Mammals of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Common Bottlenose Dolphin - Tursiops truncatus
Delphinidae Members:
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Photo by: Mark Shields
Distribution In NC, occurs in the Atlantic all along the coastline and far offshore; at times enters estuaries. By far the most widely distributed cetacean in NC waters, and the only dolphin species likely to be seen from shore. There are separate populations/forms found "inshore" and "offshore", with an apparent gap between them.

Found worldwide in temperate and tropical waters.
Abundance Very common to abundant in our waters, both close to shore and well offshore. Clearly the most numerous cetacean in NC waters from the Continental Shelf to the coastline. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History mammal collections (2014) lists approximately 1,718 stranding records for NC, by far the most for any cetacean species.
Seasonal Occurrence Occurs year-round in our waters. There are numerous stranding records for all 12 months, with more in the winter perhaps owing to pregnant or nursing females or young with females at that time of year.
Habitat Occurs both inshore, easily seen from the coastline, and far offshore, with an apparent gap between them. Favors warm waters.
Behavior Bottlenose Dolphins are quite active, though they are not quite as agile as some species, because they are somewhat stocky. Leaps completely out of the water are not as frequent as with many other dolphins. Groups are fairly small, typically only 10-25 individuals, instead of many dozens to hundreds like those in other genera.
Comments This is the most familiar oceanic species of mammal in North America, frequently seen by laypersons from shore. On offshore boat trips, numbers can be matched or exceeded by Atlantic Spotted Dolphins, but Bottlenose Dolphins are typically seen on most trips. A few biologists believe that the two populations or forms might represent separate species, but most probably do not share that belief.
Origin Native
NC List Official
State Rank S5M
State Status
Global Rank G5
Federal Status
other_comName Bottlenose Dolphin, Atlantic Bottlenose(d) Dolphin
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.