Delphinus delphis 

Scope: Global

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Cetartiodactyla Delphinidae

Scientific Name: Delphinus delphis
Species Authority: Linnaeus, 1758
Infra-specific Taxa Assessed:
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English Short-beaked Common Dolphin, Short-beaked Saddleback Dolphin, Saddle-backed Dolphin, Atlantic Dolphin, Pacific Dolphin
French Dauphin commun
Spanish Delfín Común, Delfín Común
Taxonomic Notes: Until 1994, all common dolphins around the world were classified as a single species: D. delphis. However, it is now known that at least two species exist within the genus: the Short-beaked (D. delphis) and Long-beaked (D. capensis) Common Dolphins (Heyning and Perrin 1994). There is also a distinct short-beaked form in the Black Sea, the taxonomic status of which has not been adequately clarified (however, it is currently thought to be a subspecies: D. delphis ponticus Amaha, 1994).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor(s): Hammond, P.S., Bearzi, G., Bjørge, A., Forney, K., Karczmarski, L., Kasuya, T., Perrin, W.F., Scott, M.D., Wang, J.Y., Wells, R.S. & Wilson, B.
Reviewer(s): Rojas-Bracho, L. & Smith, B.D. (Cetacean Red List Authority)
Despite ongoing threats to local populations, the species is widespread and very abundant (with a total population in excess of four million), and none of these threats is believed to be resulting in a major global population decline.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:The short-beaked common dolphin is an oceanic species that is widely distributed in tropical to cool temperate waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (Perrin 2002), from nearshore waters to thousands of kilometers offshore. They regularly occur in some enclosed seas, such as the Okhotsk Sea and Sea of Japan, and separate subpopulations exist in the Mediterranean and Black seas. Short-beaked common dolphins may occur in parts of the Indian Ocean around southeastern Africa and southern Australia, but previous records of this species in other parts of the Indian Ocean and in waters of Taiwan are now thought to have been of long-beaked common dolphins (D. capensis; Jefferson and Van Waerebeek 2002).
Countries occurrence:
Albania; Algeria; Argentina; Australia; Belgium; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Brazil; Bulgaria; Canada; Chile; China; Colombia; Costa Rica; Croatia; Cyprus; Denmark; Ecuador; Egypt; El Salvador; France; Gabon; Gambia; Georgia; Germany; Gibraltar; Greece; Guatemala; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Honduras; Ireland; Israel; Italy; Japan; Korea, Democratic People's Republic of; Korea, Republic of; Lebanon; Libya; Malta; Mauritania; Mexico; Monaco; Montenegro; Morocco; Namibia; Netherlands; New Caledonia; New Zealand; Nicaragua; Norway; Palestinian Territory, Occupied; Panama; Peru; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Russian Federation; Saint Barthélemy; Senegal; Slovenia; South Africa; Spain; Syrian Arab Republic; Tunisia; Turkey; Ukraine; United Kingdom; United States (Georgia); Western Sahara
Greenland; Iceland
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Atlantic – northeast; Atlantic – eastern central; Atlantic – southwest; Atlantic – southeast; Atlantic – northwest; Atlantic – western central; Indian Ocean – eastern; Indian Ocean – western; Mediterranean and Black Sea; Pacific – western central; Pacific – eastern central; Pacific – northwest; Pacific – southwest; Pacific – southeast
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:This is a very abundant species, with many available estimates for the various areas where it occurs. In the Pacific, 2,963,000 (CV=24%) was estimated for the eastern tropical Pacific (Gerrodette and Forcada 2002), and an average of 352.000 (CV = 18%) was estimated for the US west coast based on surveys between 1991 and 2005 (Barlow and Forney in press). Off California, common dolphins show seasonal and inter-annual changes in abundance due to shifts in distribution (Forney and Barlow 1998).

