The Committee on Taxonomy, chaired by Patricia Rosel, produced the first official Society for Marine Mammalogy list of marine mammal species and subspecies in 2010. Consensus on some issues has not been possible; this is reflected in the footnotes. The Terms of Reference provide information on the Committee’s process. The list is updated at least annually.
The current version was updated in June 2021. This list can be cited as follows: “Committee on Taxonomy. 2021. List of marine mammal species and subspecies. Society for Marine Mammalogy, www.marinemammalscience.org, consulted on [date].”
This list includes living and recently extinct (within historical times) species and subspecies. It is meant to reflect prevailing usage and recent revisions published in the peer-reviewed literature. Classification and scientific names follow Rice (1998), with adjustments reflecting more recent literature. Author(s) and year of description of each taxon follow the Latin (scientific) species name; when these are enclosed in parentheses, the taxon was originally described in a different genus.
The Committee considers and evaluates new, peer-reviewed literature that proposes taxonomic changes. The Committee’s focus is on alpha taxonomy (describing and naming taxa) and beta taxonomy primarily at lower levels of the hierarchy (subspecies, species and genera), although it may evaluate issues at higher levels if deemed necessary. Proposals for new, taxonomically distinct taxa require a formal, peer-reviewed study and should provide robust evidence that some subspecies or species criterion was met. For review of species concepts, see Reeves et al. (2004), Orr and Coyne (2004), de Queiroz (2007), Perrin (2009) and Taylor et al. (2017 a,b). Nomenclatural papers that propose new names are to be registered with ZooBank and publications should include required information including designation of holotype or syntype specimen(s), identification of the repository of the specimen(s), and explicit identification of the taxon as new by inclusion of a term such as “ssp. nov.”, “new species”, etc. The Committee recommends authors acquaint themselves with the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN 1999) and supply the information required under the Code when proposing new species or subspecies.
The Committee omits some described species and subspecies because of concern about their biological distinctness; reservations are given in the narrative below. In addition, published proposals for taxonomically distinct units that do not provide names and instead refer simply to ‘un-named subspecies’ or ‘un-named species’ are not included in the official list but are provided here. Authors are encouraged to provide formal descriptions following ICZN rules based on robust data showing an appropriate subspecies or species criterion is met.
Common names are arbitrary and change with time and place; one or two frequently used names in English and/or a range language are given here. Additional English common names and common names in French, Spanish, Russian and other languages are available at www.marinespecies.org/cetacea/. Species are listed in alphabetical order within families.
Corrections and comments should be directed to the Committee on Taxonomy (email@example.com). Divergent opinions by members of the Committee on particular taxonomic questions are given in the footnotes.
List of Marine Mammal Species and Subspecies
Ursus maritimus Phipps, 1774. Polar bear
Enhydra lutris (Linnaeus, 1758). Sea otter
- E. l. kenyoni Wilson, 1991. Eastern sea otter
- E. l. lutris (Linnaeus, 1758). Western sea otter
- E. l. nereis (Merriam, 1904). Southern sea otter
Lontra felina (Molina, 1782). Chungungo, marine otter
Neovison macrodon (Prentis, 1903). Sea mink (extinct)
PINNIPEDIA (eared seals, sea lions, walrus, earless seals; 35 species, of which 2 extinct)
Family Otariidae (eared seals and sea lions; 15 species, of which 1 extinct)
Arctocephalus australis (Zimmermann, 1783). South American fur seal
Arctocephalus forsteri (Lesson, 1828). Long-nosed fur seal, New Zealand fur seal
Arctocephalus galapagoensis Heller, 1904. Galapagos fur seal
Arctocephalus gazella (Peters, 1876). Antarctic fur seal
Arctocephalus philippii (Peters, 1866). Juan Fernandez fur seal
- A. p. philippii (Peters, 1866). Juan Fernandez fur seal
- A. p. townsendi (Merriam, 1897). Guadalupe fur seal
Arctocephalus pusillus (Schreber, 1775). Cape fur seal
- A. p. pusillus (Schreber, 1775). Cape fur seal
- A. p. doriferus Wood Jones, 1925. Australian fur seal
