Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Atlantic spotted dolphin

4 languages
Stenella frontalis
Population size
Life Span
30-40 yrs
130-140 kg
1.7-2.3 m

The Atlantic spotted dolphin (Stenella frontalis ) is a dolphin found in warm temperate and tropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Older members of the species have a very distinctive spotted coloration all over their bodies.


The Atlantic spotted dolphin is a medium-sized aquatic mammal found in the warm temperate and tropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Its coloring varies enormously as it grows, and is usually classified into age-dependent phases known as two-tone, speckled, mottled, and fused. Calves are a fairly uniform gray-white, with one or no spots. Despite the name, not all individuals of this species exhibit spots on their bodies, though many of them do. However, some dolphins are so densely spotted, that may seem to be completely white from afar. As a general rule, calf dolphins normally lack these spots, developing them as they grow up. On the other hand, those living in the far-offshore waters of the Gulf Stream are often smaller and without spots on their body.



As the name of the species suggests, the dolphin is found in the Atlantic Ocean, occurring in the tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate waters, namely: around the Azores, Canary Islands, Gabon, and Brazil. These dolphins are also widely distributed along the US East Coast, from the Gulf of Mexico to Cape Cod (MA), consisting of 2 stocks: the Northern Gulf of Mexico Stock and the Western North Atlantic Stock. Those, living in the Bahamas, are most often seen in the shallow water above sand flats. On the whole, these dolphins normally prefer waters over the continental shelf, though in some areas the species can also be found in deep oceanic waters.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin habitat map

Climate zones

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin habitat map
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Habits and Lifestyle

Atlantic spotted dolphins are highly social animals and gather into groups known as pods. Members of a pod live in close relationships with each other and complex social organization, including individual recognition. Atlantic spotted dolphins are very careful to pregnant females and calves, fiercely protecting them from predators such as sharks. Members of a group also help each other to care for the calves. Within a pod, each individual is ranked depending on its gender, age, size, and other factors. These dolphins may form very small groups, consisting of just a few individuals, and large pods of up to several thousand dolphins in offshore areas. However, pods of Atlantic spotted dolphins rarely include more than 50 animals. Atlantic spotted dolphins are cooperative hunters: they usually hunt in groups at night, using a technique of encircling the prey. They use whistles, cackles, sharp cries and tongue clicking as forms of communication.

Group name
Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Atlantic spotted dolphins are carnivores (piscivores). Their usual diet primarily consists of bottom-dwelling invertebrates, squid as well as fish.

Mating Habits

11-12 months
1 calf
1-5 years

These dolphins have a polygynous mating system, where one male mates with a number of females. The Atlantic spotted dolphins mate throughout the year. The gestation period lasts for 11-12 months, yielding a single baby. The female usually gives birth with the interval of 1-5 years with an average of 3 years. The calf is nursed by its mother for 1-5 years, becoming reproductively mature and starting to breed between 8 and 15 years of age.


Population threats

Presently, the Atlantic spotted dolphin is threatened by hunting for food and bait along the South American and West African coasts of its habitat, especially in the Caribbean Sea. Besides, the species hugely suffers from fisheries across the area of its range: the dolphins are often entangled in fishing nets, which causes a great mortality among Atlantic spotted dolphins.

Population number

According to the NMFS NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Fisheries resource, the total population size of the Atlantic spotted dolphin is unknown today. However, there are estimates for specific populations of this species such as the northern Gulf of Mexico stock (24.500 – 31.000 individuals) and the western North Atlantic population (36.000 – 51.000 individuals). Currently, Atlantic spotted dolphins are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • These playful dolphins love performing acrobatic tricks, and can often be seen leaping out of water or riding bow waves of boats.
  • The Atlantic spotted dolphins have a unique communication system. They interact through cries, whistles, and various high-pitched calls. By means of these sounds, the dolphins can warn each other about threats, inform about a playful mood or a newly found food source. Meanwhile, each of the animals has its own frequency, which helps identify individual dolphins.
  • Along with calls, these dolphins communicate with each other through body language. Thus, they can frequently be seen bumping into one another. Besides, they often use spy hopping and leaping out of water in order to show their abilities, to inform others of different interests, or to warn the members of the pod of various threats.
  • These dolphins can dive at a depth of 40-60 meters (130-200 feet) and are capable of staying submerged for up to 10 minutes. However, they rarely dive deeper than 10 meters (30 feet), usually remaining in the water from 2 to 6 minutes.
  • These animals use the so-called "sonar" technique of communication, detecting objects through sound waves, which reflect off the object and return to the animal.
  • Members of a pod are very careful to each other, helping those in distress. When in trouble, a dolphin will call out for help, sending out a special intermittent distress call. Other dolphins will hear the call and rush to aid, usually caring for a wounded or sick individual by turns, until the dolphin recovers.


1. Atlantic Spotted Dolphin Wikipedia article -
2. Atlantic Spotted Dolphin on The IUCN Red List site -

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