September 25, 2021   •  
Bottlenose dolphin

Short-beaked common dolphin

common dolphin

Latin Name: Delphinus delphis
Family: Delphinidae
Size: 1.7 2.7m
Weight: 150 -200kg
Group size: Usually in large groups (10-1000s)


  • Chunky dolphin with a yellowish thoracic patch on forward flank
  • Hourglass pattern on sides creates a dark V under dorsal fin
  • Prominent centrally placed dorsal fin; often with pale patch in the centre
  • Relatively long narrow beak


  • Highly surface active; seen porpoising, breaching and somersaulting
  • School in large groups; super pods of 10-1000s


Common dolphin porpoisingShort-beaked common dolphins are thought of as typically a warmer water species. However, recent evidence suggests they occur in UK waters more regularly now, potentially as a result of rising sea temperatures. Common dolphins are one of the most numerous offshore cetacean species in the temperate north east Atlantic.

Western Scotland, in particular the Sea of Hebrides and The Minch are important areas for common dolphins. Sightings occur most regularly in the summer months, between May and October. Although recent sightings suggest that they are also present in the Moray Firth throughout the summer months.


Common dolphin at surfaceShort-beaked common dolphins have a distinctive hour glass colour pattern on the flank consisting of a yellow or tan patch at the front of the animal and grey a tail stock. The hourglass pattern forms a conspicuous dark ‘V’ shape under the dorsal fin. Animals have a black back, dorsal fin, pectoral fins and fluke and a white belly.

The dorsal fin is tall, sickle shaped, centrally placed in the middle of the back. The fin can be uniformly dark or have a pale patch in the centre. Common dolphins have a distinct beak, relatively long and narrow, separated from the melon with a crease.


Common dolphin groupCommon dolphins are regularly seen in large groups of hundreds to thousands of animals. They are very fast swimmers, and travel in large groups leaping and splashing out of the water. They are very acrobatic and keen to interact with boats, often bow riding.

Common dolphins eat a varied diet of squid and fish, using co-operative feeding strategies to herd fish to the surface in order to catch them more easily. These animals are therefore often seen in association with feeding frenzies of birds. Common dolphins produce high-pitched vocalisations which can, at times, be heard above the surface of the water.

Distribution map


(dark blue) Regular/Common
(light blue) Occasional

Common dolphin distribution map



Common dolphin surface


Common dolphin surfacing

Surface Animation

Video Feature

More Species

Further information

WDC Species Guide Adopt a dolphin