Arctocephalus tropicalis (Gray, 1872). Subantarctic fur seal
Callorhinus ursinus (Linnaeus, 1758). Northern fur seal
Eumetopias jubatus (Schreber, 1776). Steller sea lion, northern sea lion
- E. j. jubatus (Schreber, 1776). Western Steller sea lion
- E. j. monteriensis (Gray, 1859). Loughlin’s Steller sea lion
Neophoca cinerea (Peron, 1816). Australian sea lion
Otaria byronia (Blainville, 1820). South American sea lion
Phocarctos hookeri (Gray, 1844). New Zealand sea lion, Hooker’s sea lion
Zalophus californianus (Lesson, 1828). California sea lion
Zalophus japonicus (Peters, 1866). Japanese sea lion (extinct)
Zalophus wollebaeki Sivertsen, 1953. Galapagos sea lion
Odobenus rosmarus (Linnaeus, 1758). Walrus
- O. r. divergens (Illiger, 1815). Pacific walrus
- O. r. rosmarus (Linnaeus, 1758). Atlantic walrus
Family Phocidae (earless seals; 19 species, of which 1 extinct)
Cystophora cristata (Erxleben, 1777). Hooded seal
Erignathus barbatus (Erxleben, 1777). Bearded seal
- E. b. barbatus (Erxleben, 1777). Atlantic bearded seal
- E. b. nauticus (Pallas, 1881). Pacific bearded seal
Halichoerus grypus (Fabricius, 1791). Gray seal
- H. g. grypus (Fabricius, 1791). Baltic gray seal
- H. g. atlantica. Nehring, 1866. Atlantic gray seal
Histriophoca fasciata (Zimmerman, 1783). Ribbon seal
Hydrurga leptonyx (Blainville, 1820). Leopard seal
Leptonychotes weddellii (Lesson, 1826). Weddell seal
Lobodon carcinophaga (Hombron and Jacquinot, 1842). Crabeater seal
Mirounga leonina (Linnaeus, 1758). Southern elephant seal
Mirounga angustirostris (Gill, 1866). Northern elephant seal
Monachus monachus (Hermann, 1779). Mediterranean monk seal
Neomonachus tropicalis (Gray, 1850). Caribbean monk seal, West Indian monk seal (extinct)
Neomonachus schauinslandi (Matschie, 1905). Hawaiian monk seal
Ommatophoca rossii Gray, 1844. Ross seal
Pagophilus groenlandicus (Erxleben, 1777). Harp seal
Phoca vitulina Linnaeus, 1758. Harbor seal, common seal
- P. v. vitulina Linnaeus, 1758. Atlantic harbor seal
- P. v. mellonae Doutt, 1942. Ungava harbor seal
- P. v. richardii (Gray, 1864). Pacific harbor seal
Phoca largha Pallas, 1811. Spotted seal, largha seal
Pusa hispida (Schreber, 1775). Ringed seal
- P. h. hispida (Schreber, 1775). Arctic Ringed seal
- P. h. botnica (Gmelin, 1788). Baltic ringed seal
- P. h. ochotensis (Pallas, 1811). Okhotsk ringed seal
- P. h. ladogensis (Nordquist, 1889). Lake Ladoga seal
- P. h. saimensis (Nordquist, 1889). Saima seal
Pusa caspica (Gmelin, 1788). Caspian seal
Pusa sibirica (Gmelin, 1788). Baikal seal
Order CETARTIODACTYLA (artiodactyls and cetaceans)
CETACEA (cetaceans; 92 species, of which 1 possibly extinct)
MYSTICETI (baleen whales, 15 species)
Family Balaenidae (right whales, 4 species)2
Balaena mysticetus Linnaeus, 1758. Bowhead whale, Greenland whale
Eubalaena glacialis (Müller, 1776). North Atlantic right whale
Eubalaena japonica (Lacépède, 1818). North Pacific right whale
Eubalaena australis (Desmoulins, 1822). Southern right whale
Caperea marginata (Gray, 1846). Pygmy right whale
Eschrichtius robustus (Lilljeborg, 1861). Gray whale
Family Balaenopteridae (rorquals, 9 species)
Balaenoptera acutorostrata Lacépède, 1804. Common minke whale
- B. a. acutorostrata Lacépède, 1804. North Atlantic minke whale
- B. a. scammoni Deméré, 1986. North Pacific minke whale
Balaenoptera bonaerensis Burmeister, 1867. Antarctic minke whale
Balaenoptera borealis Lesson, 1828. Sei whale
- B. b. borealis Lesson, 1828. Northern sei whale
- B. b. schlegelii (Flower, 1865). Southern sei whale
Balaenoptera edeni Anderson, 1879. Bryde’s whale
- B. e. brydei Olsen, 1913. Bryde’s whale
- B. e. edeni Anderson, 1879. Eden’s whale
Balaenoptera musculus (Linnaeus, 1758). Blue whale
- B. m. musculus (Linnaeus, 1758). Northern blue whale
- B. m. intermedia Burmeister, 1871. Antarctic blue whale
- B. m. indica Blyth, 1859. Northern Indian Ocean blue whale
- B. m. brevicauda Ichihara, 1966. Pygmy blue whale
Balaenoptera omurai Wada, Oishi and Yamada, 2003. Omura’s whale
Balaenoptera physalus (Linnaeus, 1758). Fin whale
- B. p. patachonica Burmeister, 1865. Pygmy fin whale
- B. p. physalus (Linnaeus, 1758). North Atlantic fin whale
- B. p. quoyi (Fischer, 1829). Southern fin whale
- B. p. velifera Cope in Scammon, 1869. North Pacific fin whale
Balaenoptera ricei Rosel, Wilcox, Yamada and Mullin, 2021. Rice’s whale
Megaptera novaeangliae (Borowski, 1781). Humpback whale
- M. n. australis (Lesson, 1828). Southern humpback whale
- M. n. kuzira (Gray, 1850). North Pacific humpback whale