In the Atlantic, abundance in European continental shelf waters was estimated at 63,400 (95%CI=27,000-149,000) in 2005 (SCANS-II project; P. Hammond pers. comm.). Offshore, abundance in a block bounded by 53-57ºN and 18-29ºW was estimated at 273,000 (95%CI=153,000-435,000) in 1995 (Cañadas et al. in press). West of the Bay of Biscay, 62,000 common dolphins were estimated in the fishing grounds of the albacore tuna driftnet fishery in 1993 (Goujon 1996). In the western North Atlantic, 121,000 (CV=0.23) were estimated to occur (Waring et al. 2006).

In the western Mediterranean, abundance has been estimated at 19,400 (95%CI=15,300-22,800) in the northern Alborán Sea between 2000 and 2004 (Cañadas 2006). Once one of the most common species in the Mediterranean Sea, the short-beaked common dolphin has experienced a generalized and major decline during the last 30-40 years (Bearzi et al. 2003). Dramatic negative trends were recorded in portions of the central Mediterranean, particularly in the northern Adriatic Sea and in the eastern Ionian Sea (Bearzi et al. 2004; 2006). Recent genetic studies indicate that population structure within the Mediterranean reflects differences in distribution pattern and habitat use by short-beaked common dolphins in the eastern (where the species is predominantly coastal) and western (where it is predominantly pelagic) portions of the basin (Natoli 2004). Genetic exchange between short-beaked common dolphins from the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, to the extent that it occurs, appears to involve predominantly animals from the Alborán Sea (Natoli 2004).

The population size in the Black Sea is unknown. Line transect surveys have been conducted recently to estimate common dolphin abundance in a few parts of the range. The survey areas are small relative to the total range of the subspecies. Results suggest that current population size is at least several 10,000s, and possibly 100,000 or more (Birkun 2006). By the mid 1960s, the Black Sea subpopulation collapsed due to long-running overexploitation, and a reduction of 70% was inferred. However, directed takes continued until 1983 when cetacean hunting finally ceased. The population has not recovered (Birkun 2006).
Current Population Trend:Unknown
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Short-beaked common dolphins appear to have a preference for upwelling-modified waters, areas with steep sea floor relief, and extensive shelf areas, but they are widespread in warm temperate and tropical waters (Evans 1994). In the eastern tropical Pacific, they prefer equatorial and subtropical waters with a shallow thermocline, relatively large seasonal changes in surface temperature, and seasonal upwelling (Reilly 1990; Fiedler and Reilly 1994).

Mediterranean common dolphins frequent coastal and upper slope waters (Bearzi et al. 2003). In the Black Sea, common dolphins are distributed mainly offshore and visit shallow coastal waters following seasonal aggregations and regular mass migrations of small pelagic fishes such as anchovy and sprat (Birkun 2006). Black Sea common dolphins avoid waters with low salinity, and this may explain why they do not occur in the Sea of Azov and in the Kerch Strait.

Associations with other marine mammal species are common. Schools in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) are sometimes associated with yellowfin tuna, and have thus been involved in tuna purse-seine fishing operations (Gerrodette 2002). Mixed-species groups of common, striped and Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus) have been observed frequently in the pelagic waters of the Gulf of Corinth, Greece (Frantzis and Herzing 2002). The prey of common dolphins consists largely of small schooling fishes and squids (Perrin 2002).

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: This species was previously harvested in the Black Sea, but this fishery was closed in 1983.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The common dolphin is one of the most prominent by-catches of pelagic purse-seine, driftnet and trawl fisheries. In the ETP, common dolphins are sometimes found in association with yellowfin tuna, Thunnus albacares, and annual incidental mortality in the tuna purse-seine fishery of this species has been as high as 24,307 (in 1986) (IATTC, 2006). Since the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) imposed per-vessel stock limits on the international fleet, the mortality declined to 325 in 2005 (IATTC 2006). Takes have been recorded in other purse-seine fisheries in the Indian Ocean and off the west coast of Africa (Simmons 1968). Short-beaked common dolphins are the most commonly killed cetacean in the U.S. drift gillnet fishery for sharks and swordfish, with about 2,100 estimated killed between 1990 and 2002 (Julian and Beeson 1998; Carretta et al. 2005); measures have been in place to reduce cetacean takes since 1996, and bycatch levels are not a population level concern (Carretta et al. 2006).

