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Common dolphin - Deilf choiteann - Dolffin cyffredin – Delphinus delphis 

How to identify

Probably one of the easiest dolphins to identify, common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) have a slender, streamlined body shape with a narrow beak. With a dark-grey back and pale underside, the sides of the animals are coloured in a distinct ‘hourglass’ pattern, which is yellow/pale orange towards the head and grey towards the tail. Adults reach a body length of only 1.50 to 2.70m.

Breaching common dolphin – note the hourglass pattern as ID feature. Provided by knowledge gatherer Christina Winkler 

Ecology, social dynamics and seasonality

As their name indicates, common dolphins are the most abundant cetacean species in the world and can be found in tropical and warm-temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. Along the Irish coast they can be seen all year round, peaking in late summer.  

They are very social animals, frequently occurring in groups (pods), which can range from just two to hundreds of animals (so called superpods). Superpods often build in areas where there are lots of prey to eat. In Irish waters they feed on pelagic (offshore) fish, such as herring and horse mackerel, but also lantern fish and squid. During encounters, they often leap out of the water and often approach boats to ride in their wakes. 

Common dolphins in Kenmare Bay – with Skellig Tours, by Christina Winkler

Common dolphins along the Iveragh coast

Headlands such as Bray Head on Valentia Island or Canglass Point, but also lower viewing points, such as St. Finan’s Bay are great spots to watch out for common dolphins. In Kenmare Bay, Derrynane Bay and around the Skellig Islands they have been seen from boats as well (e.g. with Skellig Tours and Skellig Coast Discovery). However, in the last decade there has been an increase of strandings. This is where dolphins wash ashore dead or alive. Strandings have been recorded on beaches in Waterville, Ballingskelligs, Cahersiveen and Kenmare.

Did you know…

… you can become a citizen scientist yourself and help identify where on Iveragh and Llŷn whales, dolphins and porpoises can be seen?

Iveragh Peninsula

The LIVE Project are partnering with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) to record sightings of cetaceans along the Iveragh coast. Simply go to the IWDG website to log your sighting, and mention the LIVE Project after your name eg Suzie Smith LIVE Project

Download our handy guide here:

Download PDF • 169KB

Pen Llŷn

For sightings on Llŷn, a form can be filled out through the Sea Watch Foundation, strandings are reported through the CSIP, and for live strandings please contact the British Divers Marine Life Rescue on 01825 765546.

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