Common dolphin

Animal Facts

  • Size

    to 8.5 feet (2.5 m), 160 to 500 pounds (73 to 227 kg)

  • Relatives

    bottlenose dolphin, Pacific white-sided dolphin, orca; Order: Cetacea; Family: Delphinidae

  • Habitat

    Open Waters

  • Range

    all tropical and temperate oceans

    Long-beaked common dolphin range map

Natural History

This sleek and colorful dolphin has a complex color pattern that includes a white belly, gray flanks and tan or yellowish side patches. These gregarious animals are very active at the surface and enjoy riding the bow waves of boats. Long-beaked common dolphins can dive to at least 900 feet (280 m) and hold their breath for up to eight minutes. They're usually found in groups, called schools.

In Monterey Bay

Of the two species of common dolphin, it's the long-beaked variety that we see in Monterey Bay. The dolphins come in search of food—squid and schooling fishes—and move in pods that may number several thousand animals. The huge groups can churn up the surface of the water with so much activity that it looks like it's boiling, leading the Sicilian fishermen who settled in Monterey to call it "spaghetti water." These fishers would watch for dolphin activity to locate large schools of sardines.


At one time as many as 8,000 common dolphins per year died in the eastern Pacific, victims of the purse seine net fishery for tuna. New laws and new ways of fishing now spare the dolphins, but have caused other problems.

Cool Facts

  • This is the classic dolphin of Greek and Roman mythology.
  • "Super pods" of up to 5,000 dolphins have been seen in the bay—a stunning site.
  • Only about a third of a dolphin pod is visible, the other two thirds is under water.
  • These dolphins are familiar companions to sailors of many seas. As fast-moving ships slice through the water, common dolphins surf alongside. Dolphins also use this hitchhiking trick with their own cousins: sometimes they ride on the waves of large whales.

More Information

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