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Dolphin Fact Sheet

The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquarium Bottlenose Dolphin Fact Sheet

The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums has compiled information and facts on the bottlenose dolphin which is used throughout the marine animal community.

Information included:

  • Scientific classification
  • Fossil record
  • Global distribution
  • Habitats
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Diet
  • Cognition
  • Sensory systems
  • Swimming
  • Diving
  • Thermoregulation
  • Behavior
  • Reproduction and maternal care
  • Longevity and mortality
  • Predators
  • Conservation

View/Download Dolphin Fact Sheet PDF


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Bottlenose Dolphins Facts

Scientific NameTursiops truncatus
Scientific Order – Cetacea
Sub-order – Odontoceti (toothed-whales)
How long are bottlenose dolphins? – In general, average lengths are between 7 and 9 feet (2.1 to 2.7 meters)

Appearance

  • Dolphins have sleek, stream-lined bodies which minimize drag as they travel through the water
  • Generally slate grey to charcoal in color including simple counter shading (darker dorsally and lighter ventrally). The sides of the body often have light brush markings. Some ventral speckling may be found on the belly depending on location.
  • The pectoral flippers are convex with pointed tips.
  • The tail fins/flukes are at the end of the body and derived from outgrowths of skin and connective tissue.
  • The dorsal fin is tall, curved backwards, and positioned in the middle of the back.
  • The rostrum is clearly marked from the forehead by a lateral crease, and the line of the mouth is curved up towards the eyes.

Where do dolphins live?
Bottlenose dolphins are found in temperate and tropical waters around the world.

How long do dolphins live? 
The latest data shows that on average, a one-year old dolphin in Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (AMMPA) accredited facilities will live for more than 25 years. Current scientific data shows that the average lifespan of bottlenose dolphins in AMMPA member facilities is similar to or better than those reported for their counterparts in the wild.

What do dolphins eat?
Bottlenose dolphin’s diet consists of small fish such as herring, capelin, mackerel, squid, mullet and sardines.

Predators
Sharks are the most common predators of coastal bottlenose dolphins

Threats
The 2002 Marine Mammal Commission report states “Loss of habitat due to coastal development, exposure to pollutants, disturbance, vessel strikes, entanglement in debris, noise and pollution related to oil and gas development, direct and indirect interactions with recreational and commercial fisheries, human interactions and chemical residues.”

Additional Facts

  • Bottlenose dolphins have between 72 and 104 conical-shaped teeth. They only have one set for their lifetime.
  • Dolphins swallow their prey whole and do not chew their food.
  • Bottlenose dolphins produce sounds through their blowhole and not from vocal chords, as in other mammals.
  • Bottlenose dolphins are known to make three types of sounds: whistles, echolocation clicks and burst-pulse sounds.
  • One type of whistle is a “signature whistle”, known to be specific to individuals and used for communication. Male calves have a signature whistle similar to their mother’s whistle while female calves do not.
  • Bottlenose dolphins have a well-developed sense of vision. Although dolphins can see very well both out of water and in clear, sun-lit water, scientists are unsure if dolphins possess color vision
  • A dolphin exchanges 40%of the air in its lungs with each breath, while humans only exchange 17% of the air in their lungs with each breath.• A dolphin can hold its breath up to around seven minutes.
  • Bottlenose dolphins have the ability to swim to 18 mph (29 km/hour)
  • Bottlenose dolphins usually inhabit waters of less than 9.8 feet (3 meters)
  • Dolphins shed the outer layer of skin 12 times per day, every 2 hours.
  • Dolphins have a thick layer of blubber just below their skin that is used for storing fat, insulation and protection. The streamlined-shape and reduced limbs of a dolphin conserves body heat by decreasing the amount of surface area exposed to the external environment.
  • Dolphins have shown to engage in a semi sleep state, where one half of the brain is in sleep state, while the other half maintains visual and auditory awareness of their environment and resurfacing for breathing.
  • A newborn dolphin is called a calf.
  • The gestation period of bottlenose dolphins is on average 12 months.
  • The size of a newborn calf is between 3 to 4 feet (91 – 122cm) in length and weighs approximately between 30 and 40 pounds (14 to 18 kg).
  • The strongest social unit for bottlenose dolphins is the mother and calf bond.