- M. n. novaeangliae (Borowski, 1781). North Atlantic humpback whale
ODONTOCETI (toothed whales, dolphins and porpoises: 77 species, of which one possibly extinct)
Physeter macrocephalus Linnaeus, 1758. Sperm whale, cachalot
Kogia breviceps (Blainville, 1838). Pygmy sperm whale
Kogia sima (Owen, 1866). Dwarf sperm whale
Family Ziphiidae (beaked whales, 23 species)
Berardius arnuxii Duvernoy, 1851. Arnoux’s beaked whale
Berardius bairdii Stejneger, 1883. Baird’s beaked whale
Berardius minimus Yamada, Kitamura and Matsuishi, 2019. Sato’s beaked whale
Hyperoodon ampullatus (Forster, 1770). Northern bottlenose whale
Hyperoodon planifrons Flower, 1882. Southern bottlenose whale
Indopacetus pacificus (Longman, 1926). Longman’s beaked whale, tropical bottlenose whale
Mesoplodon bidens (Sowerby, 1804). Sowerby’s beaked whale
Mesoplodon bowdoini Andrews, 1908. Andrews’ beaked whale
Mesoplodon carlhubbsi Moore, 1963. Hubbs’ beaked whale
Mesoplodon europaeus (Gervais, 1855). Gervais’ beaked whale
Mesoplodon ginkgodens Nishiwaki and Kamiya, 1958. Ginkgo-toothed beaked whale
Mesoplodon grayi von Haast, 1876. Gray’s beaked whale
Mesoplodon hectori (Gray, 1871). Hector’s beaked whale
Mesoplodon hotaula Deraniyagala, 1963. Deraniyagala’s beaked whale
Mesoplodon layardii (Gray, 1865). Strap-toothed beaked whale, Layard’s beaked whale
Mesoplodon mirus True, 1913. True’s beaked whale
Mesoplodon perrini Dalebout, Mead, Baker, Baker and van Helden, 2002. Perrin’s beaked whale
Mesoplodon peruvianus Reyes, Mead and Van Waerebeek, 1991. Pygmy beaked whale
Mesoplodon stejnegeri True, 1885. Stejneger’s beaked whale
Mesoplodon traversii (Gray, 1874). Spade-toothed whale
Mesoplodon densirostris (Blainville, 1817). Blainville’s beaked whale
Tasmacetus shepherdi Oliver, 1937. Shepherd’s beaked whale, Tasman beaked whale
Ziphius cavirostris G. Cuvier, 1823. Cuvier’s beaked whale, goose-beaked whale
Platanista gangetica (Lebeck, 1801). Ganges river dolphin, susu
Platanista minor Owen, 1853. Indus river dolphin, bhulan
Inia geoffrensis (Blainville, 1817). Amazon river dolphin
- I. g. boliviensis (d’Orbigny, 1834). Bolivian bufeo
- I. g. geoffrensis (Blainville, 1817). Common boto
Lipotes vexillifer Miller, 1918. Baiji, Yangtze river dolphin – possibly extinct
Pontoporia blainvillei (Gervais and d’Orbigny, 1844). Franciscana, toninha
Delphinapterus leucas (Pallas, 1776). Beluga, white whale
Monodon monoceros Linnaeus, 1758. Narwhal
Family Delphinidae (37 species)
Cephalorhynchus commersonii (Lacépède, 1804). Commerson’s dolphin
- C. c. commersonii (Lacépède, 1804). Commerson’s dolphin
- C. c. kerguelenensis Robineau, Goodall, Pichler and C. S. Baker, 2007. Kerguelen Islands Commerson’s dolphin
Cephalorhynchus eutropia (Gray, 1846). Chilean dolphin
Cephalorhynchus heavisidii (Gray, 1828). Heaviside’s dolphin
Cephalorhynchus hectori (Van Bénéden, 1881). Hector’s dolphin
- C. h. hectori (Van Bénéden, 1881). South Island Hector’s dolphin
- C. h. maui A. Baker, Smith and Pichler, 2002. Māui dolphin, North Island Hector’s dolphin
Delphinus delphis Linnaeus, 1758. Common dolphin
- D. d. delphis Linnaeus, 1758. Common dolphin
- D. d. bairdii Dall, 1873. Eastern North Pacific long-beaked common dolphin
- D. d. ponticus Barabash, 1935. Black Sea common dolphin
- D. d. tropicalis van Bree, 1971. Indo-Pacific common dolphin
Feresa attenuata Gray, 1874. Pygmy killer whale
Globicephala macrorhynchus Gray, 1846. Short-finned pilot whale
Globicephala melas (Traill, 1809). Long-finned pilot whale
- G. m. edwardii (A. Smith, 1834). Southern long-finned pilot whale
- G. m. melas (Traill, 1809). North Atlantic long-finned pilot whale
Grampus griseus (G. Cuvier, 1812). Risso’s dolphin, grampus
Lagenodelphis hosei Fraser, 1956. Fraser’s dolphin
Lagenorhynchus acutus (Gray, 1828). Atlantic white-sided dolphin
Lagenorhynchus albirostris (Gray, 1846). White-beaked dolphin
Lagenorhynchus australis (Peale, 1848). Peale’s dolphin
Lagenorhynchus cruciger (Quoy and Gaimard, 1824). Hourglass dolphin
Lagenorhynchus obliquidens Gill, 1865. Pacific white-sided dolphin
Lagenorhynchus obscurus (Gray, 1828). Dusky dolphin
- L. o. fitzroyi (Waterhouse, 1838). Fitzroy’s dolphin
- L. o. obscurus (Gray, 1828). African dusky dolphin
- L. o. posidonia (Philippi, 1893). Peruvian/Chilean dusky dolphin
Lissodelphis borealis (Peale, 1848). Northern right-whale dolphin
Lissodelphis peronii (Lacépède, 1804). Southern right-whale dolphin
Orcaella brevirostris (Owen in Gray, 1866). Irrawaddy dolphin, pesut
Orcaella heinsohni Beasley, Robertson and Arnold, 2005. Australian snubfin dolphin
