Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Beautiful dolphins commonly seen in the Bahamas

Atlantic spotted dolphin with calf
Atlantic spotted dolphin with calf. Cultura RM/George Karbus Photography

Atlantic spotted dolphins are active dolphins found in the Atlantic Ocean. These dolphins are distinctive for their spotted coloration, which is present only in adults. 

Fast Facts About the Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

  •  Atlantic spotted dolphins are 5-7.5 feet long
  • They weigh 220-315 pounds
  • They are often seen in the Bahamas and other warm parts of the Atlantic Ocean

Identification

Atlantic spotted dolphins have a beautiful spotted coloration that gets darker as the dolphin ages.  Adults have dark spots while calves and juveniles have dark gray backs, lighter gray sides and a white underside.  

These dolphins have a prominent, white-tipped beak, stout bodies and a prominent dorsal fin. 

Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Subphylum: Vertebrata
  • Superclass: Gnathostomata, Tetrapoda
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Subclass: Theria
  • Order: Cetartiodactyla
  • Suborder: Cetancodonta
  • Infraorder: Cetacea
  • Suborder: Odontoceti
  • Superfamily: Odontoceti
  • Family: Delphinidae
  • Genus: Stenella
  • Species: frontalis

Habitat and Distribution

Atlantic spotted dolphins are found in the Atlantic Ocean from New England to Brazil in the west and along the coast of Africa in the east. They prefer tropical, subtropical and warm temperate waters. These dolphins are found in groups that may number more than 200 animals, although they are more often found in groups of 50 or less. 

They are acrobatic animals that may leap and bowride in the waves created by boats.

It is possible that there are two populations of Atlantic spotted dolphins - a coastal population and an offshore population. Offshore dolphins seem to be smaller and have fewer spots.

Feeding

Atlantic spotted dolphins have 30-42 pairs of cone-shaped teeth. Like other toothed whales they use their teeth for grasping, rather than chewing, prey.  Their preferred prey are fish, invertebrates and cephalopods. They usually stay near the ocean surface, but may dive up to 200 feet when foraging.  Like other dolphins, they use echolocation to find prey.

Reproduction

Atlantic spotted dolphins are sexually mature when they are between 8-15 years old. The dolphins mate sexually but males and females are not monogamous.  The gestation period is about 11.5 months, after which a single calf about 2.5-4 feet long is born. Calves nurse for up to 5 years. It is thought these dolphins can live about 50 years. 

How Would You Like to Talk to a Dolphin?

Atlantic spotted dolphins have a complex repertoire of sounds. In general, their main sounds are whistles, clicks and burst pulse sounds. The sounds are used for long and short range communication, navigation and orientation. The Wild Dolphin Project studies these sounds in dolphins in the Bahamas and is even trying to develop a two-way communication system between dolphin and humans.

Conservation

The Atlantic spotted dolphin is listed as data deficient on the IUCN Red List.

Threats may include incidental catches in fisheries operations and hunting. These dolphins are occasionally caught in directed fisheries in the Caribbean, where they are hunted for food.