Species Spotlight

Have a favorite dolphin species or want to learn more about rare dolphins you may have never heard of? Check out the Species Spotlight Section for resources on every type of dolphin!

Spinner dolphin leaping from the water.

Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises of the Monterey Bay

Whales, dolphins, and porpoises are divided into two groups: toothed and baleen. Depending on what time of the year you visit Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the species you are most likely to see are featured on this page.

Assortment of names and photos of dolphin and porpoise species.

Dolphins & Porpoises Species Directory

Check out the NOAA Fisheries' Species Directory to learn more information about each dolphin species you are interested in!

Gray Atlantic Humpback Dolphin surfacing.

Atlantic Humpback Dolphin

The Atlantic humpback dolphin is a coastal species endemic to tropical and subtropical eastern Atlantic nearshore waters of western Africa, ranging from western Sahara to Angola. This species occurs exclusively in shallow depths, in warm nearshore waters, and in dynamic habitats strongly influenced by tidal patterns.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin (gray with white dots) jumping mid air in the water.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Atlantic spotted dolphins are found in warm temperate and tropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean. They usually form groups of five to 50 individuals but sometimes travel in groups of up to 200. They are fast swimmers and often “surf” in the waves created by vessels.

Pod of Atlantic White-Sided dolphins from an aerial view.

Atlantic White-Sided Dolphin

Atlantic white-sided dolphins are found in the temperate waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. In the United States, they are found off the coast of North Carolina to Maine. They are named after their distinctive yellowish-tan streak on their sides.

Hand drawing of a gray Chinese River Dolphin.

Chinese River Dolphin

The Chinese river dolphin is a freshwater dolphin and one of the most endangered animals on Earth. It is found in the Yangtze River in China. Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), NOAA Fisheries must list threatened and endangered marine species regardless of where they are found. The Chinese river dolphin is listed as endangered under the ESA. In addition, it is listed as depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Gray dolphin jumping out of a wave in dark blue water.

Clymene Dolphin

Clymene dolphins are found in the deep, tropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean. They are the smallest dolphin in the genus Stenella, which also includes spinner dolphins, Atlantic spotted dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins, and striped dolphins.

Two common bottlenose dolphins breaching with water below them and cliffs in the background.

Common Bottlenose Dolphin

Common bottlenose dolphins are found throughout the world in both offshore and coastal waters, including harbors, bays, gulfs, and estuaries of temperate and tropical waters. They are one of the most well-studied marine mammals in the wild. They are easy to view in the wild because they live close to shore and are distributed throughout coastal and estuarine waters.

A Dall’s black and white porpoise getting air with water splashing around.

Dall's Porpoise

Dall's porpoises are common in the North Pacific Ocean and can be found off the U.S. West Coast from California to the Bering Sea in Alaska. These porpoises are considered the fastest swimmers among small cetaceans, reaching speeds of 34 miles per hour over short distances. They are named for W.H. Dall, an American naturalist who collected the first specimen of this species.

Dark gray false killer whale breaching with horizon in the background and a cloudy sky.

False Killer Whale

False killer dolphins are social animals found globally in all tropical and subtropical ocean basins and generally in deep offshore waters. The false killer whale's entire body is black or dark gray, although lighter areas may occur ventrally (on its underside) between the flippers or on the sides of the head.

A large pod of dolphins breaching in dark blue water.

Fraser's Dolphin

Fraser's dolphins are found in deep, tropical waters worldwide. They are active swimmers and are usually found in groups of 10 to 100 individuals, but they sometimes travel in groups of up to 1,000. NOAA Fisheries and its partners are working to conserve Fraser’s dolphins and further our understanding of this species through research and conservation activities.

Hand drawing of a Harbor Porpoise.

Harbor Porpoise

The harbor porpoise is a shy animal, most often seen in groups of two or three. They prefer coastal areas and are most commonly found in bays, estuaries, harbors, and fjords. Because they prefer coastal habitats, harbor porpoises are particularly vulnerable to gillnets and fishing traps, pollution, and other types of human disturbance, such as underwater noise.

Hand drawing of Hector’s dolphin.

Hector’s Dolphin

Hector’s dolphin is one of the world’s smallest dolphins and is found only in the coastal waters of New Zealand. Two subspecies of Hector’s dolphins have been formally recognized based on multiple morphological distinctions and genetic evidence of reproductive isolation.

Hand drawing of an Indus River Dolphin.

Indus River Dolphin

The Indus River dolphin, also known as the “bhulan,” is one of the world’s most endangered cetaceans. They are closely related to the Ganges River dolphin, also known as the “susu.” Their eyes are so small that scientists believe they are functionally blind, sensing only the levels and direction of light.

Two killer whales coming up for air with three dorsal fins in view.

Killer Whale

The killer whale, also known as orca, is the ocean’s top predator. It is the largest member of the Delphinidae family, or dolphins. Members of this family include all dolphin species, as well as other larger species, such as long-finned pilot whales and short-finned pilot whales, whose common names also contain "whale" instead of "dolphin."

Three long-beaked common dolphins breaching in the left hand corner in gray water.

Long-Beaked Common Dolphin

Long-beaked common dolphins can be found in large social groups in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific ocean. This highly social and energetic species prefers shallow, tropical, subtropical, and warmer temperate waters closer to the coast and on the continental shelf.