Orcinus orca (Linnaeus, 1758). Killer whale, orca
Peponocephala electra (Gray, 1846). Melon-headed whale
Pseudorca crassidens (Owen, 1846). False killer whale
Sousa teuszii (Kükenthal, 1892). Atlantic humpback dolphin
Sousa chinensis (Osbeck, 1765). Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin
- S. c. chinensis (Osbeck, 1765). Chinese humpback dolphin
- S. c. taiwanensis Wang, Yang and Hung, 2015. Taiwanese humpback dolphin
Sousa plumbea (G. Cuvier, 1829). Indian Ocean humpback dolphin
Sousa sahulensis Jefferson and Rosenbaum, 2014. Australian humpback dolphin
Sotalia fluviatilis (Gervais and Deville in Gervais, 1853). Tucuxi
Sotalia guianensis (P.J. Van Bénedén, 1864). Guiana dolphin, costero
Stenella attenuata (Gray, 1846). Pantropical spotted dolphin
- S. a. attenuata (Gray, 1846). Offshore pantropical spotted dolphin
- S. a. graffmani (Lönnberg, 1934). Coastal pantropical spotted dolphin
Stenella clymene (Gray, 1850). Clymene dolphin
Stenella coeruleoalba (Meyen, 1833). Striped dolphin
Stenella frontalis (G. Cuvier, 1829). Atlantic spotted dolphin
Stenella longirostris (Gray, 1828). Spinner dolphin
- S. l. centroamericana Perrin, 1990. Central American spinner dolphin
- S. l. longirostris (Gray, 1828). Gray’s spinner dolphin
- S. l. orientalis Perrin, 1990. Eastern spinner dolphin
- S. l. roseiventris (Wagner, 1846). Dwarf spinner dolphin
Steno bredanensis (Lesson, 1828). Rough-toothed dolphin
Tursiops aduncus (Ehrenberg, 1833). Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin
Tursiops truncatus (Montagu, 1821). Common bottlenose dolphin
- T. t. ponticus Barabash-Nikiforov, 1940. Black Sea bottlenose dolphin
- T. t. truncatus (Montagu, 1821). Common bottlenose dolphin
- T. t. gephyreus Lahille, 1908. Lahille’s bottlenose dolphin
Family Phocoenidae (porpoises, 7 species)
Neophocaena phocaenoides (G. Cuvier, 1829). Indo-Pacific finless porpoise
Neophocaena asiaeorientalis (Pilleri and Gihr, 1972). Narrow-ridged finless porpoise
- N. a. asiaeorientalis (Pilleri and Gihr, 1972). Yangtze finless porpoise
- N. a. sunameri Pilleri and Gihr, 1975. East Asian finless porpoise
Phocoena dioptrica Lahille, 1912. Spectacled porpoise
Phocoena phocoena (Linnaeus, 1758). Harbor porpoise
- P. p. phocoena (Linnaeus, 1758). Atlantic harbor porpoise
- P. p. vomerina (Gill, 1865). Pacific harbor porpoise
- P. p. relicta Abel, 1905. Black Sea harbor porpoise
Phocoena sinus Norris and McFarland, 1958. Vaquita, Gulf of California harbor porpoise
Phocoena spinipinnis Burmeister, 1865. Burmeister’s porpoise
Phocoenoides dalli (True, 1885). Dall’s porpoise
- P. d. dalli (True, 1885). dalli-type Dall’s porpoise
- P. d. truei Andrews, 1911. truei-type Dall’s porpoise
ORDER SIRENIA (sirenians, 5 species, of which 1 extinct)
Trichechus inunguis (Natterer, 1883). Amazonian manatee
Trichechus manatus Linnaeus, 1758. West Indian manatee
- T. m. latirostris (Harlan, 1824). Florida manatee
- T. m. manatus Linnaeus, 1758. Antillean manatee
Trichechus senegalensis Link, 1795. West African manatee, African manatee
Dugong dugon (Müller, 1776). Dugong
Hydrodamalis gigas (Zimmerman, 1780). Steller’s sea cow – extinct
Footnotes (dissenting opinions):
1 Use of Order Cetartiodactyla (artiodactyls and cetaceans) is favored by most evolutionary mammalogists working with molecular data. Some others, including many marine mammalogists and paleontologists, favor retention of Order Cetacea in the interest of taxonomic stability, despite rendering the retained Order Artiodactyla paraphyletic.
2 (from D. Rice) Baker et al. (2003) hold that there is no evidence that would support the classification of the right whales as more than a single biological species. [The three species are here recognized as phylogenetic species.]
3 (from T. Jefferson) The List should retain the eastern North Pacific (ENP) long-beaked common dolphin as a separate species of Delphinus, D. bairdii (as in Banks and Brownell 1969). The evidence for species status is published and is considerable, especially the molecular differences. Notwithstanding issues related to poor sampling from areas of potential sympatry further south, the balance of the evidence seems to support a lack of interbreeding throughout a very large region of overlap, along with clear ecological differences. In this view, the error by Heyning and Perrin (1994) was not in splitting out the ENP long-beaked common dolphins as a distinct species, but in assuming that the name D. capensis applied there and that all long-beaked populations of Delphinus belonged to D. capensis.
