The black dolphin, also known as the Chilean dolphin, is endemic to waters just off the coast of Chile. It is the second smallest dolphin in the world, with adult males reaching just over 5 and a half feet in length. It has a distinctively blunt head which, combined with its small size, means that it is often mistaken for a porpoise when spotted off the coast. It prefers to live in shallow waters near the coast and groups of black dolphins tend to congregate near areas with fast-flowing tides or near the mouths of rivers. It is thought that they enjoy playing in the strong currents in these areas.
The black dolphin has relatively small fins and flippers compared to its body size. It has a white belly and throat, whilst the rest of its body is a combination of different greys. It is most common to spot the black dolphin swimming in small-ish pods of around 10 members, although larger groups of black dolphins traveling together have been seen on rare occasions.
The black dolphin has had relatively little research conducted into its breeding patterns and general characteristics, but it is believed that they are very similar to Hector’s and Commerson’s dolphins. Researchers estimate that the black dolphin has a gestation period of roughly 10 months, although further investigation is needed to confirm this. Using research gathered about other similar species of dolphin, scientists have worked out that the average life expectancy of a black dolphin is around 20 years.
Nobody knows exactly how many black dolphins there are in the world. There may be a couple of thousand but since they are only really spotted swimming in small groups, without proper research it is difficult to know whether the same small pod is being counted a number of times. There have been no reported sightings of the black dolphin anywhere other than along the coast of Chile, so the population cannot be huge.
Its conservation status is listed as ‘near threatened’. This is partially because the area where they live is so concentrated that if anything were to happen to their habitat, there would be little chance that the species would survive elsewhere. Much more research is needed to actually establish the level of danger to which black dolphins are exposed and how conservationists can go about protecting them and their immediate environment.