Marine Biology

, Volume 156, Issue 6, pp 1109–1124 | Cite as

Distribution of common dolphins (Delphinus spp.) in the western Atlantic Ocean: a critical re-examination

  • Thomas A. JeffersonEmail author
  • Dagmar Fertl
  • Jaime Bolaños-Jiménez
  • Alexandre N. Zerbini
Original Paper


Due to indications that misidentification (largely confusion among dolphins of the genera Delphinus and Stenella) in the past had led to erroneous assumptions of distribution of the two species of common dolphins (Delphinus delphis and D. capensis) in the western Atlantic Ocean, we conducted a critical re-examination of records of the genus Delphinus from this region. We compiled 460 ‘plottable’ records, required support for confirmation of genus and species identifications, and found many records lacking (and some clearly misidentified). When we plotted only the valid records (n = 364), we found evidence of populations in only three areas, and apparent absence throughout much of the tropical/subtropical regions. Off the east coast of the US and Canada, D. delphis is found from the Georgia/South Carolina border (32°N) north to about 47–50°N off Newfoundland. Since the 1960s, they have apparently been absent from Florida waters. There is no evidence that dolphins of the genus occur in the Gulf of Mexico. Reports of common dolphins from most of the Caribbean Basin are also rejected, and the only place in that region where they are confirmed to occur is off central-eastern Venezuela (a coastal D. capensis population). Off eastern South America, common dolphins appear to be restricted to south of 20°S. There is a coastal long-beaked population found in the South Brazil Bight, and one or more short-beaked populations south and offshore of this (ranging south to at least northern Argentina). The results are very different from commonly-accepted patterns of distribution for the genus in the Atlantic. Most areas of distribution coincide with moderate to strong upwelling and common dolphins appear to avoid warm, tropical waters. This study shows that great care must be taken in identification of similar-appearing long-beaked delphinids, and that uncritical acceptance of records at face value can lead to incorrect assumptions about the ranges of the species involved.


Continental Shelf Venezuela Marine Mammal Gulf Stream Common Dolphin 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Several people provided information from unpublished databases for use in this analysis: M.A. Daher (W.A. Watkins Caribbean data), R.D. Kenney and H. Pettis (North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium/CeTAP), W.A. McLellan (UNC-Wilmington aerial survey data), and J.G. Mead (SEUS MMEP records). The following individuals provided and/or verified data, photos, specimens and/or literature: N.B. Barros, E. Bogden (Ocean World, Puerto Plata), J. Chupasko (Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University), S. Cobarrubia, P.C. Fiedler, D. Janiger, P. Jenkins and R. Sabin (British Museum of Natural History), C. Kinze (Zoological Museum, University of Copenhagen), T. Lugo, J.G. Mead (United States National Museum), K.D. Mullin, D. Palacios, W.F. Perrin, A. Sayegh, K. Urian, L. Bermúdez-Villapol, and A. Westgate. We thank PDVSA (Venezuela Oil Company) for allowing us to use data from the LBAPD Project, and F. Bisbal, J. Sanchez and A. Lander provided access to samples and data at the Museo de la Estacion Biologica Grande, Venezuela (EBRG). K. Knight and P. Gehring provided GIS and mapping expertise. Three anonymous referees provided valuable reviews. We thank all of these individuals for their contributions.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas A. Jefferson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Dagmar Fertl
    • 2
  • Jaime Bolaños-Jiménez
    • 3
  • Alexandre N. Zerbini
    • 4
  1. 1.Southwest Fisheries Science CenterNOAA Fisheries, NMFSLa JollaUSA
  2. 2.Ziphius EcoServicesPlanoUSA
  3. 3.Sociedad Ecológica Venezolana Vida Marina (Sea Vida)Cagua, Estado AraguaVenezuela
  4. 4.National Marine Mammal LaboratoryAlaska Fisheries Science CenterSeattleUSA

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