Mammals of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Rough-toothed Dolphin - Steno bredanensis
Delphinidae Members:
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Distribution In NC, presumed to occur throughout the ocean from VA to SC. Though there are stranding records for just four of the eight coastal counties, these include our most northerly (Currituck) and most southerly (Brunswick) counties.

Occurs in oceans around the world, but generally in tropical or subtropical waters, north to about VA or MD.
Abundance Rather uncommon within its range overall, and also generally rare off the NC coast. Though 15 stranded along the NC coast up to 1995 (Webster et al., 1995), 12 stranded in August, likely a single mass stranding. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History mammal collections (2021) lists only six stranding records for NC.
Seasonal Occurrence Probably year-round, as the stranding dates are scattered around the calendar. For example, the stranding dates in the NMNH database occur in January, August, and October -- no obvious seasonal pattern.
Habitat This species favors deep waters, meaning mostly beyond the Continental Slope. It clearly favors warm waters, as the northern end of its range in roughly in VA or MD waters.
Behavior Not overly agile in terms of leaps out of the water; normally seen skimming the surface. Occurs in small to moderate-sized groups, such as 10-20 individuals.
Comments The Rough-toothed Dolphin is monotypic, and no other dolphin has the conical head with no crease or obvious beak, rendering it somewhat easy to identify, if seen well. They also can be quite scarred, relatively unusual for a small dolphin. Much is still to be learned about this species, as offshore sightings are still rather infrequent over the range.
Origin Native
NC List Official
State Rank S2M
State Status
Global Rank G4
Federal Status
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all database records for species in that county.