Short-beaked common dolphin

Delphinus delphis
Other names: 
  • Criss-cross dolphin
  • White-bellied porpoise
  • Short-beaked saddleback dolphin
  • Atlantic/Pacific dolphin
  • Hourglass dolphin
Maximum length: 
  • Male: 2.7m
  • Female: 2.6m
  • Calf: 0.8m
Maximum weight: 
  • Male: 150 kg
  • Female: Unknown
  • Calf: Unknown
  • Small schooling fish
  • Squid
Estimated population: 
3 million
IUCN Listing: 
LC (Mediterranean population listed as EN; Black Sea population, D. d. ponticus VU)****
CITES Appendix: 
CMS Appendix: 
I (Mediterranean population), II (North, Baltic, Black and Mediterranean Sea and eastern tropical Pacific population

Short-beaked common dolphins are energetic, boisterous animals often seen breaking the water's surface at high speed and frequently bow-riding in front of large vessels. While previously considered to be one species, in 1994 the common dolphin was separated into short-beak and long-beak varieties. However, the 2009 review of the Delphinus taxa by the IWC Scientific Committee, as well as several recent scientific publications, concluded that the long-beaked and short-beaked common dolphins should probably be treated as the same taxonomic unit which shows considerable variation through its large range. (For these and some other cetaceans however, the species concept does not work very well and what this means in conservation terms will need to be given some careful consideration). Currently two sub-species are recognised; D. d. delphis - short-beaked common dolphin, and D. d. ponticus - the Black Sea short-beaked common dolphin found, as its name suggests, only in the Black Sea. There are specific conservation concerns about this isolated population.


The common dolphin has very distinctive colouring, forming an hourglass pattern on its side. A yellow panel runs down the front half of both sides, separated from the grey stripe in the rear by a cape of black that forms a saddle just below the dorsal fin. Most individuals have a prominent white patch on the dorsal fin, one characteristic that distinguishes them from the long-beaked common dolphin. The short-beaked common dolphin is slightly stockier than the long-beaked common dolphin, has a more rounded melon and as its name suggests, a shorter beak. The distinctive hourglass pattern and yellow flash on the animal's side may also be brighter and more pronounced. The short-beaked common dolphin also has a more spectacled appearance with a patch around the eye. Many colour variations exist of the short-beaked common dolphin and at a quick glance it may be confused with the Atlantic white-sided dolphin, though in that species the colour patches are reversed with the tan or yellow appearing on the tail stock.


Short-beaked common dolphins typically travel in large social groups numbering between 10 and 50 animals, and occasionally, thousands of individuals. They are very acrobatic and can often be seen breaching and somersaulting through the air. Entire pods will bow-ride large ships and they are often seen with other marine mammals (sometimes bow-riding the wake of large whales) and feeding seabirds.


The short-beaked common dolphin is found in most tropical and temperate areas of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, although it has declined in some areas recently. The cause of the decline is bycatch in illegal driftnets, prey depletion from overfishing, chemical pollution and habitat degradation. In 2008, the IUCN classified the short-beaked common dolphin as of 'Least Concern' at the same time as reclassifying the Mediterranean population as Endangered and the Black Sea population as Vulnerable.

Distribution map: