You can see dolphins in many places in North America, and I wanted to find out which species are common. I was surprised to find how many species of dolphins there are.
Sixteen species of dolphins can be found around North America.
- Atlantic Spotted Dolphin
- Atlantic White-sided Dolphin
- Bottlenose Dolphin
- Clymene Dolphin
- False Killer Whale
- Fraser’s Dolphin
- Killer Whale
- Common Dolphin
- Pacific White-sided Dolphin
- Pantropical Spotted Dolphin
- Pygmy Killer Whale
- Rough-toothed Dolphin
- Short-beaked Common Dolphin
- Spinner Dolphin
- Striped Dolphin
- White-Beaked Dolphin.
Please read on if you would like more details about these species.
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin
The spotter porpoise, the Atlantic spotted dolphin, has a large body, growing from 5.6-7.5 ft (1.7-2.3m). Their weight is between 220-315 lb, with females slightly smaller.
The spotted Atlantic dolphin has a long stubby beak, separated from the melon with a crease. They are spotted on the sides as adults and generally have a three-toned color pattern.
The dorsal fin is tall and centered in the middle. They can be seen in pods of 50, although most are seen in small groups of 5-15.
Atlantic White-sided Dolphin
The Atlantic white-sided dolphin grows from 6.2-9.2ft (1.9-2.8m) with a weight between 360-520 lb. They are similar in color to the common dolphin, with gray, white, and yellow along the flanks and a white underside.
The Atlantic white-sided dolphin has a dark-gray stripe from the eye to the flipper and a dark dorsal fin and flippers. They give birth to a single calf after a gestation period of 11 months.
The common bottlenose dolphin grows from 6.2-13.1 ft (1.9-4m). Their diet consists mainly of squid and small fish. They have a single calf with a gestation period of 12 months.
Bottlenose dolphins are gray to black, with a lighter underside and a dorsal cape. They have a short beak with a mouthline that makes them look like they are smiling. The common bottlenose dolphin is one that you will most likely have seen on television or in films.
The Clymene dolphin is also called the short-snouted spinner dolphin. They can spin out of the air, with rotations lower than the spinner dolphin at three to four.
The Clymene dolphins are a small species with a three-toned color pattern, a dark cape on their dorsal, which dips below the find, and a gray stripe that is paler from the eyes to the flipper.
These dolphins grow from 5.9-6.6 ft (1.2-2m) and weigh 165-200 lb. They eat small fish and squid and produce a single calf.
False Killer Whale
The false killer whale is medium size measuring 14-20 ft (4.3-6.1m) and weighing 1.2-2.5 tons. They are black or dark gray, with long bodies and conical heads.
The dorsal fin of the false killer whale is towards the middle of their back, and they have flippers with an elbow shape. They are generally seen in 10-60 animals and can be seen interacting with other cetaceans, such as bottlenose dolphins.
Due to their social structure, the false killer whale’s mass strandings can be expected, with the largest involving over 1,000 animals.
The Fraser’s dolphin is named after Francis Charles Fraser, a cetologist who found a skeleton in the British Museum. They grow from 6.6-8.9ft (2-2.7m), weighing 290-460 lb.
Fraser’s dolphin has a mask with a distinctive pinkish underside to their body and jaw. They have a bluish-gray or brownish-gray upperside, with a dark band running along the face.
Frasers’ dolphins are generally seen in large schools of 50-100, although herds of several thousand have been spotted.
The killer whale is also commonly known as the Orca, a name taken from its binomial name of Orcinus orca. Killer whales are the most prominent dolphin family members, growing from 6 to 8 meters long and weighing 5.9 tons. Females of the species are smaller than males.
They are one of the fastest marine mammals due to their size and incredible strength, reaching speeds up to 56 km/h. They have a black upper side with a white underside.
Long-beaked Common Dolphin
The long-beaked common dolphin grows between 6.2-8.5 ft (1.9-2.6m) and weighs between 155-220 lb. They can be seen in herds between 10 and 10,000 and bow-ride in front of boats.
The long-beaked common dolphins have a single calf after a gestation period of 10-11 months. They have a long beak, with a dark cape on the dorsal side, with a ‘v’ under the fin.
