Dolphins and porpoises are social, intelligent, charismatic marine mammals that live in tight-knit, family groups called pods. Near the top of the food chain, they also consume many of the same fish species as humans—making them good indicators of changing ocean health. They range in size from about five feet in length for the smallest dolphin, and up over 30 feet in length for the largest dolphin, the orca. All dolphins have the ability to echolocate, using sound waves to navigate and hunt.
Photo: © Vanessa Mignon
Cetacea (dolphins, whales, porpoises), Lagenorynchus acutus (Atlantic white-sided dolphin) and Tursiops truncatus (bottlenose dolphin), are a few species of dolphins.
Depending on species, population statuses range from “Least Concern” to “Critically Endangered”.
Where do dolphins live?
Dolphins can be found in all the world’s oceans, seas and even in some rivers.
Types of dolphins:
Dolphins belong to the suborder Odontoceti (toothed whales). There are 38 species of dolphins.
Dolphins face many threats including entanglement in fishing gear, ocean pollution, habitat loss and climate change. Ocean noise pollution from human activity like commercial shipping and military sonar poses another serious threat to this beloved marine mammal. It creates a maze of noise that reduces the animal’s ability to communicate, navigate, and locate prey. In extreme cases, ocean noise pollution can even lead to death for dolphins.
Not all threats are due to human impact, however. In core regions where IFAW and our partners work, we also see geography, topography and large tidal fluctuations that are often difficult for animals to navigate when swimming close to shore. Cape Cod, Massachusetts, for instance, forms a sandy hook that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, and it is the site of the most frequent dolphin strandings of anywhere else in the world. Similar hot spot locations occur off coasts such as New Zealand and the Netherlands.
IFAW has been the first line of defence for stranded marine mammals on Cape Cod in distress for over 20 years. In fact, the IFAW Marine Mammal Rescue team has created the most comprehensive cetacean stranding programme in the world, pioneering health assessments and treatments that allow these animals to be returned to their ocean home within a matter of hours, improving their likelihood of survival.
Since 1998 we’ve improved our release rate from 15% to nearly 80% of stranded dolphins. IFAW is able to share their expertise throughout the world with cutting edge research and trainings. Our partnerships with SOS Dolfijn, ORRCA and Project Jonah have increased the expertise worldwide and ensured more animals are able to be saved.
The Netherlands is the hotspot for strandings of harbor porpoises in the North Sea. Dutch organization SOS Dolfijn is the expert whale rescue organization for Northern Europe. IFAW supported SOS Dolfijn financially for the period 2017 to 2020. This allowed for education and other activities to continue and enabled the organization to look for a new location for the rehabilitation and education center. Eventually, SOS Dolfijn found a place on Landgoed Hoenderdaell, where their new center will open in 2022.
In Australia, IFAW partners with ORRCA to protect and preserve the welfare of whales, dolphins, seals and dugongs in Australia. The Project Jonah partnership is backed by the New Zealand Government and works to rescue and protect marine mammals in New Zealand. The country is a known hotspot for marine mammal strandings with more than 5,000 strandings of whales and dolphins reordered around the coast since 1840, so the importance of their work is paramount.
How can you help save dolphins?
Wondering how you can help dolphins and other cetaceans? By making a donation today, you can ensure all animals have a chance for survival.