Scientific name

Tursiops truncatus


Where does it get its name?

Common bottlenose dolphins get their name from their short, thick snout that’s shaped like a bottle.


Whale SENSE Region Found:

ATLANTIC


Protection status

Protected throughout its range

NOAA Fisheries estimates population size for each stock of bottlenose dolphins in its stock assessment reports. A stock is a group of animals that occupy the same area and interbreed. In all, 61 stocks of common bottlenose dolphins have been identified in U.S. waters. Population trends for many of the U.S. stocks are unknown.  Five stocks along the Atlantic Coast are considered depleted under the MMPA and 46 stocks along the Atlantic Coast and Gulf of Mexico are considered strategic


Where to watch:

Bottlenose dolphins are found in temperate and tropical waters around the world. They inhabit a wide variety of habitats, including harbors, bays, gulfs, and estuaries, as well as nearshore coastal waters, deeper waters over the continental shelf, and even far offshore in the open ocean. 


What to watch for:

Dorsal fin: Prominent dorsal fin in the middle of their back.

Body: They are generally gray in color. They can range from light gray to almost black on top near their dorsal fin and light gray to almost white on their belly. Bottlenose dolphins living in nearshore coastal waters are often smaller and lighter in color than those living offshore.

Size: Length: 6-13 feet, Weight: 300-1,400 lbs

Behavior: Bottlenose dolphins are often seen being surface active, demostrating behaviors like tail slaps and porpoising (jumping) out of the water.They are also known to bow ride and wake surf near boats, though maneuvering your boat to intentionally get them to do this is considered harassment and is illegal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Associations: Bottlenose dolphins are highly social creatures. They may travel alone or in groups, and the groups continually break apart and reform. They use breeding, playing, aggression, and gentle body contact (such as rubbing) as ways to have social interactions with one another.

May be confused with: Short-beaked common dolphins, spinner dolphins

Feeding

Bottlenose dolphins can thrive in many environments and feed on a variety of prey, such as fish, squid, and crustaceans (e.g., crabs and shrimp). They use different techniques to pursue and capture prey, searching for food individually or cooperatively. For example, they can work to bring fish together into groups (herding). They then take turns charging through the schools to feed. They may also trap schools of fish against sand bars and seawalls for an easy dinner.

Mating and Calving

They generally begin to reproduce when they are between 5 and 15 years old, and females can reach sexual maturity before males. Females are pregnant for about 12 months. Once calves are born, they nurse for up to 20 months and generally stay with their mothers for 3 to 6  years. On average, females give birth every 3 to 6 years. 

Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center/WDC

Did you know?

  • Instead of using their teeth to chew, dolphins grip fish with their teeth, then swallow the fish whole—head first—so the spines of the fish don’t catch in their throats.
  • Along with great apes, elephants and humans, common bottlenose dolphins have one of the most sophisticated intellects on our planet.
  • Bottlenose dolphins can live at least 40 years, with some females out-living males at 60 years or more.

Threats to bottlenose dolphins

Bottlenose dolphin resources

Learn more about bottlenose dolphins