They have a white underside with yellow or tan patches on the side. They are similar to the short-beaked common dolphin, but their colors are more muted, with a less bulging melon at the front.
Pacific White-Sided Dolphin
The Pacific white-sided dolphin grows from 7.5-8.2ft (2.3-2.5m) with weights between 360-440 lbs.
The Pacific white-sided dolphin can be found around the San Juan Islands, Puget Sound, Alaska, Olympic Coast, California, Vancouver Island, and Baja, California.
They have a pattern of gray and black along the flank with dark flippers and flukes. They have a lighter underside with a white lower jaw. They give birth to a single calf after 12 months.
Pantropical Spotted Dolphin
The Pantropical spotted dolphin has a slender body with a narrow beak and whitish lips. There is a crease between the beak and the melon and a dark stripe from the brim to the flipper.
The Pantropical spotted dolphin grows from 5.2-8.5 ft (1.6-2.6m) with weights of 265 lbs. They are heavily spotted on the sides, with a gray cape on the dorsal side and a light underside.
The Pantropical spotted dolphin was one of the species caught most by tuna fishermen in the past.
Pygmy Killer Whale
The pygmy killer whale is small, measuring 6.9-8.5 ft (2.1-2.6m) and weighing 240-500 lb.
They are dark gray to black, with a dark cape from behind their dorsal fin to the top of their head. They have a gray or white patch on the underside, and some have a white chin and light-colored lips.
Pygmy killer whales have tall dorsal fins. They live and travel in groups of 12-50, although rarely seen. The species typically avoid boats but will sometimes bow-ride and wake-ride.
The rough-toothed dolphin has a dark gray body with a cape along the dorsal area. They have pink or white scars on the side and underneath. They have a reasonably long beak and a conical head with whitish lips.
The rough-toothed dolphin grows from 6.8-9.2 ft (2.1-2.8m), with the females slightly smaller than the males. Their diet consists mainly of fish and squid. They can be found in the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of California and can be seen in pods of 10-20.
Short-beaked Common Dolphin
The short-beaked common dolphin is also known as the common porpoise. Males are slightly larger than females, with sizes between 5.2-8.9 ft (1.6-2.7m) and 155-440 lbs.
They are fast swimmers and can be seen bow-riding alongside ships. Herds of this species can be seen in sizes ranging from ten up to ten thousand.
True to its name, the short-beaked common dolphin has a short beak with a dark cape with a ‘v’ shape under the fin. They have a white underside and yellow or tan patches on their sides, and short beaks.
Dolphins use echolocation. Please find out more in this article I wrote
The spinner dolphin is named for its aerobatics. They are fast swimmers and are known to bow-ride. The spinner dolphin can spin up to seven times in the air before re-entering the water.
They are slender, weighing between 130-180 lbs. They grow from 4.3-7.9 ft (1.3-2.4m) long.
Spinner dolphins have a three-toned color pattern with a dark stripe from the eye to the flipper. Their beak is extended with a dark tip and a sloping melon.
Some males have a forward-leaning dorsal fin, which is tall and erect. The spinner dolphin was the second most affected dolphin by tuna fishing after the Pantropical spotted dolphin.
The striped dolphin takes its name from the dark stripes running down their bodies’ sides. They have a gray or blue-gray cape on the dorsal side, with lines from the eye to the flipper along their sides.
Striped dolphins have stripes with colors pink and blue on their sides. They grow from 5.9-8.9 ft (1.8-2.7m) and weigh 200-360 lbs.
Striped dolphins have some unusual behaviors, leaping up to 23 ft, with belly flops and somersaults seeming no trouble. They also roto-tail when they come out of the water. This involves moving their tails in circles as they leap out of the water.
The white-beaked dolphin is enormous compared to most species of dolphins. They can grow from 7.9-10.2 ft, weighing 400-770 lbs.
Their white beak has white, black, and gray markings, with their tail usually paler. They have a white patch on each side.
The flippers are primarily dark, with a brown or gray tip. They can be found in the St Lawrence River, the Gulf of St Lawrence, and around Newfoundland.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.