9 Types of Dolphins Found in Rhode Island! (2024)

What kinds of dolphins can you find in Rhode Island?

I don’t think there is anything better than watching dolphins! Their playful, gregarious nature makes them one of the most beloved animals in the world.

Types of dolphins in Rhode Island

Below, you will find pictures and descriptions of the kinds of dolphins in Rhode Island. I’ve also included RANGE MAPS and fun facts about each species. And keep reading to the end of the article for the differences between Dolphins and Porpoises!

Although there are tons of interesting facts about dolphins, I kept each description brief to cover all the species. So, you may want to consider purchasing the book below if you want more information or need help with additional identification.

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9 DOLPHINS Found in Rhode Island!

#1. Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

  • Stenella frontalis

dolphins in Rhode Island

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 5 to 5.7 feet (1.5 to 1.7 meters) long, with stocky torsos and rounded bodies. They have large pectoral and dorsal fins.
  • Their coloring is generally paler on the belly and dark gray on the back, with distinct spotting all over.

Look for the Atlantic Spotted Dolphin in Rhode Island in the deep water of the Atlantic Ocean.

Though Atlantic Spotted Dolphins can be found in deep water, they are very comfortable in the shallow waters nearer the coast and continental shelf. They are playful and inquisitive and will often approach boats and people. Unfortunately, this behavior can put them at risk of being harassed or harmed by dolphin watchers or unhappy fishermen.

These dolphins are very sociable and playful and often interact with other marine mammals. However, their core pods are relatively small and usually comprised of less than 50 individuals. For groups closer to the shore, that number drops to as low as five dolphins in a pod.

Thanks to their tendency to live and hunt in shallower waters, these dolphins eat a wide range of invertebrates and fish. In addition, they can use echolocation to help them scour the sand and discover tasty meals below the surface.

#2. Spinner Dolphin

  • Stenella longirostris

Rhode Island dolphins

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 4 to 7 feet (1.2 to 2.1 meters) long, slender and streamlined, with a very narrow rostrum (nose).
  • The coloring of Spinner Dolphins is beautiful: they have a pale gray belly, a wavy line of light gray on the sides, and patches of dark gray on the back.

Spinner Dolphins can be found in Rhode Island in warm water. Look for them on the east coast through the Gulf of Mexico and down to the Hawaiian Islands.

Because Spinner Dolphins have very predictable behavior patterns, they are easy to observe. During the day, they rest in groups near the coast, in shallow, protected bays. Unfortunately, this predictability has led to severe harassment by unscrupulous dolphin-watching tour companies, especially in the Hawaiian Islands.

Harassment disturbs the resting dolphins and causes them to perform impressive aerial displays. Legal action has been taken against unethical dolphin-watchers in Hawaii, but more reform is needed to protect these populations fully.

Spinner Dolphins are a joy to see in the ocean when viewed ethically. They are extremely acrobatic, confident, and showy when transitioning from their rest phase to their hunting time. It’s common to observe them leaping high into the air and performing a complex spinning maneuver as they fall back toward the water.

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Their feeding habits are also quite different from some other dolphins. As night falls, they move from their shallow resting spots in sunny bays out into the deeper ocean. They catch fish and squid that migrate closer to the surface at night.

#3. Striped Dolphin

  • Stenella coeruleoalba

Species of dolphins in Rhode Island

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 8 to 9 feet (2.4 to 2.7 meters) long with a large and powerful build, small fins, and long, slender rostrums (noses).
  • Their striking color pattern makes them easy to identify. Their pale bellies and dark gray backs are highlighted by a defined, bold black stripe that runs from the rostrum, splits over the eye, and continues down the sides.

Striped Dolphins are an extremely adaptable and widespread species. You can see these dolphins in temperate, tropical, and subtropical seas. However, they prefer deep water and are usually far from shore. You may spot them near the coast if there are underwater canyons or trenches to provide a deeper habitat.

They form close social bonds with their pods, usually made up of 25 to 100 individuals. They occasionally form super pods, but not as often as other dolphins in Rhode Island. Striped Dolphins rarely interact with other dolphin species or whales.

