Long-beaked common dolphin

Delphinus capensis
Other names: 
  • Common Dolphin
Maximum length: 
  • Male: 2.5m
  • Female: 2.2m
  • Calf: 1m
Maximum weight: 
  • Male: 235 kg
  • Female: Unknown
  • Calf: 17 kg
  • Schooling fish (sardines, anchovies etc.)
  • Squid
Estimated population: 
IUCN Listing: 
CITES Appendix: 
CMS Appendix: 
Not Listed

This species is difficult to distinguish from the more widely distributed short-beaked common dolphin. It too is very acrobatic and can be seen bow and wake-riding in large numbers. Small pods of 10-30 animals will congregate and form herds of hundreds or thousands of individuals. The 2009 review of the Delphinus taxa by the IWC Scientific Committee, as well as several recent scientific publications, concluded that the long-beaked and short-beaked common dolphins should probably be treated as the same taxonomic unit which shows considerable variation through its large range. (For these and some other cetaceans however, the species concept does not work very well and what this means in conservation terms will need to be given some careful consideration). Currently, two sub-species of long-beaked common dolphin are recognised; D. c. capensis - long-beaked common, and D. c. tropicalis - Indo-Pacific long-beaked common dolphin.


Both common dolphin species are slender, with a long distinct beak and a high dorsal fin. The most notable difference, as the name suggests, is the beak, which in the long-beaked common dolphin can be up to 10% of the total body size. The long-beak common dolphin generally has a sleeker, more streamlined appearance and although both species have a criss-cross pattern on their flanks (forming a lighter horizontal ‘hour glass' pattern), in the long-beaked species the pattern is less distinct and more muted in colouration. In contrast to the dorsal fin of the short-beaked, the white patch is either absent or minimal in the long-beaked. Also, rather than having a patch covering the eye, there is a stripe running from the beak extending to the eye. Long-beaked common dolphins are slightly larger than the short-beaked, and the long-beaked males are slightly bigger than the females. Long-beaked common dolphins also have possibly the highest tooth-count of all delphinids with between 47 – 67 sharp, pointed teeth in each row.


Long-beaked common dolphins are highly gregarious and are often seen ‘porpoising' at the water surface, breaching and bow-riding. They are also highly vocal and can be heard when they are above the surface of the water. Long-beaked and short-beaked common dolphins can be found living alongside each other in some near-shore waters. However, the long-beaked form seems to prefer shallower and warmer waters and generally lives closer to shore whilst the short-beaked form prefers oceanic waters. Both species feed on a wide variety of schooling fish and squid and are found in large schools, sometimes consisting of hundreds or thousands of individuals. Long-beaked common dolphins are believed to live for approximately 40 years.


The long-beaked common dolphin lives in warm temperate and tropical waters, including in West Africa, Latin America (from Venezuela to Argentina), along the coast from California south to Mexico and along parts of the Peruvian, Madagascan, South African, Japanese and Korean coastlines. Long-beaked common dolphins have a 'patchy distribution' but generally occur within 180km of the coast. Classified by IUCN as Data Deficient, the species is widespread and may number in the high tens or low hundreds of thousands. Large numbers are known to have been taken in gillnet fisheries off the coast of California, in the eastern tropical Pacific tuna fishery and in direct hunts in other South American coastal fisheries, but no one knows exactly how many animals are being affected this way, making it difficult to assess the impacts on the species.

Distribution map: