Volunteer with Pantropical Spotted Dolphins

Facts about Pantropical Spotted Dolphins

Nicknamed leapers by Hawaiian fishermen, Pantropical Spotted Dolphins engage in various aerial acrobatics, making high, arching leaps above the ocean surface.  They can also reach top speeds of up to 21 knots in just two seconds!

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin. Photo credit: Ricardo Liberato, Flickr

Fast Facts
Scientific name:
Stenella attenuata
Range:Tropical to warm temperate waters
Length:up to 2.57 m
Lifespan:46 yrs
Reproduction:Give birth every 2.5 to 4 yrs
Diet:Fish, cephalopod, crustaceans
Predators:Sharks, Orcas, False Killer Whales, Man
IUCN Conservation statusLeast concern

Pantropical Spotted Dolphin Identification

Pantropical Spotted Dolphins have fairly slender bodies with a small dorsal fin and moderately long, slender beaks.  They are born without spots but accumulate them as they age until they are almost entirely covered in overlapping spots.  They also possess dark capes and a white tipped beak. 

Pantropical Spotted Dolphin adaptations 

The Pantropical Spotted Dolphin is one of the most social cetacean species.  Often found in schools of hundreds or  even thousands, these large groups are made up of smaller social units, each containing under 20 individuals.  These smaller social groups remain physically close to one another, surfacing and diving synchronously. Pantropical Spotted Dolphins are sometimes called leapers by fishermen as they often make high arching leaps above the surface.  Indeed, two trained individuals have been observed reaching speeds of over 21 knots in just two seconds!

Where do Pantropical Spotted Dolphins live? 

Pantropicals occur in tropical to warm temperate oceanic waters between 40°N and 40°S.  Three sub-species have been identified; one inhabits the near-shore waters around the Hawaiian Islands, another resides in the offshore waters of the eastern tropical Pacific, while the other inhabits coastal waters between Baja California and the northwestern coast of South America.

How big are Pantropical Spotted Dolphins?

Pantropical Spotted Dolphins can grow up to 2.57 m in length and weigh up to 120 kg.  Females are slightly smaller than males.

How long do Pantropical Spotted Dolphins live?

Males have a lifespan of up to 40 years, while females can live up to 46 years.

What do Pantropical Spotted Dolphins eat?

Pantropical Spotted Dolphins eat a wide range of small pelagic fish, as well as cephalopods and crustaceans.  They find their prey on surface waters or in the water column.

What eats Pantropical Spotted Dolphins?

Sharks, Orca and False Killer Whales are known to prey on Pantropical Spotted Dolphins.  Pygmy Killer Whales may also be predators.

Pantropical Spotted Dolphin life cycle and reproduction

Calving occurs year round with several seasonal peaks, while the gestation period is just over 11 months.  Calves will start to eat solid food from 6 months but will not be fully weaned until they are at least 1 year of age, often not until they are 2 years old or more.  The average calving interval varies between populations but ranges between 2.5 to 4 years.

Are Pantropical Spotted Dolphins endangered and if so why?

Pantropical Spotted Dolphins are listed as Least Concern by the IUCN meaning that they are not currently at risk of extinction.  However, they are frequently caught as bycatch in fishing nets due to their association with Yellowfin Tuna.  They are also hunted for human consumption in several countries, including Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines.

Click here to see how you can work as a marine conservation volunteer with Pantropical Spotted Dolphins!