Burmeister's Porpoise was discovered by zoologist Hermann Karl Konrad Burmeister of Cologne when he noticed that the dorsal fin of this porpoise extended into an exceptionally sharp point. The dorsal fin also contains rows of tubercles along its front edge, providing the basis for its scientific name "spinipinnis" (which is derived from the latin words "spina" = thorn and "pina" = fin). The body ranges from 1.4 to 1.8 meters in length, making it one of the smaller species in this family. Males appear to be slightly larger on average than females.
Burmeister's porpoise is a uniform color dorsally varying from dark grey to black while the ventral side is paler in pigmentation. This species's tendency to turn black soon after death has earned it the nickname "the black porpoise." The presence of an eye patch surrounded by a pale grey ring is a useful identifying characteristic. Additionally, a unique characteristic is the presence of asymmetric flipper stripes with a nearly uniform, straight edged shape on the left side and a more curvacious right side patch that gradually narrows anteriorly.
The skull morphology of Phocoena spinipinnis can be described based on other members of the genus, particulary Phocoena phocoena whom it closely resembles, with the following characteristics: (1) a brain case tending to be much more compact lengthwise, (2) a dorsal profile of the supraoccipital bone in line with the dorsal profile of the rostrum instead of at a 20 degree angle, (3) a larger temporal fossa, (4)and a lower tooth count of 14-16 upper teeth and 17-19 lower teeth on each side.
Range mass: 40 to 70 kg.