Striped Dolphins are very fast, agile, and active swimmers. They often leap high in the air and dive for prey as deep as 2,300 feet (700 meters).

#4. Clymene Dolphin

  • Stenella clymene

Types of dolphins in Rhode Island

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 6 to 6.5 feet (1.8 to 2 meters) long with a stocky, thick build. They have short rostrums (noses) and a curved dorsal fin.
  • Dark gray overall coloring is interrupted with a small white patch on the belly.

Clymene Dolphins live in the warm water of the southern Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

This species is very elusive, and little is known about them. This is partly because they are an offshore, oceanic species and prefer a water depth of over 16,500 feet (5000 meters).

In addition, their appearance is easily confused with other dolphin species that inhabit the same water. As a result, observers find it difficult to record their behavior accurately. They perform aerial displays like other dolphins, leaping out of the air and rotating as they fall.

Some research suggests that Clymene Dolphins dive to feed on small fish and squid, hunting mostly at night. However, this is one of the most mysterious dolphin species in Rhode Island, and very little is known about them.

#5. Long-beaked Common Dolphin

  • Delphinus capensis

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 6 to 8.5 feet (1.8 to 2.6 meters) long with a streamlined build, long fins, and wide tail.
  • The color pattern of common dolphins is distinct, with yellowish-tan and gray markings that form an hourglass pattern on the sides. The belly is pale gray or white, and the rest of the body is dark gray.

Long-beaked Common Dolphins inhabit warm water near the coast in temperate, subtropical, and tropical seas. They hunt in fairly shallow water, so they’re easier to observe than other dolphins in Rhode Island. This species is great at working together to round up schools of fish such as sardines and anchovies.

They’re also agile and acrobatic swimmers. Dolphin-watchers often find them at the bows of ships, leaping and breaching into the waves.

Long-beaked Common Dolphins can live for up to 40 years. They are usually pregnant for around 11 months and give birth during the spring and early summer.

#6. Short-beaked Common Dolphin

  • Delphinus delphis

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 6 feet (1.8 meters) long, stocky, and generally a small species.
  • The color pattern of common dolphins is distinct, with yellowish-tan and gray markings that form an hourglass pattern on the sides. The belly is pale gray or white, and the rest of the body is dark gray.

This species is one of the most common dolphins in Rhode Island!

Short-beaked Common Dolphins are highly adaptable and abundant. They inhabit a wide variety of environments, from tropical seas to cool temperate waters. However, they primarily live offshore, from the continental shelf and beyond to deeper waters. This habitat preference is slightly different from their long-beaked relatives.

Short-beaked Common Dolphins are gregarious and usually observed in huge pods of hundreds of dolphins. However, they can occasionally form super pods of up to 10,000 individuals!

They are an active and playful species that engages in breaching, bowing, and other aerial displays. They’re well-known for their acrobatic somersaults, flipping head-over-tail in the air.

Short-beaked Common Dolphins are also very social and confident around large whales and boats. You’re likely to observe them bow riding and wake surfing on both ships and whales. In addition, they are often seen with pilot whales, spinner dolphins, and seabirds.

#7. Common Bottlenose Dolphin

  • Tursiops truncatus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 6 to 13 feet (1.8 to 4 meters) long with a powerful, curved body and stocky build.
  • The belly is pale gray to buff, and the back is light or dark gray, depending on the temperature of their habitat. Cooler-water individuals tend to be darker.

Bottlenose Dolphins are the best-known dolphin in Rhode Island!

They can be found in a wide range of environments. Some populations live far offshore in colder waters, but many confidently navigate their way into harbors, bays, and estuaries around the coastline.

Because of their boisterous and confident natures, coastal populations of Bottlenose Dolphins are easy to observe as they approach boats and beaches. They love to bow-ride and are playful and acrobatic. In addition, these dolphins are very social with many other creatures, including whales.

This species forms fairly small pods, usually with less than 20 individuals. Sometimes, lone Bottlenose Dolphins can also be seen traveling and hunting. The pods can break apart and come back together as dolphins travel, mate, and form family units. Males often break away from their mother’s group and form pairs as they seek out new females.

