The Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis) is the name given to two, or occasionally one species of dolphin, making up the genus Delphinus.
Prior to the mid-1990s, most taxonomists only recognised one species
in this genus, the Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis. Modern cetologists usually
recognise two species - the Short-beaked Common Dolphin, which retains the
systematic name Delphinus delphis, and the Long-beaked Common Dolphin D. capensis.
Despite its name the Common Dolphin is not the dolphin of popular imagination
- that distinction belongs to the Bottlenose Dolphin, largely due to the television
Despite the historic practice of lumping the entire Delpinus genus into a single species, these widely distributed dolphins exhibit a wide variety of size, shape and colour. Indeed over the past few decades over 20 distinct species in the genus have been proposed. Scientists in California in the 1960s concluded that there were two species - the long-beaked and short-beaked. This analysis was essentially confirmed by a more in-depth genetic study in the 1990s. This study also suggested that a third species (D. tropicalis, common name usually Arabian Common Dolphin), characterized by an extremely long and thin beak and found in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, might be distinguished from the long-beaked species. The current standard taxonomic works recognise this as just a regional variety.
The Common Dolphin is widely distributed in temperate, sub-tropical and tropical waters throughout the world in a band roughly spanning 40 degrees south to 50 degrees north. The variation in make-up described above from one population to the next suggested little interaction between distinct groups The species typically prefer enclose bodies of water such as the Red and Mediterranean Seas. Deep off-shore waters and to a lesser extent over continental shelves are preferred to shallow waters. Some populations may be present all year round, others appear to move in a migratory pattern. Preferred surface water temperature is 10-28 degrees Celsius. The total population is unknown but numbers in the hundreds of thousands.
Common Dolphins travel in groups of around 10-50 in number and frequently gather into schools numbering 100 to 2000 individuals. These schools are generally very active - groups often surface, jump and splash together. Typical behaviour includes breaching, tail-slapping, chin-slapping and porpoising.
Common Dolphins have been seen to mix with other cetaceans such as other dolphins in the Yellowfish Tuna grounds of the eastern Pacific and also schools of Pilot Whales. An intriguing theory suggests that dolphins 'bow-riding' on very large whales was the origin of bow-riding on boats.
The gestation period is about eleven months and the calving period is between one and three years. Sexual maturation occurs at five years and longevity is twenty to twenty-five years. These figures are subject to large variation across different populations.
Common Dolphins face a mixture of threats due to human influence. Populations have been hunted off the coast of Peru for use as food and shark bait. In most other areas the Dolphins have not been hunted directly. Several thousand individuals have been caught in industrial trawler nets throughout their range. Common Dolphins were abudant in the western Mediterranean Sea until the 1960s but occurrences there have tailed off rapidly there. The reasons are not well understood but are believed to be due to extensive human activity in the area.
Rice, Dale W. (1998). Marine mammals of the world: systematics and distribution. Society of Marine Mammalogy Special Publication Number 4. 231 pp.
National Audobon Society Guide to Marine Mammals of the World ISBN 0375411410
Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals ISBN 0125513402
Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises, Mark Carwardine, ISBN 0751327816