Bottlenose dolphin

Tursiops truncatus


Size: 1.9 – 3.9m

Key feature: Uniformly grey all over with a white underbelly

The bottlenose dolphin is the most familiar dolphin, appearing in aquariums, the press and commonly seen from coastlines around the globe. It is much larger than many dolphin species, reaching almost 4m in length. It has a grey colouration which fades to white on its belly. It has a curved head, stubby beak is of stocky build.


Bottlenose dolphins travel in groups from 1 to 50 individuals. They are very fast and like to ride in the bow or wake of ships. They are capable of impressive acrobatics, leaping high out of the water and somersaulting. Bottlenose dolphins are very sociable animals and are often seen with other dolphins particularly white-beaked dolphins in the North Sea.


Bottlenose dolphins have a global distribution in temperate and tropical seas. They occur in distinct populations both coastal and offshore, with the offshore animals being slightly larger in size. Coastal populations can be spotted in all European waters. This species is only one of two cetacean species that are protected under the EU Habitats Directive. Around the UK and Ireland four SACs have already been designated to protect the bottlenose dolphin. All of these SACs are home to what are believed are semi-resident bottlenose dolphin populations.


A major threat to bottlenose dolphins, as well as other dolphins is habitat degradation through increased pollution, rubbish, sewage outflow and sedimentation in marine waters. Coastal bottlenose dolphin populations are particularly vulnerable to this living in such close proximity to cities and towns. Entanglement in fishing gear is also a threat. Bottlenose dolphins are the classic aquarium species; this results in demand for take from wild populations and raises the ethical issue of whether it is acceptable to keep intelligent animals in captivity.

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