Narrative on Taxonomy
Based on molecular and morphological data, the cetaceans fall firmly within the artiodactyl clade (Geisler and Uhen, 2005), and therefore we include them in the order Cetartiodactyla, with Cetacea, Mysticeti and Odontoceti provisionally as unranked taxa (recognizing that the classification within Cetartiodactyla remains partially unresolved — e.g., see Spaulding et al. 2009, Price et al. 2005; Agnarsson and May-Collado, 2008).1 Below the rank of order, we list only families, genera, species and subspecies, omitting superfamilies, subfamilies and taxa of other ranks. Consistent with the use of Cetacea as an un-ranked unit, we also include the un-ranked taxon Pinnipedia. Morphological (Wyss and Flynn, 1993; Berta and Wyss, 1994) and molecular (Higdon et al. 2007; Fulton and Strobeck, 2010, Nyakatura and Bininda-Emonds 2012) analyses provide strong support for pinniped monophyly and hence inclusion of Pinnipedia as an un-ranked taxonomic unit. However, there is continued debate on this subject as Koretsky et al. (2016) argued the case for a diphyletic origin for pinnipeds.
For pinnipeds, we previously followed Berta and Churchill (2012). To avoid issues of paraphyly, these authors proposed that, based on molecular and morphological data, the genus Arctocephalus be limited to Arctocephalus pusillus, the type species of the genus Arctocephalus, and transferred the remaining ‘Arctocephalus’ species (i.e., A. australis, A. galapagoensis, A. gazella, A. philippii and A. tropicalis) to Arctophoca Peters, 1866. However, Nyakatura and Bininda-Emonds (2012) compiled a new supertree of the Carnivora and concluded that this usage of Arctophoca may be premature because of remaining uncertainty about phylogenetic relationships, and we return provisionally to use of Arctocephalus for all the southern fur seals.
Three subspecies of A. australis were proposed by Berta and Churchill (2012) and formerly listed here: A. a. australis, A. a. forsteri and A. a. gracilis. However, Oliveira and Brownell (2014) synonymized A. a. gracilis with A. a. australis. The super-tree analysis by Nyakatura and Bininda-Emonds (2012) accords with the phylogenetic analysis of Higdon et al. (2007), suggesting that the New Zealand fur seal should be recognized as a full species, A. forsteri. Two subspecies of A. philippii are thought to be biologically distinct: A. p. philippii and A. p. townsendi, although small sample sizes and a small number of genes sampled are concerns. Two subspecies of Eumetopias are supported largely on molecular genetic data, which is also the case for recognition of California, Japanese and Galapagos sea lions as separate species. Following a proposal by Gardner and Robbins (1999), the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) placed the name O. byronia on its Official List of Specific Names in Zoology. Brunner (2004) also advised use of Otaria byronia (Blainville, 1820) over O. flavescens (Shaw, 1800) and Webber (2014) provides a summary of why O. flavescens is a nomen dubium and should not be used under the provisions of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN 1999). However, many South American scientists continue to use O. flavescens.
Lindqvist et al. (2009) concluded that a purported third subspecies of the walrus Odobenus rosmarus laptevi is not warranted.
Recent molecular genetic analyses indicate that Phoca vitulina concolor is paraphyletic and this along with lack of morphological differentiation suggests that the western Atlantic subspecies is not supportable; P. v. vitulina is considered here to apply to all Atlantic harbor seals. Within the North Pacific, until the subspecies limits of various populations are assessed, only a single subspecies is recognized, Phoca vitulina richardii. Placement of the ringed seal, Caspian seal and Baikal seal has alternated between the genera Phoca and Pusa. We accept Rice’s (1998) use of Pusa as the correct classification. Scheel et al. (2014) found the Caribbean and Hawaiian monk seals to be more closely related molecularly and morphologically to each other than either is to the Mediterranean monk seal and created the new genus Neomonachus for the two species.
The long-lost holotype skull of the gray seal Halichoerus grypus has been rediscovered and shown by DNA analysis to hail from the Baltic rather than from Greenland as previously thought (Olsen et al. 2016). Consequently, the nominate subspecies H. g. grypus is the Baltic gray seal, H. g. macrorhynchus falls into synonymy, and the authors have resurrected H. g. atlantica to apply to the Atlantic subspecies.
Polar Bears and Otters
Derocher and Stirling (1998) argued convincingly that patterns of variation in the polar bear do not support recognition of subspecies.
The use of Lontra rather than Lutra for the marine otter follows Larivière (1998) in recognizing the otters of North and South America as a monophyletic taxon distinct from the otters of Eurasia.
In the mysticete cetaceans, molecular evidence strongly supports the recognition of three separate phylogenetic species of right whales (Rosenbaum et al. 2000; Gaines et al. 2005). In addition, the genus Eubalaena (rather than Balaena as in Rice, 1998) is retained for the right whales as recommended by the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC, 2001).
New fossil evidence suggests that Caperea marginata may be a member of the family Cetotheriidae (Fordyce and Marx 2012; Marx and Fordyce 2015; Marx and Fordyce 2016). Neobalaenidae is retained here provisionally.
Jackson et al. (2014) have recognized three subspecies of the humpback whale based on mitochondrial and nuclear DNA relationships and distribution: Megaptera novaeangliae kuzira (North Pacific), M. n. novaeangliae (North Atlantic) and M. n. australis (Southern Hemisphere).
