Spotted Dolphins are the friendliest Bahamas Dolphins.
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin (Stenella frontalis) are considered a near-shore, non migrating species ranging the temperate and tropical coastal waters of the Atlantic. As the name suggests, they are commonly recognized by their spots that develop as they age. Spotted Dolphins range throughout the Bahamas with certain areas having resident pods, such as Bimini. There are numerous different pods through out the Bahamas with some individuals moving between different pods.
About the Species
Young Atlantic spotted dolphins do not have spots. As a result, they can look like slender bottlenose dolphins. Their distinctive spotted pattern starts to appear all over their bodies as they get older.
Atlantic spotted dolphins, like all marine mammals, are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
NOAA Fisheries and its partners are working to conserve Atlantic spotted dolphins and further our understanding of this species through research and conservation activities.
NOAA Fisheries estimates population size in our stock assessment reports.
The worldwide population of Atlantic spotted dolphins is unknown. Scientists estimate that there are over 77,000 Atlantic spotted dolphins in U.S. waters.
To manage Atlantic spotted dolphins in U.S. waters, we have divided them into three stocks:
- Northern Gulf of Mexico stock
- Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands stock
- Western North Atlantic stock
Based on the most recent surveys, our scientists estimate that there are about 37,000 dolphins in the northern Gulf of Mexico stock and about 40,000 dolphins in the western North Atlantic stock. The number of dolphins in the Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands stock is unknown.
- Throughout Its Range
CITES Appendix II
- Throughout Its Range
SPAW Annex II
- Throughout the Wider Caribbean Region
Atlantic spotted dolphins are about 5 to 7.5 feet long and weigh about 220 to 315 pounds. They have a robust body with a tall, curved dorsal fin located midway down their back. Their beaks are moderately long. Like other cetaceans, their head has a distinctive melon, a rounded forehead that collects sounds from the environment. They have 30 to 42 pairs of small, cone-shaped teeth in each jaw.
Atlantic spotted dolphins’ color patterns vary with age and location. Young dolphins do not have any spots. Instead, they have a dark gray back with a pale white underside. This lack of spots can make young Atlantic spotted dolphins look like slender bottlenose dolphins. An Atlantic spotted dolphin starts to develop spots after its first birthday. As the dolphin matures, the spots become darker and more widespread, especially on its back.
Behavior and Diet
Atlantic spotted dolphins are usually found in groups of less than 50 individuals but sometimes travel in groups of up to 200. In coastal waters, groups usually consist of five to 15 individuals. Within these groups, the dolphins are sometimes organized by age or sex. Atlantic spotted dolphins blow bubbles through their blowholes as one way to communicate with members of their group. They also communicate with sound.
Atlantic spotted dolphins are often described as “acrobatic” swimmers, frequently leaping out of the water or jumping at the water’s surface. They can also swim very quickly and often “surf” in the waves created by vessels. They sometimes interact with other cetacean species, such as bottlenose dolphins.
Atlantic spotted dolphins can dive up to 200 feet and have been recorded holding their breath for up to ten minutes. Most of their dives are less than 30 feet and last for 2 to 6 minutes. These dolphins eat small fish, invertebrates, and cephalopods, such as squid and octopi. They have 30 to 42 pairs of small, cone-shaped teeth in each jaw. 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.
Where They Live
Atlantic spotted dolphins are found in warm temperate, subtropical, and tropical waters throughout the Atlantic Ocean. Their range includes the waters of the U.S. East Coast (Gulf of Mexico to Massachusetts), the Bahamas, Brazil, the Azores and Canary Islands, and Gabon. Warm currents such as the Gulf Stream may affect their distribution.
Atlantic spotted dolphins prefer the waters along the continental shelf (the edge of a continent below the ocean’s surface). They usually live in coastal or continental shelf waters that are 65 to 820 feet deep, but are found in deeper oceanic waters in the northern part of their range.
Lifespan & Reproduction
The estimated lifespan of Atlantic spotted dolphins is unknown. They reach sexual maturity when they are 8 to 15 years old. Females give birth to a single calf every 1 to 5 years. Mothers nurse their calves for 1 to 5 years.
