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Bottlenose Dolphin

Physical Description


The bottlenose dolphin is a stocky dolphin with a short beak. Scottish bottlenoses are somewhat special, being larger than their cousins worldwide. The colour is variable – usually dark brown or grey on the back, white on the belly and light grey on the flanks, with no distinctive markings. They are identifiable at sea by their large, dark dorsal fin and apparently uniform colouring.


Bottlenose dolphins are found world-wide in tropical and temperate waters, inshore and offshore. Scottish bottlenoses are at the northernmost extreme of the species’ range, and are seen throughout the entire Hebridean area. They are usually seen close inshore, hugging the coastline around headlands and bays. Hebridean sightings hotspots are the Isles of Mull (in particular the Sound of Mull), Iona , Coll, Tiree, and Barra – there are believed to be resident populations inhabiting these waters year-round.


Bottlenose dolphins live in small groups of up to 10 individuals (inshore) and typically up to 25 offshore. Occasionally, lone individuals (usually males) choose an inshore area to call home, often following fishing boats and swimmers. One example of this “friendly dolphin” phenomenon is a pair of bottlenose dolphins which live in the coastal waters around the Isles of Coll and Tiree. The mother and calf pair was first spotted in 1994, and were named Sparkle and Starlight by a local fisherman’s sons. Since then, the calf has grown almost as large as its mother – they have stayed together and are seen year round, often approaching and following boats. The sex of the calf is as yet unknown. These dolphins are usually fairly slow swimmers, traveling at about 4 km per hour, but can reach speeds of over 50 km per hour for brief periods. Famously inquisitive, active and playful, they are often seen bow-riding, and leaping high into the air.



They are sociable animals, assisting one another and hunting co-operatively to herd schools of fish to the surface of the water. They have 18- 26 pairs of conical teeth in each jaw, which are used to catch a wide variety of fish, squid and cuttlefish.

Current Situation

Although once one of the most common inshore cetaceans in Britain and Ireland the species has declined in the past 20 years – being a coastal species, they are threatened by pollution from human populations, fish farms, DDT and heavy metals, and accidental drowning in fishing nets. Worldwide, bottlenose dolphins are captured for display in oceanaria, a practice which is illegal in the United Kingdom . In the wild, bottlenose s can live for up to 25 years – this is reduced in captivity.