ABCs of Bottlenose Dolphins

Every year, hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to the waters of the Bahamas to learn about the most well known marine mammal in the world. The bottlenose dolphin is recognizable no matter where you are in the world, but here in the Bahamas, they’re a beloved unofficial mascot, bringing delight to whomever witnesses them, or has the privilege of swimming with them. If you’re headed to the Bahamas, with a ‘swim with dolphins’ experience all booked, here are a few things to know about these incredible creatures:

The bottlenose dolphin is very distinct, with its robust body, thick beak and an expression that makes them look like they’re always smiling. They can range in color quite dramatically, from the lightest gray to a deep black, always with light coloration along the belly. Dolphins that live near the shore and those that live further out, are actually different in their characteristics. The inshore dolphins are much smaller, sleeker, and lighter in color, whereas the offshore dolphins are much larger bodied, darker in color and have much small flippers. Something else to note, Bottlenose dolphins are often confused with Risso’s dolphins, Atlantic spotted dolphins, or rough-toothed dolphins.

Bottlenose dolphins are a variety of lengths, ranging anywhere from 6 feet to 12 feet, with the males slightly bigger than the females. Adult dolphins weigh anywhere from 300 pounds to a whopping 1400 pounds, depending on their age and maturity. What’s even more interesting, is that these playful creatures can live anywhere from 40 - 50 years in the wild, with females living the longest. Inshore dolphins travel in small pods comprising of 2 - 15 dolphins, whereas the offshore dolphins can travel in pods of hundreds.

This species of dolphin is associated with pilot whales, though it may not seem like it. They’re also omnivores, meaning they feed on a wide variety of prey animals endemic to their natural habitat. They hunt and forage in groups, using high frequency echolocation to both communicate with one another during a hunt, and to find and capture their prey. A bottlenose dolphin has unique hunting techniques, one of them being “fish whacking”, a maneuver in which they flick a fish with their flukes, knocking it out of the water.

The Bottlenose dolphin is found in a number of areas around the world, including temperate environments. Coastal pods will migrate in unison, into estuaries, bays and river mouths. Sadly, there are a number of threats to this species including exposure to pollutants and biotoxins, viral epidemics, direct harvesting from places like Japan and Taiwan, and a number of accidents with fishing net entanglement. There are a number of measures in place to protect the species in Bahamian waters, and you can do your part by keeping the ocean clean, free of clutter, and sign petitions to ban any hunting of these fascinating clowns.

Now that you know a thing or two about the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, don’t hesitate to do some more research. Book yourself in for an excursion, so you can experience them up close and personal, and don’t forget your camera, because the Bahamas is surrounded by majestic pods of these fantastic creatures.