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Facts about Humpback Dolphins

Humpback Dolphins can swim at speeds of up to 30km per hour.  They have been known to follow trawlers to pick up their leftovers.  They can also be a variety of colours including pink!


A Humpback Dolphin, Sousa chinensis, South Africa. Photo credit: Brett Atkins, Shutterstock

Fast Facts
Scientific name:
Sousa teuszii (Atlantic), Sousa chinensis (Indo-Pacific)
Range:Tropical and subtropical waters
Length:2.5-2.8 m
Lifespan:40+ yrs
Reproduction:Give birth to one calf every 3 yrs
Diet:Fish, squid, octopus
Predators:Sharks, man
IUCN Conservation statusVulnerable (Atlantic), Near threatened (Indo-Pacific)


Humpback Dolphin identification

Scientists are still uncertain about the exact taxonomy of Humpback Dolphins.  At least two species of Humpback Dolphin have been recognized, including the Atlantic Humpback Dolphin and the Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin.  Some argue that the Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin should be further split into two species; the Indian Humpback Dolphin and the Pacific Humpback Dolphin.

Humpback Dolphins have a robust body with a relatively long and slender beak.  In the Atlantic Ocean and the western and northern Indian Ocean they have an elongated hump on their back, hence the name Humpback Dolphin.  The dorsal fin of the dolphins in this area sits atop the hump and is small and falcate.  In the Pacific Ocean and eastern Indian Ocean the hump is less pronounced and in some cases not present at all; the dorsal fin is low and only slightly falcate with a blunt peak and an unusually long base.

The colour pattern of Humpback Dolphins, both between and within populations,  is highly variable.  Humpback Dolphins off western Africa have a slate grey upper-body and lighter grey lower-body.  Those off South Africa are lead or brownish grey coloured on top with lighter grey undersides.  In the Indian Ocean, Humpback Dolphins are uniformly lead or brown coloured and occasionally have dark spots on their belly.  In Chinese waters, adult Humpback Dolphins are often pure white or pink.

Humpback Dolphin habitat: Where do Humpback Dolphins live? 

Humpback Dolphins live in tropical and subtropical waters, generally in waters that are greater than 15° C.  They usually stay within a few miles of shore and are rarely seen in water deeper than 25 m.  Their preferred habitat is thought to be in or near bays and estuaries but they can also be common in turbid channels within mangrove forests and delicate sandbanks.

How big are Humpback Dolphins?

Humpback Dolphins grow to a maximum of 2.8 m and can weigh up to 260 kg.

How long do Humpback Dolphins live?

Humpback Dolphins live for at least 40 years.

What do Humpback Dolphins eat?

The diet of Humpback Dolphins consists mainly of species that live on or near the ocean bottom that are associated with reefs or the brackish waters of estuaries.  This includes small fish, squid and octopus.  Off Hong Kong and Queensland, Australia they regularly follow trawlers to feed on escaped, injured and discarded organisms.

What eats Humpback Dolphins?

Tiger, Bull and Great White Sharks are most likely to be predators of Humpback Dolphins.

Humpback Dolphin life cycle and reproduction

Female Humpback Dolphins are thought to give birth every three years. The gestation period of the Humpback Dolphin is likely to be 10 to 12 months. Calving occurs mainly in spring or summer.  Although calves begin taking solid food at six months, they are not fully weaned until they are two years old.

Are Humpback Dolphins endangered and if so why?

The Atlantic Humpback Dolphin is listed as Vunerable by the IUCN.  This means that it is facing a risk of extinction in the wild.  The Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin is listed as Near Threatened meaning that it is close to being threatened with extinction.  The eastern Taiwan Strait population of the Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin is listed as Critically Endangered.  This means that it is facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.

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