The Bryde’s-like whales in the Gulf of Mexico have now been described as a new species of medium-sized balaenopterid, Balaenoptera ricei, by Rosel et al. (2021), with the common name Rice’s whale. The remaining Bryde’s whales are provisionally considered to comprise a single species, Balaenoptera edeni, following the usage of Kato and Perrin (2009) and Kershaw et al. (2013). However, Luksenburg et al. (2015) and Wada et al. (2003) accepted two species. Some workers recognize B. edeni as including only the small-form coastal Bryde’s whales of the western Pacific and Indian Oceans, using B. brydei for the globally distributed and larger, more oceanic form (Sasaki et al. 2006). Kato and Perrin (2009) and Kershaw et al. (2013) considered these more likely to be distinct at the subspecific level (although arguably at the species level), and they are included here provisionally as such. Balaenoptera omurai was described by Wada et al. (2003). It was previously confounded with the Bryde’s whale and has been confirmed as having a separate and ancient lineage (Sasaki et al. 2006).
To further resolve the taxonomy and systematics of all the medium-sized baleen whales (B. ricei, B. edeni edeni, B. e. brydei, and including B. borealis) it is critical that a neotype be designated for B. brydei and that genetic data be obtained from that designated neotype. In addition, genetic data should also be obtained from the holotype of B. edeni to validate the identity of museum specimens as well as samples collected from stranded and biopsied individuals. Finally, a comprehensive phylogenetic analysis using nuclear markers of all taxa in this complex with sufficient samples and range-wide geographic coverage is also needed.
Clarke (2004) proposed recognition of a pygmy form of the fin whale as a subspecies, based on distribution, size and coloration. He resurrected the synonym patachonica Burmeister, 1865 to apply to the subspecies: B. physalus patachonica.
Archer et al. (2019) provided genetic evidence at both mitochondrial and nuclear genetic markers that fin whales in the North Pacific are significantly differentiated from those in the North Atlantic and the Southern Hemisphere. They proposed recognition of the North Pacific fin whale as a separate subspecies, B. physalus velifera.
In the odontocetes, Mesoplodon traversii (spade-toothed whale) was recognized as the senior synonym for M. bahamondi (Bahamonde’s beaked whale) (van Helden et al. 2002). The first complete specimen was recently described from a stranding on the North Island of New Zealand (Thompson et al. 2012). Mesoplodon perrini was described by Dalebout et al. (2002). Dalebout et al. (2014) resurrected Mesoplodon hotaula Deraniyagala, 1963, a species closely similar to M. ginkgodens.
Yamada et al. (2019) provided morphological evidence, supported by genetic data (Morin et al. 2018, Kitamura et al. 2013), recognizing a new species of Berardius in the North Pacific, Berardius minimus.
The South Asian river dolphins (genus Platanista) have a long history of taxonomic revision, oscillating between being recognized as two species, Platanista gangetica (Lebeck, 1801) and P. minor Owen, 1853, and two subspecies of Platanista gangetica. The Taxonomy Committee, when it first created the taxonomy list, followed Rice’s (1998) treatment of Platanista and recognized a single species with two subspecies, P. g. gangetica and P. g. minor. Recently, Braulik et al. (2014, 2021) have performed a morphological analysis of the two taxa, coupled with an analysis of mitochondrial DNA and recommended species-level status for the two subspecies. Individually, the support provided from these two lines of evidence was relatively weak: a single, but significant, diagnostic difference in the frontal bones of the skull, and five fixed differences and no shared mtDNA haplotypes, but a level of genetic divergence that does not exceed the species threshold identified by Taylor et al. (2017a). The combined evidence for diagnosability in the morphological and genetic lines of evidence, the significant difference in growth curves between the two taxa, and their estimated divergence time of ~0.55 million years, led the majority of committee members to accept the proposed elevation to species. However, the unavailability of samples from the upper reaches of the rivers where the two taxa may have last been in contact impedes a complete understanding of the evolutionary history of the two taxa and this posed some concern for a few members when evaluating the proposal to elevate the subspecies to species.
We recognize one species of Inia with two subspecies: I. geoffrensis geoffrensis (Blainville, 1817) and I. g. boliviensis (d’ Orbigny, 1834). I. g. boliviensis is found in the Bolivian Amazon basin and overlaps with other Inia in all morphological characters (da Silva, 1994; Ruiz-García et al. 2006). However, molecular genetic evidence from mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and nuclear introns (Banguera-Hinestroza et al. 2002; Ruiz-García et al. 2008) suggested these two subspecies are on separate evolutionary trajectories and deserve recognition as phylogenetic species. Hollatz et al. (2011) estimated that I. g. boliviensis has been reproductively isolated for 3.2 million years. However, these studies used geographically disparate samples, with a significant gap in sampling of Inia habitat between the Teotonio Rapids, hypothesized to be the barrier to gene flow for I. g. boliviensis, and the samples used to represent I. g. geoffrensis. Gravena et al. (2014), with much better sampling of the Madeira River system, including samples from immediately above and below the Teotonio Rapids, found that in fact these rapids did not appear to obstruct gene flow on an evolutionary scale. Thus, the conclusion that the Bolivian Inia above the Teotonio Rapids possessed unique mtDNA (a major line of evidence for recognizing species-level distinctness of I. boliviensis) was not supported by more extensive sampling (i.e., the initial appearance of separation was an artifact of poor sampling). Therefore, only the subspecies Inia geoffrensis boliviensis is retained, although given the newer evidence for a lack of isolation of the dolphins above the Teotonio Rapids (Gravena et al. 2014) and the lack of robust sampling, the strength for subspecies status is weakened. Another new species, Inia araguaiaensis, was described by Hrbek et al. (2014) from the Araguaia River, which is not connected to the Amazon and Siciliano et al. (2016) extended the known range of I. araguaiaensis further north to Marajó Bay, Brazil through mtDNA analysis of three stranded specimens. Hrbek et al. (2014) only examined samples from two extremes of the distribution of Inia, so is it unclear if the molecular differences observed represented real species-level separation or were due to sampling from two locations separated by a large distance. Diagnostic osteological differences were also reported (Hrbek et al. 2014). However, because this study was based on the examination of very few specimens (only 2 for the new species and only 9 for I. geoffrensis) and did not account for effects of sexual dimorphism within the species, the authors’ conclusions are not convincing. In light of these arguments, the species here remains unlisted provisionally. Hrbek et al. (2014) did not recognize I. g. humboldtiana. Continued research on the taxonomic status of all Inia forms is necessary.
