Status of the World’s Cetaceans

A total of 89 cetacean species (of 90) and an additional 42 subspecies or subpopulations have been evaluated for the IUCN Red List.

Assessments and classifications are being updated regularly – below is a summary of the red list status of cetaceans based on the 2020-2 issue of the IUCN Red List.


Critically Endangered
There are four cetacean species and 18 subspecies or subpopulations of cetacean that are currently classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. The Yangtze River dolphin (Lipotes vexillifer) is classified as critically endangered and may already be functionally extinct. The vaquita (Phocoena sinus), a porpoise resident in the inner Gulf of California in Mexico is the other cetacean that is listed as critically endangered.  The Atlantic humpback dolphn (Sousa teuszii) which occurs only in the coastal zone of West Africa is critically endangered, as is the North Atlantic Right whale (Eubalaena glacialis).  Critically endangered subspecies and subpopulations include six isolated subpopulations of Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), two in marine waters in the Phillippines: Malampaya Sound and Iliolo-Guimaras and four in fresh or brakkish waters: Mekong River, Mahakam River, Songkla Lake and the Ayeyarwady River subpopulations.


Nine cetacean species are endangered: sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis), blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena japonica), the South Asian river dolphins (Platanista gangetica), Amazon River dolphin (Inia geoffrensis), Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), Indian Ocean humpback dolphin (Sousa plumbea), and Hector’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori).

Seven species are classified as Vulnerable and seven are Near Threatened. Many species are very little known and have been classified as Data Deficient.

Ganges River dolphin, Platanista gangetica gangetica, photographed in the Kulsi River, India. Rivers dolphins in this river are threatened by construction of a new dam. Photo credit: Mark Cawardine.

Category Species Subspecies/populations Total
Critically Endangered 4 18 22
Endangered 9 11 20
Vulnerable 7 10 17
Near Threatened 7 0 7
Least Concern 36 0 36
Data Deficient 26 3 29
Total 89 42 131
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