Finless Porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides)

Range Description:

The type specimen was from the Yangtze River, Kiangsu [=Jiangsu] Province, China, ~129 km (=80 miles) northwest of Shanghai (Pilleri and Gihr 1972).

In general, the species occurs in a narrow strip of shallow (usually et al. 2010), but it probably represents an extralimital stray rather than an extension of the species’ range.) The distribution also includes a few estuaries and rivers (e.g., the N. a. asiaeorientalis subspecies appears to be found exclusively in the Yangtze River system; Gao 1991; Gao and Zhou 1995). Human coastal development and other activities already may have substantially reduced and fragmented the distribution of finless porpoises (Reeves et al. 1997).

N. a. sunameri – Coastal waters from the Taiwan Strait, including the western coast of Taiwan (mainly the Matsu and Chinmen Islands), through the East China Sea north to the Bohai/Yellow Sea in China and the waters of Korea and Japan (Gao 1991, Gao and Zhou 1995). Korean and Japanese populations are geographically separate (Shirakihara et al. 1992,Yoshida et al. 2001, Yoshida 2002).See in Thailand

N. a. asiaeorientalis – Middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River (= Chang Jiang), where it ranges (or did until recently) to 1,600 km upstream, i.e. to the gorges above Yichang (200 m above sea level). The range includes Poyang and Dongting lakes and their tributaries, the Gan Jiang and the Xiang Jiang (Gao 1991, Gao and Zhou 1995). The subspecies is thought to be restricted to fresh water.
Countries: Native:
China; Japan; Korea, Republic of; Taiwan, Province of China

Narrow-ridged Finless Porpoises are found mainly in coastal waters, including shallow bays, possibly mangrove swamps, estuaries, and some large rivers. However, they can also occur in shallow waters (
In Japanese waters, finless porpoises prefer shallow depths.
Systems: Freshwater; Marine



The finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides) is one of six porpoise species. In the waters around Japan, at the northern end of its range, it is known as the sunameri (砂滑). A freshwater population found in the Yangtze River in China is known locally as the jiangzhu (江猪) or "river pig". There is a degree of taxonomic uncertainty surrounding the species, with the N. p. phocaenoides subspecies perhaps representing a different species from N. p. sunameri and N. p. asiaeorientalis.

Physical description

The finless porpoise almost completely lacks a dorsal fin. Instead there is a low ridge covered in thick denticulated skin.

Adults are a uniform, light grey colour. Newborn calves are mostly black with grey around the dorsal ridge area, becoming fully grey after four to six months. Adults grow more than 1.55 m (5 ft) in length and up to 30–45 kg (65–100 lb) in weight. Males become sexually mature at around four to six years of age, and females at around six to 9 years of age.

The finless porpoise, subspecies Neomeris kurrachiensis, in the vicinity of Karachi, British India, now Pakistan, as drawn by R. A. Sterndale, in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, volume 1, number 1, 1886.

Finless porpoises are reported to eat fish and shrimp in the Yangtze River, and fish, shrimp and squid in the Yellow Sea/Bohai area and off Pakistan. In Japanese waters, they are known to eat fish, shrimp, squid, cuttle fish and octopuses. They are opportunistic feeders using various kinds of available food items available in their habitat. Seasonal changes in their diets have not been studied. They also apparently ingest some plant material when living in estuaries, mangroves, and rivers, including leaves, rice, and eggs deposited on vegetation.


Finless porpoises are generally found as singles, pairs, or in groups of up to 12, although aggregations of up to about 50 have been reported. Recent data suggest the basic unit of a finless porpoise pod is a mother/calf pair or two adults, and schools of three or more individuals are aggregations of these units or of solitary individuals. Social structure seems to be underdeveloped in the species, and the mother/calf pair is probably the only stable social unit

Behaviour and reproduction

Like other porpoises, their behaviour tends to be not as energetic and showy as that of dolphins. They do not ride bow waves, and in some areas appear to be shy of boats. In the Yangtze River, finless porpoises are known to leap from the water and perform "tail stands". Breeding occurs in late spring and early summer, after a gestation period of 10–11 months. The calf clings to the denticulated area of skin on their mother's back and is carried by her as she swims. Calves are weaned at 6–15 months.

Swimming style

Although they show no acrobatics in the water, finless porpoises are believed to be very active swimmers. They typically swim just beneath the surface of the water and roll to one side when surfacing to breathe. This rolling movement disturbs very little water on the surface, so they are often overlooked when rising to breathe. Surfacing generally lasts for one minute, as they take three to four quick successive breaths, then quickly submerge into the water. They often surface a great distance from the point where they dive beneath the water's surface.


On the IUCN "red list" database of endangered species, the finless porpoise is listed as "vulnerable" due to apparent declines in the best studied populations in the Sea of Japan, and the Yangtze river basin. The fresh water subspecies in the Yangtze river is characterized as endangered. Since this species remains in coastal waters, it has a high degree of interaction with humans, which often puts the finless porpoise at risk. Like other porpoises, large numbers of this species are killed by entanglement in gill nets. Except for being briefly hunted after World War II due to the lack of seaworthy fishing boats, finless porpoises have never been widely hunted in Japan. It is a species protected since 1930 at the area around Awajima Island, Takehara and this coverage had since been extended to all Japanese coastal waters. The primary danger to the species is the environmental degradation. In addition, unlike other members of this family, finless porpoises have lived in captivity for over 15 years.

There are no well-established estimates of the animals' abundance. However, a comparison of two surveys, one from the late 1970s and the other from 1999–2000, shows a decline in population and distribution. Scientists believe this decline has been ongoing for decades, and the current population is just a fraction of its historical levels. A 2006 expedition estimated fewer than 400 animals survived in the Yangtze River.

At the end of 2006, an estimated 1400 porpoises were left living in China, with between 700 and 900 in the Yangtze and another 500 in Poyang and Dongting Lakes.

The 2007 population levels were less than half the 1997 levels, and the population is dropping at a rate of 7.3% per year. Current conservation efforts were undertaken alongside those for the recently functionally extinct baiji. In 1990, five individuals were relocated to the Tian-e-Zhou Oxbow Nature Reserve, and now a population of 28 currently inhabit the lake.

Sand dredging has become a mainstay of local economic development in the last few years, and it is an important source of revenue in the region that borders Poyang Lake. At the same time, though, high-density dredging projects have been the principal cause of the death of the local wildlife population.

Dredging makes the waters of the lake muddier, and the porpoises cannot see as far as they once could, and have to rely on their highly developed sonar systems to avoid obstacles and look for food. Large ships enter and leave the lake at the rate of two a minute, and such a high density of shipping means the porpoises have difficulty hearing their food, and also cannot swim freely from one bank to the other.

The Finless porpoise is listed on Appendix II[6] of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). It is listed on Appendix II[6] as it has an unfavourable conservation status or would benefit significantly from international co-operation organised by tailored agreements.

Conservation Actions:

Neophocaena phocaenoides (meant at the time of listing to include N. asiaeorientalis) is listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and in Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). Management measures are needed to reduce the threats, particularly incidental mortality in fisheries and vessel strikes, but also to protect (or if possible restore) the environmental conditions needed for these animals to survive and reproduce.