Physical Description

  • Streamlined, smooth-bodied marine mammal.
  • Dark gray coloration on upper back fading to a lighter gray on sides. White to light pink coloration on belly.
  • Their short, thick beaks are what give them the nickname bottlenose.
  • They have large, powerful pectoral flippers that are curved back slightly and pointed at the tips.
  • Their dorsal (back) fin is also curved back like their flukes to help them be streamlined.
  • Grow to a length of 6-13 feet and weight of 330-1435 pounds.


  • Found throughout the tropical and subtropical latitudes around the world.


  • Swim from nearshore to open ocean waters.
  • Often found within 20 miles of shore, in harbors, bays, lagoons, estuaries, and around large islands.


  • Bottlenose dolphins can live to be 40 years old, with some females living to be 60 or more.
  • They begin to reproduce at 5-15 years old.
  • Females begin to reproduce at a younger age than males.
  • Males often create small pods of 2-3 males that stay together for years, and only interact with pods of females for mating.
  • Females are pregnant for about 12 months.
  • Calves nurse for about 20 months and stay with their mothers for 3-6 years. Some females raise their calves with their mothers, forming multigenerational pods.
  • Females give birth every 3-6 years and can give birth as old as 45 years of age.


  • Wide variety of fishes, squid, and crustaceans.
  • Bottlenose dolphins may eat 15-30 pounds of fish a day.


  • They are eaten by killer whales and some large sharks.

Interesting Facts

  • Bottlenose dolphins hunt their prey by “fish whacking,” where they strike a fish with their tail flukes and knock it clear out of the water..
  • Bottlenose dolphins love to ride the bow waves of boats and are known to interact with people in the wild.
  • Marine mammal scientists can recognize individual bottlenose dolphins by their unique markings and their own unique whistles. Some dolphins that spend a lot of time together will even copy each other’s signature whistle! 
  • These sleek animals can swim at speeds over 18 miles per hour.
  • Bottlenose dolphins can breach up to 16 feet out of the water, landing with a large splash.

Sources: Voices in the Sea; NCEAS; Alaska Fisheries Science Center; National Geographic; NOAA Fisheries; Sea World

Photo: Howard Hall

To hear a bottlenose dolphin’s call and see videos of them swimming, visit Voices in the Sea, a collaboration between the Pacific Life Foundation and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. 

Come celebrate these amazing animals during Birch Aquarium’s annual Whale Fest!