Previous editions of this list recognized two globally distributed species of common dolphins: the short-beaked common dolphin D. delphis and the long-beaked common dolphin D. capensis as proposed by Heyning and Perrin (1994). However, evidence that D. capensis thus considered is a polyphyletic taxon has been accumulating for some time. The long-beaked condition is apparently a convergent character state induced by regional ecology. In some regions, long-beaked common dolphins are genetically more closely related to short-beaked common dolphins than to long-beaked common dolphins in other regions (e.g., see Natoli et al. 2006). Cunha et al. (2015) summarized the relevant data and analyses, along with additional molecular data and analysis, and recommended that Delphinus capensis not be further used as proposed by Heyning and Perrin (1994). That recommendation is followed here. Cunha et al. (2015) noted that because the sympatric/parapatric long-beaked and short-beaked common dolphins off California in the Eastern North Pacific (ENP) appear not to interbreed, perhaps the ENP long-beaked common dolphins might be recognized as a separate species D. bairdii Dall,1873 (as advocated by Banks and Brownell (1969) based on the long-beaked condition). However, the molecular analysis for the ENP (Rosel et al. 1994) did not include common dolphins from the contiguous regions to the south in the eastern tropical and eastern South Pacific. Pending a more complete global review and revision of the common dolphins, the long-beaked ENP form is considered here provisionally as a subspecies D. delphis bairdii following the usage of Hershkovitz (1966). Delphinus capensis Gray,1828 from South Africa remains in the synonymy of Delphinus delphis Linnaeus,1758. The long-beaked common dolphin of the Indian Ocean is retained as a subspecies D. delphis tropicalis.
Based on a combined analysis of molecular genetic and morphological data, Mendez et al. (2013) proposed recognizing four species of Sousa (the humpback dolphins): the previously here-listed S. teuszii and S. chinensis plus S. plumbea and a new un-named species from the waters of northern Australia that was originally proposed by Frère et al. (2008, 2011) based on molecular data. A drawback of the phylogenetic analyses by Mendez et al. (2013) is that there was only one sample from the area of supposed sympatry of S. plumbea and S. chinensis and very low coverage of the Indo-Malay region (n=5). The two species are listed here provisionally, pending the outcome of further analysis including more samples from those areas. The new species from Australia has been given the name Sousa sahulensis (Jefferson and Rosenbaum 2014).
The new subspecies Sousa chinensis taiwanensis was described by Wang et al. (2015).
The Burrunan dolphin Tursiops australis, described by Charlton-Robb et al. (2011), is not included here; its basis is questionable because of several potential problems: 1) the specimens were compared morphologically only with bottlenose dolphins from Australia; 2) despite the small sample sizes, the series overlapped in all metric characters and separation was possible only with multivariate analysis (which commonly resolves geographical forms within a species, e.g., see Perrin et al. (1999) and Perrin et al. (2011) for Stenella longirostris and Tursiops truncatus, respectively); 3) comparisons of external morphology and non-metric characters were made only with T. truncatus, to the exclusion of T. aduncus; and 4) support for important nodes in molecular trees suggesting phylogenetic separation was low. A rigorous re-evaluation of the relevant data and arguments is needed. Recently, Jedensjö et al. (2020) conducted a broader morphological comparison of Tursiops skulls from around Australia, including skulls of both T. truncatus and T. aduncus and their respective holotypes, and did not find support for the Burrunan bottlenose dolphin, T. australis, proposed by Charlton-Robb et al. (2011). Skulls previously classified as T. australis all fell well within the T. truncatus group. In contrast, Moura et al. (2020) placed T. australis within a T. aduncus clade based on a nuclear genetic phylogeny.
Costa et al. (2016), Wickert et al. (2016), and Hohl et al. (2020) have examined morphological characteristics of Tursiops specimens from the western South Atlantic. Costa et. al. (2016) recommended subspecies status for the larger coastal form found between southern Brazil and northern Argentina, while both Wickert et al. (20160 and Hohl et al. (2020) have recommended species status. Costa et al. (2020) paired morphological and genetic data from samples collected from both forms in southern Brazil and found strong congruence between morphological and mitochondrial and nuclear divergence; genetic differentiation was also observed in Oliveira et al. (2019). In both genetic studies, however, evidence for shared mitochondrial haplotypes and possibly shared nuclear ancestry was found. We provisionally recognize the subspecies T. t. gephyreus Lahille 1908 (Lahille’s bottlenose dolphin) for this larger coastal form. Improved geographic sampling and improved objectivity in hypothesis testing is needed to fully resolve the taxonomy of Tursiops in this region. In particular, further work is needed to better identify the distribution of the gephyreus form and determine its phylogenetic relationship to coastal and offshore Tursiops in the western North Atlantic and throughout Caribbean waters. Wang et al. (2021) showed gephyreus to be the correct trivial name for this taxon (as long as it continues to be recognized as a subspecies or species).
