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Australian Wildlife: Bottlenose Dolphin

Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)

Dolphins are one of the Earth’s most fascinating and curious creatures. To be near dolphins is a feeling that few humans can put into words. Bottlenose dolphins are found in most waters and so are protected by many different laws in a large number of countries, including Australia.

In The Wild

As Bottlenose dolphins are found throughout the oceans and seas surrounding Australia, there are no set locations where one can be directed to and be guaranteed for seeing them. There are, however a number of places where humans have interacted with wild dolphins over a period of time, and the dolphins are now not only used to human interaction but enjoy it to the degree that they come back for more day after day.

Dolphins at Seaworld, Qld

In Captivity

Sea World on the Qld Gold Coast, offers numerous attractions and experiences involving sea creatures. At the Dolphin Nursery Pool, guests have the chance to see young dolphins as they develop and grow under the protective watch of their mothers.

Dolphin Cove is the venue for Sea World’s interactive Dolphin Show. Set to a musical score and featuring a series of interactions, Imagine is both educational and entertaining. Dolphin Cove is the largest sandy bottom lagoon ever built for dolphins. The five pools at Dolphin Cove contain more than 17 million litres of water and the attraction includes a 2500 seat undercover viewing area. The habitat provides a captivating stage for dolphin displays and presentations as well as enhancing the educational elements of the entertainment. Swim with dolphins at:

Pet Porpoise Pool, Coffs Harbour, NSW
Sea World, Gold Coast, Qld

Geographic Range

Bottlenose dolphins typically occupy waters with surface temperatures between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Although some Bottlenose dolphins migrate seasonally they are typically found in tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate waters. As Bottlenose dolphins are found everywhere except polar waters, hence they are plentiful in Australia’s coastal waters. They are found in bays, estuaries, sounds, open shorelines and large, estuarine rivers.

Feeding dolphins at Monkey Mia, WA


Deep water Bottlenose dolphins come up to take breaths every 1 to 2 minutes, whereas inshore Bottlenose dolphins take breaths two times per minute. Bottlenose dolphins have been known, however, to dive deep enough to go 4.5 minutes without taking a breath.

Bottlenose dolphins are very social animals. They typically live in groups that range in size from a few individuals to over 100. They participate in fission-fusion societies in which subgroups frequently join or leave the main group. They are very active animals and can swim up to speeds of 30 km/hr, although on average they swim between 3 and 6 km/hr. They form several kinds of groups, including nursery groups (mothers and calves), juvenile groups (young dolphins of both genders up to their mid teens), and adult males (can be found individually or more commonly as strongly bonded pairs).

Dolphins ride the surf at Wategos Beach, Byron Bay, NSW

Bottlenose dolphins engage in aggressive behaviour including biting, ramming, and tail slaps; and bonding and acceptance behaviour, including stroking and rubbing. Captive dolphin groups are characterized by a dominance hierarchy based on age, size and gender. Large adult males are dominant over other group members. In the absence of males, the largest female assumes dominance.

Bottlenose dolphins are very intelligent animals. In captivity this intelligence is demonstrated by their ability to solve problems in experimental trials as well as during their everyday lives. Their cognitive skills are reflected by the speed and effectiveness by which they acquire and perfect behaviours. One may wonder how dolphins, as marine animals that must surface to breathe every few minutes, sleep. It turns out that they rest one side of their brains while decreasing their activity level. This allows them rest and yet remain conscious  to breathe and carry on basic survival behaviours.

Food Habits

The diet of Bottlenose dolphins is broad and varies from one place to another. Inshore Bottlenose dolphins typically feed on fish and invertebrates found near the shoreline, while deep water Bottlenose dolphins typically feed on squid and pelagic fish.

Bottlenose dolphins typically choose prey between 5 and 30 cm in length. They eat between 4.5 and 16 kg per day, depending on the size of the individual and if it is lactating. Most of the time, Bottlenose dolphins feed individually. At times, however, dolphins participate in cooperative feeding with other dolphins, especially when feeding on a school of prey. They have also been known to trap their prey on the shore, stranding themselves in order to feed on stranded prey (“strand feeding”).

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