Incidental capture of common dolphins in European Atlantic fisheries has been well studied in recent years, and as a result of recent EU legislation, on-board observer programs are being carried out in most of the fisheries considered to have a potentially significant bycatch of common dolphins. Northridge (2006) showed that bycatches of common dolphins in European pelagic trawl fisheries probably total around 800 animals per year in UK and French pelagic trawl fisheries for sea bass. Annual catch rates in the UK sector of this fishery have been falling in recent years and the annual average total mortality recently (2000-2006) has been 170 animals in this sector. Other bycatches in the same area are known to occur in gill nets, tangle nets and possibly other fisheries (ICES 2005; Northridge 2006).

In the western North Atlantic, 105 common dolphins are taken on average each year by sink gill nets and bottom trawls (Waring et al. 2006). By-catches have also been reported from other areas (Crespo et al. 2000; Bearzi et al. 2003).

The main factors thought to have contributed, singly or in synergy, to the decline of Mediterranean short-beaked common dolphins include: 1) incidental mortality in fishing gear, especially driftnets, 2) reduced availability of prey caused by overfishing and habitat degradation, 3) contamination by xenobiotic chemicals resulting in immunosuppression and reproductive impairment, and 4) environmental changes such as increased water temperatures affecting ecosystem dynamics (Bearzi et al. 2003, 2006). A recent survey focusing on the Moroccan driftnet fishing fleet estimated that about 12,000-15,000 dolphins are killed annually around the Strait of Gibraltar (Tudela et al. 2004).

At least 840,000 dolphins were taken from the Black Sea from 1946 until a ban of small cetacean hunting was declared in Turkey in 1983. The take was certainly much greater because that value did not incorporate catch statistics from Romania (whole period), Turkey (before 1976 and after 1981) and Bulgaria (before 1958) (Birkun 2006).

Reduced prey availability is considered to be a major threat to Black Sea common dolphins (Bushuyev 2000). Of two mass mortality events that killed an unknown but certainly large number of common dolphins in 1990 and 1994 (Krivokhizhin and Birkun 1999), the latter was recognised as the result of a morbillivirus epizootic. However, both die-offs coincided with a drastic (8 to 12 fold) decline in the abundance of the two main common dolphin prey species, anchovy and sprat. Such a reduction was caused by a combination of overfishing, eutrophication and the explosive increase of the introduced ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi. Correlation between large die-offs of Black Sea common dolphins and prey scarcity suggests that reduced prey availability increases susceptibility to viral infection (Birkun 2006). Prey depletion caused by overfishing was considered as a main cause for the decline of common dolphins in the eastern Ionian Sea (Bearzi et al. 2006).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: The species is listed in Appendix II of CITES. The Mediterranean population is listed in Appendices I and II of CMS.

Common dolphins, as with other species impacted by the ETP tuna purse-seine fishery, are managed both nationally by the coastal countries and internationally by the IATTC. The IATTC has imposed annual stock mortality limits on each purse seiner and has promulgated regulations regarding the safe release of dolphins (Bayliff 2001). In the eastern North Pacific, the U.S. drift gillnet fishery has been required to use acoustic warning devices since 1996 to reduce cetacean bycatch; however, some bycatch of Delphinus delphis has continued (Carretta et al. 2005).

The current ban on driftnet fishing in the Mediterranean should be implemented and enforced as a matter of priority.

Citation: Hammond, P.S., Bearzi, G., Bjørge, A., Forney, K., Karczmarski, L., Kasuya, T., Perrin, W.F., Scott, M.D., Wang, J.Y., Wells, R.S. & Wilson, B. 2008. Delphinus delphis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T6336A12649851. . Downloaded on 30 July 2016.
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