One of the main threats to Atlantic spotted dolphins is getting caught in fishing gear. Dolphins can become entangled or captured in commercial fishing gear such as gillnets and purse seines. These interactions can cause dolphins to be injured or killed by entanglement in the gear.
Underwater noise pollution interrupts the normal behavior of Atlantic spotted dolphins that rely on sound to communicate and echolocate. If loud enough, noise can cause permanent or temporary hearing loss. Noise interference from vessels, as well as industrial and military activities, disturbs Atlantic spotted dolphins’ feeding, communication, and orientation.
Illegal Feeding and Harassment
Atlantic spotted dolphins sometimes interact with different types of fishing vessels, often following them and eating discarded catch. A few Atlantic spotted dolphins have been hunted and killed in the Caribbean, South America, West Africa, and other offshore islands for food and bait.
The Atlantic spotted dolphin (Stenella frontalis) belongs to the Delphinidae family. They are usually 5-7.5 ft (1.6-2.3 m) long and weigh about 220-315 lbs (100-143 kg). Interestingly,their average lifespan has not been estimated, although it is general knowledge that they live more than 20 years. They have a robust or chunky body with a tall, “falcate” dorsal fin located midway down their back. The rounded “melon” is separated from the moderately long beak by a distinct crease. The coloration and patterns vary with age, life stage, and geographic location.
They are born without spots, they are dark gray on their backs graduating along their sides to a white belly. At approximately four years of age they begin to get spots. The older adults become so fused with spots their bellies appear almost black with white specks.
Atlantic spotted dolphins are usually found in groups of fewer than 50 individuals, but have been occasionally seen in larger groups of around 200 animals. Since they are mammals, they need to visit the surface often to replenish oxygen. They generally make dives of about 30 ft (10 m) or less for 2-6 minutes, but are capable of reaching depths of 130-200 ft (40-60 m) and have been recorded holding their breath for up to 10 minutes.
They lead very complex social lives. They exhibit numerous social behaviors like companionship, affection, aggression and playfulness. Regardless of the relationship when two dolphin are swimming together they will be in almost constant physical contact with each other.
They have an unique swimming style. It is often described as acrobatic due to their frequent “breaching”, jumping, and other aerial activities at the surface. They are capable of swimming at very fast speeds and often approach vessels to “bowride”.
This species is found only in the Atlantic Ocean, from southern Brazil to the United States (New England) in the west, and to the coast of Africa in the east. They relish warm waters of the Caribbean and are a common sight here. Although they are widespread, their abundance has still not been estimated by official studies, though the general presumption is that their numbers are potentially large.
Although they are sometimes caught in fisherman nets, they are not considered endangered.
SPOTTING PATTERN/AGE GUIDE:Spotted Dolphins are born with no spots, they begin getting spots at about four years old. As the dolphins age, black spots fill in the light underside, white spots fill the darker upper sides and back. The spotting patterns take on a mottled appearance in adults, eventually fusing together on older dolphins. This helps us with age estimates as well.
Newborn Calf - under one year
Two-tone - 1-4 years
Spotted - 5-11 years
Mottled - 12-20 years
Fused - 20 years plus, maybe up to 45 ? years.
Mother and Calf
Female Spotted Dolphin reach maturity around 12 years old. Gestation period for a pregnant female is 11 to 12 months. The baby is born within a group of other dolphins. For the first couple of months the newborn stays close to its mother or a baby sitter. The young are always more playful and curios like many other mammal species. Nursing goes on for over two years at which time the baby stays in the general area of the mother but is becoming more independent. The young stay around it’s mother for up to four years but the mother can have a new baby by the third year. Females grow up around their mothers and other females until over 11 years when they become fertile. This is when the females start courtship games with the males and become pregnant. Then they settle to a more serious life of feeding, offspring, and nursing.
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin Identification Project
Identification of individual Atlantic Spotted Dolphin is central to any research on this free-ranging species. It is essential to helping us understand behaviors over a number of years by knowing who's who.
The identification and cataloging of each individual is done by photographs of both sides of the dolphin.
"Chub" in 1992
"Chub" in 2021
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