Recognition of the Black Sea bottlenose dolphin is now well-supported by molecular genetic data (Viaud-Martinez et al. 2008), as is the Black Sea common dolphin (Natoli et al. 2008).
Kinze (2018) proposed that the scientific name for Tursiops truncatus should be Tursiops tursio as tursio has priority over truncatus. The committee noted that resurrecting the name T. tursio for the bottlenose dolphin would upset long-standing usage and would cause considerable confusion in national and international treaties, agreements, etc. Therefore, the name T. truncatus should continue to be used for the common bottlenose dolphin to maintain stability.
The genus Lagenorhynchus is widely considered a polyphyletic taxon containing morphologically convergent species (Cipriano 1997, LeDuc et al. 1999, McGowen 2011, Banguera-Hinestroza et al. 2014, Vollmer et al. 2019). Vollmer et al. (2019) provided a detailed review of the relationships among members of the genus Lagenorhynchus and their relationship to Cephalorhynchus and Lissodelphis. Results continue to support the polyphyletic nature of the genus Lagenorhynchus and multiple morphological and genetic analyses indicate that L. albirostris and L. acutus are evolutionarily distinct from the other members of all three genera. Vollmer et al. (2019) recommended revision of the genus sensu Leduc et al. (1999), placing L. obscurus, L. obliquidens, L. australis and L. cruciger into the genus Sagmatias, L. acutus into the genus Leucopleurus and leaving L. albirostris in a monotypic genus Lagenorhynchus. While a majority of committee members supported the changes proposed by Vollmer et al. (2019), a 2/3 majority of voting members was not reached. Primary objection to the changes focused on remaining uncertainties in some relationships and the potential confusion that may be created if the proposed changes require further revision in the near future. At issue are 1) the conflicting support among data sets for a sister-taxa relationship between L. albirostris and L. acutus (which would obviate the need for Leucopleurus), and 2) evidence that australis and cruciger should be included in Cephalorhynchus (which would necessitate a new genus for obliquidens and obscurus, as australis is the type species for the genus Sagmatias). Therefore, the taxonomy list retains all species in Lagenorhynchus, recognizing that the current taxonomy does not reflect the evolutionary distinctiveness of L. albirostris and L. acutus. Next steps in unraveling the taxonomy of these dolphins will need to involve robust datasets that include all Lagenorhynchus and Cephalorhynchus species. Harlin-Cognato (2010) recognized L. obscurus posidonia (Peru/Chile).
It has been noted repeatedly, most recently by Perrin et al. (2013), that the delphinine genera Stenella and Tursiops are paraphyletic and that at present there is no molecular or morphological basis for satisfactory resolution of phylogenetic relationships in the subfamily. A possible solution would be to return all the species in Tursiops, Sousa, and Stenella to Delphinus, the genus in which they were first described, and place Lagenodelphis hosei there as well. However, considering that this would obscure the clear close relationship of the present Sousa and Tursiops species, the status quo is maintained here provisionally, pending the outcome of more definitive morphological and molecular studies. Eventually a more natural classification will emerge.
Perrin et al. (1999) established the subspecies Stenella longirostris roseiventris.
The Irrawaddy dolphin was split into O. brevirostris and O. heinsohni, the Australian snubfin dolphin (Beasley et al. 2005).
Wang et al. (2008) and Jefferson and Wang (2011) established Neophocaena asiaeorientalis as a full species distinct from the N. phocaenoides, with two subspecies. Zhou et al. (2018) examined genomic DNA sequence data and concluded that there was significant genetic differentiation between the two subspecies of N. asiaeorientalis, including evidence for genetic adaptation to the freshwater environment of the Yangtze River. The authors proposed the two subspecies of N. asiaeorientalis be elevated to species-level, the Yangtze finless porpoise, N. asiaeorientalis Pilleri and Gihr 1927, and the East Asian finless porpoise, N. sunameri Pilleri and Gihr 1972. However, there were no samples in this study from near the mouth of the Yangtze River where the marine and river subspecies could possibly be sympatric and where genetic interchange could occur. While the results of the study are consistent with recently diverged taxa, the lack of samples in the potential area of sympatry make it difficult to rule out an isolation by distance effect.
Viaud-Martinez et al. (2007) concluded based on morphological and molecular genetic evidence that Phocoena phocoena relicta is a distinct subspecies.
We list the baiji Lipotes vexillifer as “possibly extinct” in conformance with the IUCN Red List, although extinction seems a certainty.
Manatees and Dugongs
In the Sirenia, subspecies of the dugong are not currently recognized (Domning, 1996; see http://sirendom.org/biblio for update to 1996 publication). However, no in-depth study has been undertaken to address the issue of subspecies.
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Last updated June 2021 by members of the Committee on Taxonomy:
- Patricia E. Rosel (Chair)
- Frederick I. Archer
- C. Scott Baker
- Daryl J. Boness
- Robert L. Brownell, Jr.
- Morgan Churchill
- Ana P. Costa
- Daryl P. Domning
- R. Ewan Fordyce
- Thomas A. Jefferson
- Carl Kinze
- Michael McGowen
- Larissa R. Oliveira
- John Y. Wang
- Tadasu K. Yamada