Dolphins are among everyone’s favorite marine species, and they live in all the world’s oceans and in some rivers as well. There are over 40 currently known species of dolphins — including killer whales and pilot whales, which actually belong to the dolphin family. Here we’ll look at five of the most common dolphin species.
The most common species of dolphins is named — you guessed it — the common dolphin. We actually use this name for two slightly different species: the long-beaked and short-beaked common dolphins. They have dark backs and white bellies, with a lighter pattern on the side, often described as gold. They are very common around shallow reefs in warm waters and you’ll usually encounter big pods of over 100 individuals.
Common bottlenose dolphin (also known as the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin)
The bottlenose dolphin is one of the most famous species, beginning with the television show “Flipper.” After working with these intelligent and playful dolphins as a trainer on the show, Ric O’Barry went on to found the Dolphin Project, dedicated to keeping these animals out of captivity. Bottlenose dolphins live in areas from tropical to temperate waters in pods of 10 to 30 individuals. Their high intelligence and curiosity toward humans makes them most popular species for marine parks and aquariums, and a particular target for capture, as noted above.
There are a few subspecies of spinner dolphins, famous for their acrobatics and “spins” out of the water, which give them their name. They can jump up to 10 feet (3 m) out of the water and do multiple spins before landing. Spinner dolphins also have very long beaks and exhibit different shades of gray, from dark on the top to a clearer belly. They live in tropical, subtropical and temperate areas of the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and the Atlantic Ocean. Pods can be very large, numbering over 200 individuals.
Pacific white-sided dolphin
You’ll commonly find this species in the cool and temperate waters of the Pacific Ocean. They have a creamy belly and throat, a dark gray back and lighter gray patterns on the side. They’re a very active and inquisitive species, often approaching boats and pods usually number around 100 individuals. Although not as popular as bottlenose dolphins, this species is also commonly kept in captivity.
Made sadly famous by the Faroe Islands’ traditional hunt in recent years, this “whale” is actually part of the dolphin family. It looks quite distinctive, having no beak but a snout instead, as well as a prominent head. Pods can number up to 60 individuals and have very strong bonds. Pilot whales can dive down to over 1,900 feet (600 m) to look for octopus and squid to eat as well.
Dolphins have only a few natural predators, which include the bigger shark species such as tiger sharks, great whites and bull sharks. By far their most dangerous predator, however, is humans, both directly and indirectly through our activities. Dolphins often end up as bycatch in fishing operations. Other fisheries actively hunt them, including in Japan and the Faroe Islands as mentioned above. Some species’ future is very uncertain. For example, the river dolphins like the Amazon dolphin and the Baiji dolphin which is now extinct. The CITES Appendix 1 lists a few species as threatened with extinction as well. Divers can support dolphins by avoiding aquariums and marine parks that hold them in captivity. Do not participate in any captive-dolphin encounters. Seeing one in the wild will be a far more rewarding experience, both for you and the dolphin.