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Common dolphin © Tim Stenton

Common dolphin

Delphinus delphis

Previously considered as one species, in 1994 the common dolphin was separated into short and long-beak varieties.

However, advances in science suggest the initial classification was correct and the common dolphin is in fact one species (with four sub-species), which shows considerable variation through its large range.

Other names: Criss-cross dolphin; White-bellied porpoise; Short-beaked saddleback dolphin; Atlantic/Pacific dolphin; Hourglass dolphin

Oceanic dolphin silhouette
Male Female Calf
Maximum length 2.7m 2.6m 0.8m
Maximum weight 150kg Unknown Unknown

IUCN conservation status: Least concern

(Mediterranean sub-population listed as Endangered; Black Sea sub-species, D. d. ponticus listed as Vulnerable)

What do common dolphins look like?

Common dolphins have distinctive colouring with multiple colour bands along their sides. Predominantly black or dark grey in colour, forward of the dorsal fin their flanks have a flash of yellow whilst behind the dorsal fin it is white. This colouration forms a beautiful hourglass pattern on their sides. Although the taxonomic debate has finally been settled, there are some differences between the short-beaked and long-beaked common dolphins with the short-beaked slightly stockier than the long-beaked, possessing a more rounded melon and as its name suggests, a shorter beak.

What’s life like for a common dolphin?

Fast and furious for this friendly, sociable dolphin. Common dolphins typically travel in large groups numbering between 10 and 50 dolphins, and occasionally, hundreds if not thousands. Occasionally, different groups will come together to form mega-pods which can consist of over 10,000 dolphins. They are incredibly acrobatic and can often be seen breaching and breaking the water's surface at high speed, a behaviour which can be seen from some distance away. Entire pods will take turns to bow-ride all shapes and sizes of boat and they are often seen with other marine mammals (sometimes even bow-riding the wake of large whales) and feeding seabirds. Life however, can also be fraught with danger as short-beaked common dolphins are hunted throughout their range and are also increasingly becoming accidentally entangled in fishing gear.

What do common dolphins eat?

A varied diet. They tend to focus mostly on fish found in mid-water depths, like mackerel, herring and other schooling fish but also enjoy a tasty squid every now and then. Short-beaked common dolphins are also known to be cooperative feeders, working with pod mates to drive prey into an easily accessible ‘bait-ball.’

Where do common dolphins live?

Common dolphins are found in most tropical and temperate waters of the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. They can be found in both coastal and offshore waters and also enclosed seas, and indeed separate subpopulations exist in both the Mediterranean and Black Seas. There are thought to be several million living in our oceans.

Under threat

  • Turkey hunted common dolphin for commercial oil production and in the 1970s, 150–200 dolphins and porpoises were processed each day for oil for domestic use or for export. The species is also targeted for their meat in several places around the world.
  • Significant numbers of common dolphins are accidentally caught in fishing nets throughout their range.
  • Pollution is one of the burgeoning threats facing common dolphins throughout their range.

Distribution map

Common dolphin distribution map

Common dolphins need your help

The main threats...

  • Hunting – common dolphins are targeted for their meat in several places throughout their range.
  • Deaths in nets – common dolphins are taken incidentally by various fishing gears throughout their range.
  • Pollution – pollution is one of the burgeoning threats facing common dolphins throughout their range.

You can help save common dolphins...

By supporting WDC, you can help common dolphins to live safe and free. Together, we can:

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Humpback whale. Photo: Vanessa Mignon


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