Atlantic spotted dolphin

Stenella frontalis

Atlantic spotted dolphins are fast swimmers and are active at the surface, often performing acrobatics and surfing in the waves created by boats.

They live only in warm and tropical water areas of the Atlantic Ocean. They usually form groups of five to 50 individuals but sometimes travel in groups of up to 200.

Other names: spotted dolphin; Atlantic spotter; bridled dolphin

Oceanic dolphin silhouette
Male Female Calf
Maximum length 2.3m 2.3m 1.2m
Maximum weight 143kg 143kg Unknown

IUCN conservation status: Data Deficient

What do Atlantic spotted dolphins look like?

Spotty!  But the degree of spottiness and their colouration pattern varies with age and location. Their bodies are robust and generally dark grey on the top, lighter grey on the sides and white on the belly.  When they are young, Atlantic spotted dolphins are dark grey with a pale white belly and it is easy to mistake them for small bottlenose dolphins. The flippers, dorsal fin and tail flukes usually remain unspotted. The dorsal fin is tall and curved. The beak is medium length, chunky and has a white tip. There is a well-defined crease between the beak and the melon (forehead).

What’s life like for an Atlantic spotted dolphin?

Atlantic spotted dolphins are fast swimmers; they often breach and are acrobatic at the surface. They are known to approach boats from a distance to bowride.

Coastal populations tend to be found in smaller pods of 5-15; offshore populations are found in larger pods of up to 100 dolphins. They have a complex social structure and within these pods, the dolphins are sometimes organised by age or sex.

Atlantic spotted dolphins can dive to depths of up to 40 – 60m and have been recorded holding their breath for up to 10 minutes. Most of their dives are less than 10m and last for 2 to 6 minutes. Groups of dolphins often coordinate their movements to catch prey together. Individuals sometimes use their beaks to dig into the sand on the ocean bottom to catch hidden fish.

Different populations of spotted dolphins around the world have different social structures and habits.  In the Bahamas studies have revealed details about the dolphins’ complicated social lives and underwater communication .

Females reach sexual maturity at 9 – 10 years old and give birth every 3 – 4 years. Nursing can last for as long as 3 to 5 years. Males reach sexual maturity at around 18 years old.

What do Atlantic spotted dolphins eat?

Atlantic spotted dolphins have a wide and varied diet; they eat small fish, bottom-dwelling invertebrates, and cephalopods (such as squid and octopus).

Where do Atlantic spotted dolphins live?

Atlantic spotted dolphins are only found in the Atlantic Ocean where they prefer warm or very warm (tropical) offshore locations. They favour the waters along the continental shelf (the edge of a continent below the ocean’s surface) where the water is 20m to 250m deep but they are sometimes found in deeper oceanic waters. In the Bahamas the population of Atlantic spotted dolphins spends long periods of time in nearshore, shallow water on sandbanks which makes the dolphins very accessible to study.

Social dolphins

In the Azores when prey is abundant, Atlantic spotted dolphins are known to join large temporary mixed-dolphin species groups feeding alongside common, bottlenose and striped dolphins.

Distribution map

Atlantic spotted dolphin distribution map
Life Expectancy
Years
Can hold their breath for
minutes
Can dive up to
metres

Atlantic spotted dolphins need your help

The main threats...

  • Entanglement in fishing nets (bycatch)
    One of the main threats to Atlantic spotted dolphins is entanglement and death in fishing nets such as gillnets.
  • Underwater noise pollution
    Noise disturbance created by boat traffic and military activities interrupts the normal behaviour of Atlantic spotted dolphins who rely on sound to communicate and echolocate. Noise pollution disrupts the dolphins’ ability to find and catch prey, communicate with one another and orientate themselves.
  • Hunting
    Atlantic spotted dolphins are deliberately killed in the Caribbean, South America, West Africa for food and bait.

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