© Whale and Dolphin Conservation/Rob Lott


1 Relatively speaking

At up to 4m long the species is the biggest of the cetaceans we call dolphins, though it is actually more closely related to pilot and false killer whales than to its namesakes.

2 Battle scars

As they age, the grey, pale-bellied adult Risso’s dolphins accumulate scars from tussles with prey and other whales that can make them appear almost entirely white.

3 Shelf life

Risso’s dolphins prefer deep water beyond the edge of continental shelves, though a population of more than 100 animals frequents the shallow waters off Bardsey Island, north Wales.

4 Chewless wonders

Unusually for toothed whales, Risso's dolphins have no teeth in the upper jaw and between only two and seven pairs in the lower. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, they swallow their squid prey whole.

5 Lord of the dance

The Scottish ceilidh dance Pelorus Jack is named after a Risso's dolphin that was famous for escorting ships through a dangerous channel in Cook Strait, New Zealand, between 1888 and 1912.

6 French Connection

Risso’s dolphin is the sole member of the genus Grampus, which was once a common name for the orca. Its origin is mysterious – perhaps a contraction of grand poisson (‘big fish’).

7 French Connection II

The species is named after French naturalist Antoine Risso (1777-1845), who is also immortalised in the names of Risso's lanternfish and many species of marine snail.


Find out more about Risso’s dolphins and Whale and Dolphin Conservation.