Bottlenose dolphin Bottlenose dolphin Andrew Pearson
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10 things you might not know about bottlenose dolphins

From their surprising use of tools to cooperative behaviour with both humans and fellow marine mammals, discover 10 curious facts about the bottlenose dolphin.


While bottlenose dolphins are not endangered as a species, specific populations are under threat from environmental change. This makes them an important part of marine mammal surveys undertaken for baseline characterisation and impact monitoring programmes.

Here are 10 things you might not know about these beloved aquatic mammals:

1. A bottlenose named Nicklo is the world’s oldest dolphin on record. She was last seen in 2017, age 67. While it is not unusual for female bottlenose dolphins to live beyond 60 years, males rarely exceed 40.

2. Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins have been known to “walk” on their tails; forcing most of their body vertically out of the water, the dolphins vigorously pump their tails to move backwards along the water, mimicking a standing posture.

3. The “wholphin” (a portmanteau of whale and dolphin) is an incredibly rare hybrid, born from a mating of female bottlenose dolphins and false killer whales. As both parents belong to the oceanic dolphin family, the name is disputed.

4. Bottlenose dolphins are known to use tools. In Australia’s Shark Bay, mothers can be observed using marine sponges as foraging tools, and teaching the technique to female offspring.

5. In a practice known as “strand feeding”, some bottlenose dolphins cooperatively herd prey fish onto shore. Regularly observed along the southeastern coast of the United States, the dolphins create waves to force the fish onto steep and sandy banks. They then briefly strand themselves to eat their pray, before sliding back into the water.

6. When hunting alone, bottlenose dolphins have been known to hit prey with their flukes (fins). Known as “fish whacking”, the technique sometimes knocks the fish out of the water.

7. The bottlenose dolphin can remember whistles of other dolphins after 20 years of separation. Each dolphin has a unique whistle that allows the mammals to keep close social bonds.

8. To attract attention when forming new social groups, bottlenose dolphins along the Florida coast have been observed self-decorating with grass; a rare form of social object use.

9. Bottlenose dolphins have been known to exhibit altruistic behaviour towards other species. In one recorded event, two pygmy sperm whales were stranded on New Zealand’s Mahia Beach; after rescuers were unable to refloat them, a bottlenose known as Moko arrived and, apparently vocalising to the whales, led them along a sandbar to the open sea.

10. Bottlenose dolphins are known to cooperate with fishermen. Off the Laguna beach in Brazil, bottlenose dolphins herd shoals of mullets towards fishermen’s nets. The dolphins signal the fishermen to cast the nets by slapping their heads or tails on the water, at which point the fish begin to break away from their school, making it easier for the dolphins to catch their share.

Photo courtesy Andrew Pearson


ABPmer’s marine surveyors regularly undertake marine mammal surveys for baseline characterisation and impact monitoring programmes, including JNCC mitigation protocols.

Discover more about our marine and coastal survey services.

Sources

Axios Media, 2021. World's oldest bottlenose dolphin still missing.
BBC News, 2008. Wild dolphins tail-walk on water.
eScholarship, 2016. Neither Toy nor Tool: Grass-wearing Behavior among Free-Ranging Bottlenose Dolphins in Western Florida.
Herald Sun, 2008. Dolphin rescues beached whales [archived].
National Geographic, 2013. Dolphins Have Longest Memories in Animal Kingdom.
National Geographic, 2019. See dolphins punt fish out of water to stun and eat them.
National Library of Medicine, 2005. Cultural transmission of tool use in bottlenose dolphins.
National Library of Medicine, 2018. Tail walking in a bottlenose dolphin community: the rise and fall of an arbitrary cultural ‘fad’.
Phys.org, 2019. Dolphins who help fishermen found to also hang out together between meals.
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, 2012. Dinner is served!.
The Guardian, 2018. Don't call it a wholphin: first sighting of rare whale-dolphin.
Whale and Dolphin Conservation, 2022. How long do dolphins live?.