Indian Ocean humpback dolphin

Sousa plumbea

In almost all countries’ coasts where they occur, Indian Ocean humpback dolphins, are either hunted or accidentally caught and kept and used for food. 

Unfortunately, living so close to lots of people has led to the species becoming endangered and increasingly vulnerable.

humpback dolphin illustration
Male Female Calf
Maximum length 2.8m 2.6m 1.0m
Maximum weight 280kg Unknown Unknown

IUCN conservation status: Endangered

What do Indian Ocean humpback dolphins look like?

Pretty similar to other species of ‘humpback’ dolphins, with a less distinctive ‘hump’ than their Atlantic cousins, yet a more obvious one than their Indo-Pacific and Australian cousins. All humpback dolphins have a small triangular fin sitting atop the ‘hump’ of varying degrees. Mostly grey in colour these dolphins pay homage to their Latin name ‘plumbea’ meaning ‘lead.’

What’s life like for an Indian Ocean humpback dolphin?

Tough. Although once thought to be widespread throughout their range and present in large groupings, their numbers have declined significantly over the years and only small, localised populations are thought to remain. This decline is a serious concern. Populations simply can’t withstand any further pressure.

What do Indian Ocean humpback dolphins eat?

As with other humpback dolphins, Indian Ocean humpback dolphins prefer nearshore, inter-tidal and estuarine waters. They are opportunistic feeders – meaning they’re not fussy as to what’s for dinner. Mackerel, mullet and sardines are known favourites.

Where do Indian Ocean humpback dolphins live?

As noted, they prefer the shallow, nearshore waters of countries in the Indian Ocean, ideally with a freshwater input. They can be found not far from shore in the coastal waters of South Africa in the south, northwards around the coast of East Africa, throughout the Middle East, and down the west coast of India.

Indian Ocean humpback dolphins have only been recognised as a species in their own right since 2014, yet they are classified as Endangered and their numbers continue to fall.

The threat from shark nets

Between 1980 and 2009, 203 humpback dolphins died in the shark nets off KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.

If you would like to supply images of Indian Ocean humpback dolphins for our species guide please contact us.

Distribution map

Indian Ocean humpback dolphin distribution map

Indian Ocean humpback dolphins need your help

The main threats...

  • Stop hunting – whether used opportunistically as a result of bycatch, or the victims of directed hunts, the Indian Ocean humpback dolphin is under serious threat.
  • Entanglement in fishing gear – their preference for nearshore waters brings them into close contact with a variety of fishing gears.

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