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What Is the Natural Habitat of a Dolphin?

| Updated October 19, 2017

“Dolphins have been declared the world’s second most intelligent creatures after humans, with scientists suggesting they are so bright that they should be treated as 'non-human persons,'” Jonathan Leake writes on Times Online. These fascinating creatures live in the world’s lagoons, rivers and oceans, though environmental changes and human carelessness and waste threaten their natural habitats.

Types of Dolphins

Dolphins are marine mammals that are part of the toothed whale family, which also includes orcas and pilot whales. There are more than 40 species of dolphins found worldwide. The bottlenose dolphin, the most well known of the species, lives in all the world’s oceans except the polar seas. There are also four species of river dolphins that exist in freshwater.

Research and observation reveals dolphins’ habitats cover a large geographic region, but a lot remains to be discovered. Most species seem to prefer to make their home in a small bay or lagoon, but venture farther out for food sources, to mate and to avoid predators.

Pacific Ocean

“In the Pacific Ocean, bottlenose dolphins range from northern Japan to southern Australia and New Zealand, and from southern California down to the coast of Chile,” according to the Dolphin Research Center. Dolphins living in the coastal waters of New Guinea and northern Australia include the bottlenose dolphin and Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin. Populations living offshore live among pilot whales.

Atlantic Ocean

Bottlenose dolphins live throughout the Atlantic Ocean, from Nova Scotia to Norway, all the way to Argentina and South Africa. There are also vast populations in the Hudson Bay, the Caribbean Sea, off the coast of Florida, and in the Gulf of Mexico. Smaller populations have been sighted off the Virginia coast and in the Chesapeake Bay. While it used to be common to see dolphins along the English Channel coasts, now it is more likely to see them off the coast of western Ireland. Pods of pilot whales and other species often coexist with the Atlantic Ocean bottlenose dolphin populations.

Indian Ocean

Bottlenose dolphins are well known in the Indian Ocean, from the shores of Sri Lanka and India to South Africa and New Zealand. They exist in both inshore and offshore waters. These dolphins also make their homes in the Mediterranean Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Red and Black seas, the Israeli waters and along Egypt’s coast.

Threatened Habitat

Global warming and pollution threaten the natural habitat and health of dolphins. The Indus River dolphin, Chinese River dolphin and orca/killer whale are all listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Global warming is forcing dolphins to migrate to colder waters beyond their normal habitat. In order to survive they are following their primary food sources outside of their normal, natural habitat. According to scientists, they may not be able to adapt quickly enough to maintain their populations.