Management
In-Place Education
  Included in international legislation:Yes
  Subject to any international management/trade controls:Yes
5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.4. Unintentional effects: (large scale)
♦ timing: Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends
1. Research -> 1.5. Threats
3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends

♦  Food - human
 National : ✓ 

Bibliography [top]

Baird, R. W. and Stacey, P. J. 1991. Status of the northern right whale dolphin, Lissodelphis borealis, in Canada. Canadian Field-Naturalist 105: 243-250.

Barlow, J. and Forney, K. A. 2007. Abundance and density of cetaceans in the California Current ecosystem. Fishery Bulletin.

Buckland, S. T., Cattanach, J. L. and Hobbs, R. C. 1993. Abundance estimates of Pacific white-sided dolphin, northern right whale dolphin, Dall's porpoise and northern fur seal in the North Pacific, 1987-1990. International North Pacific Fisheries Commission Bulletin 53(3): 387-407.

Carretta, J. V., Price, T., Petersen, D. and Read, R. 2005. Estimates of marine mammal, sea turtle, and seabird mortality in the California drift gillnet fishery for swordfish and thresher shark, 1996-2002. Marine Fisheries Review 66(2): 21-30.

Dizon, A. E., Leduc, C. A. and Leduc, R. G. 1994. Intraspecific structure of the northern right whale dolphin (Lissodelphis borealis): the power of an analysis of molecular variation for differentiating genetic stocks. CALCOFI Reports 35: 61-67.

Ferrero, R. C. 1998. Life history of multivariate analyses of habitat selection patterns among small cetaceans in the central north Pacific Ocean. Forest Resources, University of Washington.

Forney, K. A. and Barlow, J. 1998. Seasonal patterns in the abundance and distribution of California cetaceans, 1991-1992. Marine Mammal Science 14(3): 460-489.

Forney, K. A., Barlow, J. and Carretta, J. V. 1995. The abundance of cetaceans in California waters. Part II: Aerial surveys in winter and spring of 1991 and 1992. Fishery Bulletin 93: 15-26.

Hiramatsu, K. 1993. Estimation of population abundance of northern right whale dolphins in the North Pacific using the bycatch data from the Japanese squid driftnet fishery. International North Pacific Fisheries Commission Bulletin 53(3): 381-386.

IUCN. 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (ver. 2012.2). Available at: (Accessed: 17 October 2012).

Japan, Government Of. 1989. Progress report on cetacean research, June 1987-April 1988. Report of the International Whaling Commission 39: 201-204.

Jefferson, T. A., Newcomer, M. W., Leatherwood, S. and Van Waerebeek, K. 1994. Right whale dolphins Lissodelphis borealis (Peale, 1848) and Lissodelphis peronii (Lacepede, 1804). In: S. H. Ridgway and R. Harrison (eds), Handbook of marine mammals, pp. 335-362. Academic Press.

Julian, F. and Beeson, M. 1998. Estimates of marine mammal, turtle, and seabird mortality for two California gillnet fisheries: 1990-95. Fishery Bulletin 96: 271-284.

Mangel, M. 1993. Effects of high-seas driftnet fisheries on the northern right whale dolphin Lissodelphis borealis. Ecological Applications 3: 221-229.

Miyashita, T. 1993. Distribution and abundance of some dolphins taken in the North Pacific driftnet fisheries. International North Pacific Fisheries Commission Bulletin 53(3): 435-450.

Citation: Hammond, P.S., Bearzi, G., Bjørge, A., Forney, K.A., Karkzmarski, L., Kasuya, T., Perrin, W.F., Scott, M.D., Wang, J.Y. , Wells, R.S. & Wilson, B. 2012. Lissodelphis borealis. In: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T12125A17877048. . Downloaded on 10 October 2015.
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