We, along the coastline that S.M.A.R.T (Stranded Marine Animal Rescue Team) is responsible for, are extremely lucky in that we can watch numerous dolphins swimming, playing, breaching and surfing on a regular basis. Question is … do we actually know which types of dolphins we are watching?

The species of dolphins we see along our coastline is the Orca (yes, it is actually a dolphin and not a Killer Whale as it is often called; they are the largest of all dolphins), the Bottlenose dolphin, the Humpbacked dolphin and the Common dolphin.

Herewith a few facts about each of these dolphins:

Orca – Males have huge dorsal fins (can be up to 2 m high), bigger than the females. Orcas breed all year round and calves are born after a 13-16 month gestation period. Calves suckle for at least one year. They feed on squid, fish, seals, sharks and other types of dolphins and even some whales. Orcas are extremely intelligent.

Bottlenose dolphin – There are actually two different species of Bottlenose dolphins, but the larger one of the species is not often encountered inshore, so let’s stick to the one we most often see inshore. The dorsal fins are quite prominent and in a “hook” form and these dolphins can grow to a length of approximately 2.4 m. Calves are also born throughout the year, although births peak during the spring and summer times. Gestation period is about one year, and calves can suckle up to four years. Bottlenose dolphins hunt collectively and feed on fish and squid. As experts in surfing, they are always a pleasure to watch.

Humpbacked dolphin – The most distinctive feature of this species is the long, shallow hump located under a smallish, hooked dorsal fin. These dolphins can grow up to 2.7 m in length. Calves are born throughout the year, also after a one year gestation period and suckling can continue for several years. This species mostly shies away from humans and boats but tends to hunt close to shore and feed on reefs and fish from estuaries. Their population along our coast is small and they tend to stay in small groups.

Common dolphin – The long-beaked Common dolphin can reach a length of 2.5 m and their bodies seem to be less robust than that of their Bottlenose cousins. Again, calving happens throughout the year with births peaking during spring and summer after a one year gestation period. Calves suckle for only six months. This species is normally found in quite large groups. They are extremely social and “love” boats. They achieve quite high speed when hunting. Although Common dolphins usually prefer deeper waters, they can occasionally be seen closer to shore during summer months, especially when following the migration of shoaling fish, i.e. sardines during the sardine run.

Please phone SMART on 072 227 4715 should you come across any marine animal that may be in distress or injured.