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© Charlie Phillips/WDC

Facts about dolphins

Dolphins are incredible. They are socially skilled, intelligent, agile, joyful, and playful creatures that share many emotional similarities with humans. There is an impressive range of different species of dolphin and they all have their own unique identities and characteristics!

Top ten facts about dolphins

  • There are currently 42 species of dolphins and seven species of porpoises.
  • Dolphins are marine mammals. They must surface to breathe air and give birth to live young.
  • A dolphin pregnancy last between nine and 16 months. The mother feeds her offspring on milk. The sons and daughters of resident orcas stay with their maternal family for life.
  • Dolphins eat fish, squid and crustaceans. They do not chew they food but may break it into smaller pieces before swallowing.
  • All dolphins have conical-shaped teeth. A Risso's dolphin has 14 while a spinner dolphin can have 240.
  • The orca (killer whale) is the largest dolphin. Hector's dolphin and Franciscana are two of the smallest.
  • The four river dolphin species inhabit the large waterways of Asia and South America.
  • Dolphins have an array of vocalisations such as clicks, whistles and squeals which they use for their well-developed communication and echolocation skills.
  • Lifespan varies from around 20 years in the smaller dolphin species to 80 years or more for larger dolphins such as orcas.
  • Maui's dolphin (a sub-species of the New Zealand dolphin) is the most endangered dolphin. There are less than 50 individuals remaining. Fewer than 10 vaquitas (a species of porpoise) survive.

More amazing facts about dolphins

The smallest dolphins

New Zealand dolphin
metres (female)
Tucuxi
metres (female)
Vaquita
metres (female)

Which is the world's most endangered dolphin?

The vaquita, which in Spanish means ‘little cow’, is the smallest porpoise in the world, and also the most endangered. The vaquita lives only in Mexican coastal waters, in a small area of the northern Gulf of California. The species is in terrible trouble and facing imminent extinction; there are only about 30 individuals left. Accidental capture and death in fishing nets is the cause of their rapid decline in numbers; to put it simply, more vaquitas are killed in fishing nets than are born each year.

Maui's dolphin is also on the brink of extinction. Maui’s dolphin is a sub-species of the New Zealand dolphin that lives only in coastal waters of part of North Island, New Zealand. Maui’s dolphins are facing extinction; there are now less than 50 individuals left living along a 22-mile stretch of coastline. The problem causing this rapid decline and indeed the decline of Hector’s dolphin (the other New Zealand dolphin sub-species) in South Island is entanglement in fishing nets.

Please help us save dolphins

By adopting a whale or dolphin, by making a donation, or by fundraising for WDC, you can help us provide a safe future for these amazing creatures.

Bottlenose dolphin at surface

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Humpback whale © Vanessa Mignon

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Orca spyhop

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