Marine Mammal Stranding Database

Marine Mammal Species Description

Short-Beaked Common Dolphin

Delphinus delphis

Linnaeus, 1758

Short-Beaked Common Dolphin Species Photo
Photo credit: Personnel of NOAA Ship PEIRCE 1985


Order: Cetacea
Family: Delphinidae
Alternate Common Names: Common dolphin, saddle-backed dolphin, criss-cross dolphins, white-bellied dolphin, hourglass dolphin, saddlebacks

Status: protected under MMPA


   Length: 5-8 ft (1.5-2.5 m)
   Weight: up to 300 lbs (135 kg)

Short-beaked common dolphins have a slightly falcate dorsal fin, paired fins near the head and a fluke with a slight notch. The coloration on the side of common dolphins creates a criss-cross or hour-glass pattern. The back of common dolphins is dark gray or black, the sides near the head are yellowish, and the sides near the tail are gray. The belly is light and the area between the front flippers and the eye / beak is black.


Common dolphins are widespread in temperate and tropical waters. Common dolphins can be seen in schools from ten to thousands of individuals. These schools are likely made up of a number of smaller groups of closely related members.


Common dolphins have been documented feeding on squid and small pelagic fish. Common dolphins will work together to herd fish making them easier to capture.


Adult common dolphins reach sexual maturity at from 2-8 years for females and 3-12 years for males depending on where they live. A female gives birth to one calf every one to three years. The gestation period lasts approximately 10-11 months. Common dolphin calves are typically born in the spring or summer. Females usually nurse five or more months before the calf is weaned.


Short-beaked common dolphins are commonly seen 'bow-riding', riding the waves pushed up in front of a passing vessel or a large whale. Life span of harbor porpoises is around 30 years.

Distribution / Range:

Common dolphins occur in warmer waters, including temperate and tropical waters throughout the world. They can be seen in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans off the coasts of the continental United States, except for the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of California.

Similar species:

The most similar species to the short-beaked common dolphin is the long-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus capensis). These two species were considered a single species until 1994. It is distinguished from the long-beaked common dolphin by having brighter coloration, being heavier, and having a more rounded melon (forehead).



American Cetacean Society. 2004. American Cetacean Society Fact Sheet. Accessed January 2012.

Culik, B. 2010. Odontocetes. The toothed whales: "Delphinus delphis". UNEP/CMS Secretariat, Bonn, Germany. Accessed January 2012.

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. Delphinus delphis. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. Downloaded on 09 January 2012.

Heyning, J.E. 1999. Short-beaked common dolphin, Delphinus delphis. In The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Wilson, D.E. and S. Ruff, eds., 274. Smithsonian Institution in association with the American Society of Mammologists, Washington DC.

Perrin, W.F. 2009. Common dolphins - Delphinus delphis and D. capesis. In: Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals 2nd Ed. Perrin W.F., B. Würsig, and J.G.M. Thewissen, eds. Academic Press, New York, pp. 255-259.