Know Your Dolphins: Types of Dolphin Species

With the mention of Dolphins people instantly picture the quintessential Bottlenose dolphin, the stars of many marine shows and movies. Indeed, the bottlenose is the image of the dolphin species at large, with it’s seemingly permanent smile and reputation for it’s extreme intelligence. But did you know there are over 40 different species of dolphin ranging from the snubfin dolphin which has a very small dorsal fin to the Orca which is often mistaken for a whale species as it’s sometimes referred to as a Killer whale. The killer whale is infact the world’s largest dolphin. Here’s a look at some Dolphin Species to help get to know your dolphins better-

Bottlenose Dolphin
Perhaps one of the best known cetaceans (order of dolphin), the Bottlenose can be described as a robust dolphin with a short and stubby beak. Although these dolphins can display a variety of colors, generally speaking they are a light gray to slate gray on the upper part of the body with shading to lighter sides and pale, pinkish gray on the belly. An adult can grow to a length of 8-12 feet (2.5-3.8 m). Bottlenose dolphins are found worldwide in temperate and tropical waters and are frequently seen in harbors, bays, lagoons, estuaries, and river mouths. This is the dolphin most frequently seen along the shores of the United States too.

Humpback Dolphin
These light colored dolphins ranging from yellow to pink to almost white or medium grey are similar to bottlenose dolphins in structure except that they have long, slender beaks and a broad-based dorsal fin that slopes backwards. There are two varieties of this kind of dolphin- the Indo-Pacific Humpback found along the coast of the Indian Ocean from South Africa to Australia and the Pacific Humpback dolphin found close to shore along the coast of West Africa.

Spotted Dolphin
Known for their very distinctive spotted coloration all over their body, spotted dolphins are fast swimmers and keen bow-riders, prone to acrobatic aerial displays. They only begin to get their spots as juveniles and as the animal matures the spots became denser and spread until the body appears black with white spots at full maturation. Found commonly around The Bahamas, the dolphins in this region have become habituated to human contact.

Pacific White Sided Dolphin
The Pacific White-sided Dolphin has three distinct colors- The chin, throat and belly which are creamy white, the beak, flippers, back, and dorsal fin are a dark gray, and a light gray stripe running from above the eye to below the dorsal fin where it thickens along the tail stock. The Pacific White-sided Dolphin is extremely active and is known to readily approach boats and bow-rides. They often swim in large groups of 90 individuals and sometime with supergroups of more than 300. Their beak is extremely small and black, and they have 42-64 teeth on both their upper and lower jaws.

Australian Snubfin Dolphin
Found off the coast of Australia, the snubfin dolphin is tri-coloured, brownish on the top, lighter brown along the sides and a with a white belly. They have a rounded forehead, very unlike other dolphins and very small, “snubby” dorsal fin distinguishes it from other dolphins in its range.

Pilot Whale
Although named whale, pilot whales actually come from the oceanic dolphin family (Delphinidae). The were named such because their behavior resembles other larger whales. There are two species of Pilot whales- the Long-finned Pilot Whale and the Short-finned Pilot Whale. Pilot Whales are jet black or a very dark grey color and can measure up to 16 feet (4.9 m) and weigh up to 1.5 tons. They are the most widely distributed of the marine mammals in the cetacean order and are found almost all over the world in temperate and tropical waters.

Killer Whale/ Orca
Another case of mistaken identity are killer whales that are actually dolphins. Their jet black, white and grey markings, along with a tall dorsal fin in the case of males make them easy to distinguish. Killer whales are regarded as apex predators and lack natural predators. Orcas live in small, close-knit, life-long pods and have one blowhole. Males typically range from 6 to 8 meters (20–26 ft) long and weigh in excess of 6 tonnes while females are smaller and range from 5 to 7 meters (16–23 ft) and weigh about 3 to 4 tonnes.

*Photo credits: photo by jeffk42, WIlly Volk, Blue Dolphin Marine Tours, WIlly Volk, Pedro Moura Pinheiro and auntie rain on flickr and Yummifruitbat and Isabel Beasley on wikimedia commons


  1. While there are many different species, these can be condensed down to 18 genera, or families. I've actually posted 2 articles in a 4 article series covering them all. 18 is a very digestible amount.

  2. Ryan Zammit says:

    Hey what about the PINK DOLPHIN ?

  3. I really love dolphins in fact I think they are so beautifu

  4. melissa puga says:

    I love dolfhins and orcas I think they are beutyfull and shamoo is the best orca in the oceon

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