The nature of inshore Bottlenose Dolphins has made them extremely easy to observe and study. Their adaptability to new environments and shallow water, as well as their social and adventurous personalities, has led to them being kept very successfully in captivity. As a result, researchers have discovered much more about Bottlenose Dolphins’ ecology, morphology, and behavior than any other species.

#8. Rough-toothed Dolphin

  • Steno bredanensis

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 8.5 feet (2.6 meters) long, with a narrow, streamlined build. Their dorsal fins are tall and curved and they have long rostrums (noses).
  • They’re dark overall with white bellies and a white spot on the tip of the nose.

Rough-toothed Dolphins prefer warmer water in Rhode Island. However, they’re pelagic, so they live away from the coast in water over 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) deep.

They are also far less playful, agile, and showy than many other dolphin species. Instead, they use their energy for speed, surfacing with a subtle skimming movement.

These dolphins live in small pods of less than 20 individuals. In some populations, the average pod size is as small as three. However, they are very social animals and are often seen interacting with other dolphins and whales.

Rough-toothed Dolphins eat fish and squid as other dolphins do but are also highly skilled at hunting larger fish. Research suggests that they could be specialized hunters of mahi-mahi or “dolphin fish.”

YouTube video

#9. Harbor Porpoise

  • Phoecena phoecena

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 5 to 5.5 feet (1.5 to 1.7 meters) long, with a rounded head and blunt rostrum (nose).
  • Small, curved body with triangular fins.
  • The back is dark gray, with light gray sides and a white belly. A thin gray line extends from the mouth to the pectoral fins and separates the white and gray areas.

Though they are mistaken by many for baby dolphins, Harbor Porpoises are very different animals. For example, Harbor Porpoises have spade-shaped teeth as opposed to dolphins’ conical, pointed teeth. Additionally, they don’t use sound to communicate the way dolphins do.

In addition, Harbor Porpoises are much shyer and more reserved than dolphins. Though social, they aren’t showy and usually group in tiny pods of 2 to 5 individuals. Because they’re far less boisterous, Harbor Porpoises are often bullied by dolphins.

Harbor Porpoises can be found in shallow, sheltered coastal areas, which is how they got their name. Unfortunately, this habit of living in such proximity to humans puts them in a lot of danger of boat strikes, being caught in fishing nets, and suffering from chronic issues like pollution.

While they’re not as active or acrobatic as dolphins, their proximity to the shore and slow, predictable behavior means that patient observers can easily spot them. They can be seen in bays and harbors along the coast.

What’s the difference between Dolphins and Porpoises?

Most people think of Dolphins and Porpoises as the same, but there are some key differences between the two animals.

#1. There are MANY more species of Dolphins than Porpoises.

49 distinct species of Dolphins are recorded, while only 7 species of Porpoises are known worldwide.

#2. Their appearance is different.

Dolphins are long, lean, and streamlined with extended noses, while Porpoises are shorter and stocky with blunt noses. Dolphins have a much wider range of colors, including brown, gray, silvery blue, white, and pink. Porpoises, on the other hand, are more monochrome in shades of black, white, and gray. Porpoises have spade-shaped teeth and upright dorsal fins, but Dolphin teeth are cone-shaped, and their dorsal fins are curved.

#3. Porpoises prefer cold, shallow water, and Dolphins live in the deep, temperate waters of the open ocean.

#4. Dolphins are much more gregarious than Porpoises.

Dolphins are outgoing, make a lot of noise, and can be aggressive toward Porpoises, even “bullying” them in the wild. Porpoises prefer to avoid Dolphins altogether, and they’re much warier of humans and other animals. Additionally, humans can hear Dolphins’ whistles and chirps, but Porpoises vocalize in a range that we can’t hear.

Dolphins are so curious and comfortable with humans that they’ve been known to follow injured people who are adrift at sea!

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Do you want to learn about LAND MAMMALS that are found in Rhode Island? Check out this field guide!

Which of these dolphins have you seen in Rhode Island?

Let us know in the comments!

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