Lagenorhynchus obscurusdusky dolphin

Geographic Range

Dusky dolphins have a circumpolar distribution in Southern Hemisphere. They can be found near the coasts of South America, South Africa, Kerguelen Island, South Australia and New Zealand.


Dusky dolphins are usually found in warm to cool temperate waters and at coastal region.

Physical Description

The dusky dolphin is a medium-sized dolphin, ranging from 1.8m to 2m in length. It has virtually no beak, as the head slopes evenly down from the blowhole to the tip of the snout. The tip of the dorsal fin is rather blunt and is not markedly hooked. A dusky dolphin has a bluish-black tail and back. A dark band runs diagonally across the flanks from below the dorsal fin towards the vent and along the tailstock. The underside of the body is white, and whitish-grey color extends over the flanks. The tips of the snout and lower jaw are dark. A grey area extends from the eye down to the flipper. Two diagonal whitish streaks run forward from tail up past the base of dorsal fin (Baker 1990).

There are 24-36 pairs of small, pointed teeth about 3mm in diameter in each jaws. The upper jaw ususally has 2 less teeth than the lower (Dawson 1985).


The mating pattern of these dolphins is promiscuous, adult males competing for mating access to females (Evans 1987). Pair bonds do not appear to be formed, but social cohesion within the school seems strong (Dawson 1985).

Mating of dusky dolphins usually takes place during spring. Gestation lasts for 11 months, and the peak months of birth for dusky dolphins are June to August. Dusky dolphins produce one young per birth; the weight of the young is about 5 kg (Nowak 1991). The lactation period lasts for 18 months (Evans 1987). There is no information on the sexual maturity and the life span of dusky dolphins.

  • Breeding season
    Mating of dusky dolphins usually takes place during spring.
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    11 months
  • Average weaning age
    18 months


Dusky dolphins are often seen in groups of 6-15, occasionally up to 300 for feeding aggregations. Groups are a mixture of ages and include members of both sexes (Evans 1987). Groups are usually stable for at least several days (Herman 1980). Dusky dolphins are among the most altruistic of the dolphins. They have been reported to assist other dolphin species in distress, and to aid humans (Dawson 1985).

They spend night-time in small schools of 6-15 animals no more than a kilometer offshore. During this period, dusky dolphins are at rest with only slow movements. In the morning, they move into deeper water, about 2-10 km from shore. At this time, they search for food in groups, swimming in a line abreast with each animal 10m from the next. Then they may aggregate up to 300 for co-operative herding. By mid-afternoon, feeding may be concentrated in one area, and dusky dolphins start to interact socially in play and sexual activity. In the evening, the large school of dusky dolphins splits up into smaller groups and returns inshore (Evans 1987).

Dusky dolphins are extremely fond of playing and leaping; they often leap in schools. Dusky dolphins are especially attracted to boats. They are fast swimmers, reaching speeds up to 20 knots.

Dusky dolphins produce a variety of whistles, squeaks, squeals and clicks. These sounds are loud and directional (Dawson 1985). The sound of a dusky dolphin reentering the water after a leap carries at least 500m but less than 1km underwater. In air, the sound can be heard as far away as 3-km distance. Dusky dolphins often leap before and after feeding. The leap has been hypothesized to function to recruit other dolphins to assist in feeding activities (Herman 1980).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

The main prey species of dusky dolphins include anchovy (the southern form), squid and schooling shrimps. Dusky dolphins feed both at bottom and at the surface (Dawson 1985). They generally feed with cooperative herding of large schools of small fish by aggregations of up to 300 dolphins.

  • Animal Foods
  • fish
  • mollusks
  • aquatic crustaceans

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The fresh meat of dusky dolphins can be sold in the markets of Lima for U.S. $1-1.25 per kg. Nearly 10000 individuals are killed each year (Grzimek 1975). Dusky dolphin is an interest to tourists. For instance, at Kaikoura, an intensive dolphin-watching industry is centered on taking tourists to see and to swim with these animals.

Conservation Status

Large catches off western South America have caused serious concern. Thousands of dusky dolphins are killed annaually by the small-cetacean fishery in Peru. Although in 1990 the Peruvian government banned the direct fishery for small cetaceans, the ban has not been very effective (Reeves and Leatherwood 1994).

Other Comments

Killer whales are the major predators of dusky dolphins. Dusky dolphins are spectacular acrobats, often turning on displays of jumping and chargin line-abreast near ships (Baker 1990).

Dusky dolphins have been recorded swimming with schools of Common Dolphins, and even mating with them (Dawson 1985).


Helen Yu (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


Atlantic Ocean

the body of water between Africa, Europe, the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), and the western hemisphere. It is the second largest ocean in the world after the Pacific Ocean.

World Map

Pacific Ocean

body of water between the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), Australia, Asia, and the western hemisphere. This is the world's largest ocean, covering about 28% of the world's surface.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats fish


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


Baker, A.N. 1990. Whales & Dolphins of New Zealand & Australia. Victoria University Press, Wellington.

Dawson, S. 1985. The New Zealand Whale & Dolphin Digest. Brick Row Publishing Company Limited, Hong Kong.

Evans, P.G. 1987. The Natural History of Whales & Dolphins. Facts on File Publications, New York.

Grzimek, B. 1975. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia. Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, New York.

Herman, L.M. 1980. Cetacean Behavior: Mechanisms and Functions. John Wiley & Sons, New York.

New Zealand Whale & Dolphin Trust.

Nowak, R. M.1991. Walker's Mammals of the World. Fifth Edition. The Jonhs Hopkins University Prsss, Baltimore.

Reeves, R and S. Leatherwood. 1994. Dolphins, Porpoises, and Whales. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Switzerland.