Whether on land or in the ocean, dolphins are one of the world’s most beloved mammals. The natural upturn of their mouth makes them appear as friendly, smiley animals, and for the most part, they are.
Many different types of dolphins exist throughout the globe within the order of Cetaceans. Although there are two suborders of Cetacean, Mysticetes (baleen whales) and Odontocetes (toothed whales), dolphins live within the latter. Characterized by their rounded or spade-like teeth, the suborder Odontocetes consists of dolphins and porpoises.
Dolphins can vastly range in size. Let’s take a deep dive into the ten largest dolphins in the world!
#10: Rough-toothed Dolphin (6.9 – 9.3 feet)
This dolphin gets its name from its unique grooved teeth, identified from its ventral sides’ black and dark grey spots and prehistoric lizard look.
The rough-toothed dolphin is the only dolphin species that don’t have a crease on their head and nose.
You can find rough-toothed dolphins in deep, open waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans, surviving on fish, squid, and octopus.
These dolphins have a life span of about 35 years. Rough-toothed dolphins come in at number ten on our list, at a length of 9 feet, weighing about 350 pounds.
#9: Northern & Southern Right Whale Dolphin (6.5 – 10.2 feet)
These dolphins are recognizable by their lack of a dorsal fin, short curved flippers, and well-defined beaks. Southern Right Whale Dolphins are uniquely colored, often with white bellies and black backs, although some can be completely black or white. northern right whale dolphins look just the same but are typically black.
Both of these dolphins enjoy deep, cold to temperate oceanic waters, but they live in opposite hemispheres of the earth. As their names suggest, the northern right whale dolphin lives in the Arctic waters, while the southern right whale dolphin lives in the Antarctic waters.
Northern and southern right whale dolphins share the ninth spot in our lineup at an average length of 9.8 feet and a lower weight of about 250 pounds.
#8: Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin (8.2 – 10 feet)
These aerodynamic dolphins get their name from the fatty hump at their dorsal fin level. Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins are easily identified with their pink skin tone, although the calves are born grey. One variety is called the Chinese white dolphin.
Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins can be found in the Indian and Pacific oceans from Northern Australia to Eastern China and the temperate waters of India, Philippines, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Tanzania.
These dolphins inhabit shallow coastal areas and bays, reaching their 440-pound average on a diet of fish, crustaceans, and cephalopods, coming in at number eight with a maximum length of ten feet.
# 7: White-Beaked Dolphin (7.2 – 10.2 feet)
This plump, black, and grey dolphin gets its name from the white tip of its beak. The light-colored “saddle” behind the dorsal fin and the white band on the belly can also identify the white-beaked dolphin.
It is common to see these subarctic dolphins in the Atlantic Ocean as far north as the white sea, off the Norwegian coast and swimming the Baltic Sea.
The bow-riding white-beaked dolphin swims into the number seven on our list of the world’s largest dolphins with a max length of 10.2 and a maximum weight of about 770 pounds!
#6: Risso’s Dolphin (8.5 – 13 feet)
Risso’s dolphins are born black but often lighten with age. They are unique-looking dolphins that are sometimes considered part of the “blackfish” subfamily, including false killer whales, pilot whales, melon-headed whales, and pygmy whales.
These dolphins like to dive up to 1000 feet in the deep, tropical, and temperate waters worldwide. Risso’s dolphin is different than others because they only have teeth on their bottom jaw. They often have scrapes and scars on their sides, presumably from playing or fighting with other dolphins.
Risso’s dolphins prey at night and often stay active and close to the surface for their lifespan of up to 35 years. These beauties are number six on the list, with a maximum length of 13 feet and weighing 1,100 pounds.
#5: Common Bottlenose Dolphin (8.2 – 13 feet)
The common bottlenose dolphin is the familiar ocean mammal that most people think of when they hear the word. With their sleek and gray smooth skin and permanent grin, they are hard to forget.
These dolphins are pretty easy to find, dwelling in most coastal and open ocean areas, including the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Bottlenose dolphins have a fast metabolism and consuming 4%-6% of their body weight per day.
These friendly cetaceans have been known to save humans from time to time. However, they are predators to fish, crustaceans, and squid, sometimes even stalking them at the shore.
With a regular diet and healthy living conditions, the average common bottlenose dolphin weighs 440 pounds. However, exceptional individuals reach up to 13 feet and up to 1400 pounds!
#4 – False Killer Whale (20 feet)
These worldwide tropical and temperate water dwellers are known for their long slender bodies, funny large teeth, and round foreheads. They’re fast swimmers that will leap out of the water after their prey consisting of squid, fish, cephalopods.
The false killer whale population is a small one. However, they stick around for a while, with a lifespan of up to sixty years! False killer whales can be spotted in tropical, subtropical, and temperate waters surrounding the Hawaiian islands, off the Pacific coast of the U.S., the Gulf of Mexico, and American Somoa.
These dolphins can live to be 60 years old, grow up to 20 feet long, and weigh 3,000 pounds!
#3: Short-finned Pilot Whale (9.8 – 24 feet)
Surprised to see whales on the list of largest dolphins? Well, it turns out that all dolphins are whales, but not all whales are dolphins.
The short-finned pilot whale is a resident dolphin of the tropical and temperate waters of Hawaii and Southwest coast Tenerife and the warm waters of the Atlantic ocean. These dolphins exist in matriarchal social units and live up to 60 years in females and 40 for males.
Short-finned whales can grow to a maximum length of 24 feet and weigh up to 6600 pounds putting them in the number three spot of the countdown!
#2: Long-finned Pilot Whale – 19 – 25 feet
The long-finned pilot whale is a large oceanic dolphin known for its unusually long pectoral fins and social nature. Long-finned pilot whales form groups or pods from a couple to over 1000, 20-150 being the most common.
These dolphins exist on cephalopods like squid and mackerel and will migrate depending on food availability. Long-finned pilot whales will occasionally breach and become stranded on the ocean shores of cold waters of the Northern Atlantic and the Southern hemisphere.
Long-finned pilot whale females often live to be sixty years old while their male counterparts reach 35-40 years. These are the second-largest dolphin on the list, with a maximum length of 25 feet and weighing up to 5,000 pounds!
#1: Orca Killer Whale (23 – 32 feet)
The orca, or killer whale, is the world’s largest dolphin. As mentioned above, dolphins are whales, and the largest living dolphin is the orca. The orca’s dorsal fin alone can reach up to 6 feet tall!
Orcas, nicknamed “Killer Whales” due to their likelihood to stand their ground against predators and even prey on whales much bigger than themselves. However, they aren’t particularly dangerous to humans.
Orcas survive on many different types of animals depending on availability and location, including:
- Sea turtles
Orcas are widespread and can be spotted in every ocean, but they prefer cold waters to roam the surface and dive up to 1000 feet. Male killer whales can grow up to 32 feet long, while females usually max out at about 26 feet.
Orcas are the largest dolphins in existence, weighing between 6,600 and 8,800 pounds, the same as a full-grown male African forest elephant!
A complete list of the largest dolphins
- Rough-toothed dolphin
- Northern and southern right whale dolphin
- Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin
- White-beaked dolphin
- Risso’s dolphin
- Common bottlenose dolphin
- False killer whale
- Short-finned pilot whale
- Long-finned pilot whale
Whether massive or petite, all oceanic and water-dwelling wildlife, dolphins’ greatest predator is the human being. Between hunting, fishing, and water pollution that destroys the ecosystem and plastic filling the oceans, the conservation of dolphins and cetaceans and marine life is more important than ever.