A long-finned pilot whale surfacing with the stomach and pectoral fins visible.

Long-Finned Pilot Whale

Long-finned pilot whales are very social, living in large schools of hundreds of animals separated into close-knit pods of 10 to 20 individuals. This structure made them easy targets for whaling in the 19th and 20th centuries. Whalers would drive and herd pilot whales together into tight groups to harpoon them, hunting them for their meat, oil, and blubber.

One melon-headed whale surfacing for air and another swimming beside underwater.

Melon-Headed Whale

Melon-headed whales are a robust small whale found primarily in deep, tropical waters worldwide. They are social animals and often occur in groups of hundreds to over 1,000 individuals. They likely maintain a matrilineal social structure, where females remain in groups with their mother and sisters, and males move between groups.

Two northern right whale dolphins mid air diving into the water with seafoam spraying in the wind.

Northern Right Whale Dolphin

Northern right whale dolphins are found in the deep, cold to warm temperate waters of the Pacific Ocean. They usually travel in groups of 100 to 200 individuals but sometimes travel in groups of up to 3,000. They are “acrobatic” swimmers and can leap more than 20 feet over the surface of the water.

Two pacific white-sided dolphins breaching in dark blue waters.

Pacific White-Sided Dolphin

Pacific white-sided dolphins, known for the distinct coloring that give them their name, are a playful and highly social marine mammal. They are also sometimes known as the “hookfin porpoise” because of their large, curved dorsal fin, though they are not technically porpoises.

A pantropical spotted dolphin getting air with water running off its back.

Pantropical Spotted Dolphin

Pantropical spotted dolphins are found in all tropical and subtropical waters worldwide. These relatively small dolphins are quite social and often associate with other dolphin species, including the rough-toothed dolphin, short-finned pilot whale, and spinner dolphin.

Three pygmy killer whales getting air with their dorsal fins in view in dark gray water.

Pygmy Killer Whale

Despite its common name, the pygmy killer whale is a small member of the oceanic dolphin family. They are often confused with false killer whales and melon-headed whales. This species is found primarily in deep waters throughout tropical and subtropical areas of the world. Not much is known about them, and they are considered naturally rare.

A Risso’s dolphin jumping in the air towards its back with white coloring throughout its dark gray body.

Risso’s Dolphin

Risso's dolphins, sometimes called gray dolphins, are found in the temperate and tropical zones of all the world’s oceans. These cetaceans generally prefer deeper offshore waters, especially near the continental shelf edge and slope, where they can dive to at least 1,000 feet and hold their breath for 30 minutes. They are also very active on the ocean surface.

One rough toothed dolphin jumping straight out of the water with another dolphin below coming up for air.

Rough Toothed Dolphin

Rough-toothed dolphins are found throughout the world in tropical and warmer temperate waters. These small members of the dolphin family usually travel in small, tight-knit groups of two to 20 individuals. Their common name was based on the ridges found on their teeth, which are unique to this species.

Two short beaked common dolphins jumping across the water in a sychronized fashion.

Short Beaked Common Dolphin

Short-beaked common dolphins are one of the most abundant and familiar dolphins in the world. This highly social and energetic species is widely distributed, preferring warm tropical to cool temperate waters that are primarily offshore.

Two gray short finned pilot whales’ heads poking up out of the surface of the water.

Short Finned Pilot Whale

Short-finned pilot whales are found globally in tropical and temperate oceans. They are one of two species of pilot whale, along with the long-finned pilot whale. The two species differ slightly in size, features, coloration, and pattern. In the field and at sea, it is very difficult to tell the difference between the two species.

A spinner dolphin breaching and one about to breach in dark blue water.

Spinner Dolphin

Spinner dolphins are probably the most frequently encountered cetacean in nearshore waters of the Pacific Islands Region. Spinner dolphins received their common name because they are often seen leaping and spinning out of the water.

A striped dolphin breaching above the surface of the water with one eye and the blowhole in view.

Striped Dolphin

Striped dolphins are among the most abundant and widespread dolphins in the world. They prefer deep tropical to warm temperate oceanic waters, and are attracted to upwelling areas, where deep, cold, nutrient-rich water rises toward the surface, and convergence zones, where ocean currents meet.

A pink taiwanese humpback dolphin breaching alongside a bottlenose dolphin.

Taiwanese Humpback Dolphin

The Taiwanese humpback dolphin is a subspecies of the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin that is only found in a small, narrow stretch of estuarine water off the western coast of Taiwan. This subspecies was first described in 2002 but did not receive formal recognition until 2016. The population is small with fewer than 100 individuals remaining. It also has late maturity, slow reproductive rate, long calving intervals, and long periods of female-calf association.

Two vaquitas surfacing and one dorsal fin in view.


The vaquita is a shy member of the porpoise family. Vaquitas are the most endangered of the world’s marine mammals. Less than 20 vaquitas remain in the wild, and entanglement in illegal gillnets is driving the species toward extinction.

Top of a dolphin swimming with the blowhole in view.

White Beaked Dolphin

White-beaked dolphins are found throughout the cold waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. They are active swimmers and often “surf” the waves created by vessels. They are usually found in groups of five to 30 individuals but sometimes travel in groups of up to 1,500.