A large dolphin with a rotund body, the White-beaked dolphin has a greyish white spot on its back, which distinguishes this animal from other dolphin species. The dorsal fin of the dolphin is placed in the center of its back, which, together with tail and flippers, is black or grey. The belly of this animal is colored with white or pale grey. Both the common and Latin (“albirostris”, meaning “white beak”) names of this species refer to white beak of this animal, which is not always white. Thus, the beak of the White-beaked dolphin can either be white or grey and white or black and white or even black (in some areas of its range).
These dolphins are endemic to the northern Atlantic Ocean. In the western north Atlantic, White-beaked dolphins are distributed from Cape Cod to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River and southern Greenland. They can be found from the waters around Iceland to northern France and Svalbard. The preferred habitat of White-beaked dolphins is cold temperate sub-polar waters. During most of the year, these animals live in deep offshore waters, coming to the seashore by summer. They inhabit waters over the continental shelf, most often occurring along the shelf edge.
These highly social animals have been seen in large groups, consisting of up to 1,500 individuals. However, groups of White-beaked dolphins most commonly include less than 35 individuals. White-beaked dolphins are fast swimmers. These active animals are known to bow-ride and clear the water while swimming at high speed. They can occasionally be observed breaching: leaping out of the water and then diving back with a loud splashing sound. It is known, that these animals associate with rorquals, including Fin and Humpback whales. They have also been found feeding in mixed groups with Atlantic white-sided dolphins and Bottlenose dolphins. White-beaked dolphins communicate with conspecifics through a number of clicks and whistles, which vary in their pitch and tonality.
Little is known about the reproductive behavior of White-beaked dolphins. They breed during the summer months, from May to September. Gestation period lasts for 11 - 12 months, yielding a single calf, which starts feeding upon maternal milk after birth. The mother dolphin continues to suckle her offspring for about 2 - 12 months, until the calf begins eating solid food and is able to hunt independently. White-beaked dolphins are sexually mature and ready to breed by 7 - 12 years old or when the calves are 8 feet (2.4 - 2.5 meters) long.
These animals have been hunted for food and oil in offshore waters of Norway, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland and Canada, where they have been killed around Labrador and Newfoundland. Currently, they are still often entrapped in ice in the offshore waters of Newfoundland. The White-beaked dolphins suffer from human disturbance in a form of boating activities. They are exposed to marine pollution and currently face degradation of their natural habitat. However, one of the main concerns remains incidental capture and drowning in gillnet, driftnet and trawl fisheries.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the White-beaked dolphin is exceeding 100,000 individuals. There are estimates of its populations in specific areas: the Gulf of St. Lawrence - 2,500 dolphins; the northeastern Atlantic (including the Barents Sea) - 100,000 dolphins; the North Sea and adjacent waters - 7,856 dolphins; the European Atlantic continental shelf waters - 22,700 dolphins; the area from the Georges Bank to the upper Bay of Fundy to the entrance of the Gulf of St. Lawrence - 2,003 dolphins. Currently, White-beaked dolphins are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.