1. Education
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)


Bottlenose Dolphin in shallow water
Mike Hill/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images
Bottlenose Dolphin / David.nikonvscanon, Flickr

Bottlenose dolphin calf, 6 months old. Photo taken at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom Theme Park, CA.

David.nikonvscanon, Flickr
Bottlenose Dolphins / allie_caulfield, Flickr

Bottlenose dolphins in New Zealand

Courtesy allie_caulfield, Flickr

Because of their propensity for coastal areas and their popularity in marine parks, bottlenose dolphins are one of the most well-known and recognizable cetaceans. Bottlenose dolphins are relatively large, streamlined animals with gray coloration and a prominent "beak." They are known for their acrobatic activity.


Bottlenose dolphins can grow to 8-12 feet and weigh up to about 1,400 pounds. They have a gray back that ranges from light to dark gray and a lighter underside. Like other Odontocetes, bottlenose dolphins live in pods, although the structure of these pods may be looser than that of other toothed whales, like the orca.

Bottlenose dolphins are considered one of the smartest animals on the planet.



Habitat and Distribution:

Bottlenose dolphins inhabit temperate and tropical waters all over the world. They are found in the U.S. from New England down to Florida and west to California. There are also bottlenose dolphins in the United Kingdom and parts of South America, Japan and South Africa.

Those who live in or visit the southern U.S. and Gulf coast have likely been delighted by sightings of coastal bottlenose dolphins from the beach or along local waterways.

There appear to be two types of bottlenose dolphins, 'coastal' dolphins that inhabit nearshore areas, harbors and estuaries, and 'offshore' dolphins, which tend to gather in larger pods out in the pelagic ocean. In fact, some distinguish these two types of dolphins as different species.


Bottlenose dolphins eat fish, squid and crustaceans and have a variety of ways to get their food. Some capture food individually, and some work cooperatively by feeding on fish at mud banks. A group of dolphins chase the fish, creating a wave that carries the fish up onto a mudbank, where the dolphins snap them up. Like other toothed whales, they can find prey using echolocation.


Bottlenose dolphins are sexually mature between 5-14 years of age. Mating and calving takes place throughout the year, and one calf is born after a 12-month gestation period. The calves nurse for about 18 months but may stay with their mother for as long as 6 years.


Bottlenose dolphins were first captured for display in 1913 and since then, they have pervaded marine parks, television and movies. The most popular dolphin was "Flipper," who starred in its own TV show and movie. The original Flipper was named Mitzi, and she lived a short 14 years. The normal lifespan of bottlenose dolphins is at least 40-50 years.

One of the most famous bottlenose dolphins in recent memory is Winter, a bottlenose dolphin who lost her tail and now can swim with a prosthetic tail.

Bottlenose dolphins are listed under the IUCN Redlist as a species of least concern. In the U.S., they are common. NOAA notes that there are 11 stocks of bottlenose in the U.S., some (the western North Atlantic offshore population) numbering over 80,000 individuals.

Bottlenose Dolphin Research:

Because they are so prevalent in marine parks, and many live close to shore, the bottlenose dolphin is one of the most well-studied dolphin species.

In the wild, bottlenose dolphins can be identified using their natural characteristics, including the shape of their dorsal fins. Cataloging individuals allows researchers to learn about the life history of individual whales and the species as a whole.

Research on bottlenose dolphins has revealed connections between dolphin health and human health, including information that shows that dolphins can get the HPV (papillomavirus), which typically leads to cervical cancer in humans. Dolphins, however, do not get cervical cancer. Research also shows that dolphins can develop a diabetes-like state to allow them to have a high-protein diet, a finding that may help find new treatments for diabetes in humans.

References and Further Information

  • American Cetacean Society. 2004. Bottlenose Dolphin (Online). American Cetacean Society Fact Sheets. Retrieved February 28, 2010.
  • Hammond, P.S., Bearzi, G., Bjørge, A., Forney, K., Karczmarski, L., Kasuya, T., Perrin, W.F., Scott, M.D., Wang, J.Y., Wells, R.S. & Wilson, B. 2008. Tursiops truncatus. (Online) IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.2. Retrieved February 28, 2010.
  • Mead, James G. and Joy P. Gould. 2002. Whales and Dolphins In Question. Smithsonian Institution.
  • NOAA Fisheries. 2009. Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) (Online). NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources. Retrieved February 28, 2010.


  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Marine Life
  4. Marine Life Profiles
  5. Marine Chordates and Vertebrates
  6. Cetaceans - Whales
  7. Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.