Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)

Also known as: bottlenosed dolphin, bottle-nosed dolphin, Common bottlenose dolphin
French: dauphin souffleur, Grand Dauphin, Souffleur, Tursiops
Spanish: Delfín Mular, Pez Mular, Tursión
GenusTursiops (1)
SizeMale length: 2.4 - 3.8 m (2)
Female length: 2.3 - 3.7 m (2)
Top facts

The bottlenose dolphin is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3). Listed on Annex II and IV of the EC Habitats Directive. North and Baltic Sea populations, western Mediterranean and Black Sea populations are included in Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (Bonn Convention), and Appendix II of the Bern Convention (4). All cetaceans are listed on Annex A of EU Council Regulation 338/97; they are therefore treated by the EU as if they are included in CITES Appendix I, so that commercial trade is prohibited. In the UK all cetaceans are fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 and the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order, 1985 (5).

The bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) is one of the most well-known species of dolphin (2). There appear to be two main varieties; a smaller, inshore form and a larger, more robust form that lives mainly offshore (6). This stocky species has a torpedo-shaped body, a short beak and pointed flippers (2). They are usually dark grey on the back with paler grey flanks and a white or pinkish belly (7). The sickle-shaped dorsal fin is tall, and positioned centrally on the back; variations in the shape of the dorsal fin along with scars and other markings on the skin can help researchers to identify individuals (8).

The bottlenose dolphin is found in coastal waters of most temperate, tropical and subtropical areas (9). Around the UK, it occurs in the English Channel, around north-east Scotland and in the Irish Sea, particularly in Cardigan Bay and off south-east Ireland (5). It is also found off western Ireland (5), but is rare further north than the UK (6).

A coastal and oceanic species, the bottlenose dolphin occurs in a range of habitats from open water and lagoons to rocky reefs (10). It also occurs in large estuaries and even the lower reaches of rivers and harbours (6).

An active species, the bottlenose dolphin engages in much energetic behaviour, including breaching (clearing the water), lobtailing (slapping the tail flukes down onto the surface of the water) and bow-riding (riding the swell created in front of boats and even large whales) (8). It has also been observed 'playing games' with seaweed and other objects (8).

Dolphins are highly intelligent animals; they have a sophisticated echolocation system and communicate via a range of sounds (9). Although lone individuals occur, this is typically a very sociable animal, living in groups numbering between 10 and 100 individuals; even larger groups may form offshore (10). This species has a broad diet, with a wide variety of fish and invertebrates including cephalopods being taken (2). It varies its hunting methods greatly, and cooperative hunting has been observed in many areas (2). In Brazil, this species even hunts cooperatively with humans, driving fish into the nets of local fishers. In return, the dolphin takes its share of the fish (2).

Bottlenose dolphin females produce a single calf in the summer after a gestation period of 12 months. The calf suckles for up to 18 months and stays close to the mother until it reaches four or five years of age (7).

The bottlenose dolphin faces a number of threats including human disturbance, entanglement in fishing nets, and hunting. Like all cetaceans it is vulnerable to chemical and noise pollution. The captivity industry that supplies the world aquarium trade is also a problem (8).

The bottlenose dolphin is a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) priority species (5). It is protected in UK waters by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Orders 1985; it is illegal to intentionally kill, injure, or harass any cetacean species in UK waters (5). The Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans in the Baltic and North Seas (ASCOBANS), has been signed by seven European countries, this includes the UK. Provision is made under this agreement to set up protected areas, promote research and monitoring, pollution control and increase public awareness (5). Under Annex II of the EC Habitats Directive, candidate marine Special Areas of Conservation (SACS) are being set up for this species in Cardigan Bay (Wales) and the Moray Firth (north-east Scotland) (5).

Learn more about the bottlenose dolphin:

Information authenticated by WDCS, The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2009)
  2. Cawardine, M., Hoyt, E., Fordyce, R.E. and Gill, P. (1998) Whales and Dolphins, The Ultimate Guide to Marine Mammals. Harper Collins Publishers, London.
  3. CITES (March, 2008)
  4. Bern Convention (October, 2002)
  5. UK BAP (June, 2002)
  6. Cawardine, M. (1995) Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  7. Animal Diversity Web (June, 2002)$narrative.html
  8. MacDonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  9. Dolphin Fund (July, 2009)
  10. WDCS (June, 2002)