The common dolphin is a name given to two different species of dolphin: the short- beaked common dolphin and the long-beaked common dolphin. Despite the name insinuating that is the most commonly sighted or recognized dolphin, it is not actually the species that comes to mind for most people when they think of dolphins. The most ‘common’ dolphin used in popular culture is the bottlenose dolphin which is an entirely different species whatsoever and one which should not be confused with either the long or short-beaked common dolphin.
Long-beaked and short-beaked common dolphins are, perhaps unsurprisingly, differentiated mainly by the length of their beaks. They do, however, also show a difference in their preference of habitat. Long-beaked common dolphins tend to live in shallow water which is warmer and near the coast; whereas their short-beaked counterparts tend to live along shelf edges in shallower water which is further out to sea.
Both species of common dolphin are medium in size. The adults can grow up to 8.2 feet in length but on average measure approximately 7 feet. The heaviest recorded common dolphin weighed in at 518 lb, but it is uncommon for them to reach more than 330lb.
The males tend to be significantly longer and heavier than the females. They live in groups of hundreds, or sometimes even thousands, of dolphins. They are well-known for their enjoyment of riding the bow waves on boats and are easy to spot if you travel out to locations where they are prevalent.
The main feature which distinguishes the common dolphins from other species is their iconic and instantly recognizable markings. They have charcoal colored backs which is much darker than their almost white bellies. Along their side you can see an elongated figure-of-eight or hourglass pattern which is gold in the section closest to their heads and mid-grey near their tails. When they jump out of the water and expose all of their bodies it is incredibly easy even for amateur spotters to note their species. The pattern is unlike any markings on any other species of dolphin anywhere in the world.
It has been said that common dolphins are difficult to keep in captivity and for this reason there are less than 100 captured common dolphins in captivity across the world today. They have previously performed in shows at Seaworld in San Diego but are notoriously more difficult to train than bottlenose dolphins.