What is so special about Dana Point and dolphins?
You can see five different species of wild dolphins during our dolphin and whale watching safaris. Dolphins off the California Coast comprise some of the largest dolphin herds in the world, including mega-pods of up to 10,000! We have more wild dolphins in our area than anywhere else in the world!
Whales and dolphins are related!
Dolphin belongs to the group of marine mammals that includes whales, dolphins and porpoises. Together, they are called cetaceans (cet– AY– shuns). The bottlenose dolphin for example is a small, toothed whale that belongs to the Delphinidae family. There are at least 31 species in this family. Among the other toothed whales of the Delphinidae family are pilot whales, common dolphins, spotted dolphins, and orcas, also known as killer whales. Killer whales are the largest dolphin!
All images in the following slideshows were taken during our whale watching safaris.
Delphinus capensis / Delphinus delphis
A terrible name for a beautiful animal! There are two species of common dolphins to watch off our coast. The long-beaked common dolphin and short-beaked common dolphin. Though similar in many respects, they differ slightly in size, coloration, and features.
The average common dolphin is about 6 to 9 feet long, but what they lack in size, they make up for in numbers. We have over 400,000 common dolphins off Southern California. A typical pod will number around 200 and we often see herds that number over 1,000. The largest pod in our area according to scientific estimates numbered no less than 10,000 dolphins!
Common dolphin eat small schooling fish like sardines, mackerel, and anchovies, as well as squid. They average about 300 pounds and both species have elaborate color patterns that range from yellow/tan to gray to black.
Common dolphins are extremely social animals and frequently come over to “bow ride” with our whale watching boats. Sometimes, without warning or provocation, a pod will begin “stampeding”, a form of high-speed travel where the dolphins porpoise out of the water at the same time while heading in one direction.
Myth buster: the sea creatures in this slide’s photo are not mermaids, despite what some folks may believe. They are common dolphins! Capt. Dave filmed this large pod of stampeding dolphins with his drone. Our whale watching catamaran, Manute’a, can be seen in the upper right corner. Watch Capt. Dave’s viral video: Drones Over Dolphin Stampede & Whales.
Bottlenose dolphins are one of the most well known species of dolphin. “Flipper” was an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin. Off Southern California we see two eco-types of bottlenose dolphins throughout the year: coastal bottlenose are the dolphins you can see from the beach, and offshore bottlenose who are found in much deeper water.
Bottlenose dolphins are larger than common dolphins, with an average length of 8 to 12 feet. They’re coloring is light to very dark gray on top and light gray on their belly. One locally famous bottlenose, named Patches by our staff photographer & naturalist Mark Tyson when first seen in 2006, is easily distinguished by very unique black and white/pink coloring.
Bottlenose dolphins are very playful, intelligent, and social. They’re known to associate with other dolphins such as pilot whales and Risso’s dolphins. And we’ve witnessed them “bow riding” on the front of giant blue whales! They often respond with acrobatic aerial performances to the clapping and cheering of whale watchers. The bottlenose dolphin diet consists mainly of fish and squid. Adults can weigh 300 to 1,400 pounds.
Pacific White-Sided Dolphin
Pacific white-sided dolphins are sometimes referred to as “lags” thanks to their scientific name, (see above), which is quite a mouthful. These animals are beautifully colored in shades of black, gray, and white. Pacific white-sided dolphins weigh 300 to 400 pounds and reach up to 8 feet in length, with males larger than females.
Pacific white-sided dolphins enjoy a diet of squid and small schooling fish such as sardines and anchovies. They can dive for more than 6 minutes to feed.
Pacific white-sided dolphins are very friendly and playful. They love to bow ride with our whale watching boats, and we’ve witnessed them “playing” with Gray Whales by sliding across the whale’s belly while it has rolled upside down!
Risso’s dolphins are one of the larger dolphins that we encounter, and also one of the most infrequently seen. They are about 10 feet long on average and can weigh up to 1,100 pounds. Risso’s are usually very shy around boats and very rarely bow ride like other dolphins.
Risso’s dolphins are very unusual looking with a blunt, round head and no distinguishable beak. They are dark gray with a lot of white scarring. The younger Risso’s are darker in color and they turn progressively whiter as they age, sort of like us! The scars are caused by teeth rakes from other Risso’s and by bites from their favorite prey.
The favorite food of Risso’s dolphins are squid. They are capable of diving to 1,000 feet and holding their breath for up to 30 minutes. They’ll also sometimes feed in fish such as anchovies.