Black Dolphin

Black dolphins, also known as Chilean dolphins, are small marine mammals that exist off the coast of Chile. In Chile, People commonly call these dolphins tonina, and commonly confuse these small dolphins with porpoises. This is because they have rather blunt, rounded heads and bodies.

Black dolphins are unique in that they only live along the Chilean coast, and nowhere else in the world! Read on to learn about the black dolphin.

Description of the Black Dolphin

These little marine mammals measure just 5.5 feet long, and weigh in at around 100 pounds or so. They are thick little animals, with girthy bodies and rounded heads. Compared to their plump bodies, these dolphins have relatively small dorsal and pectoral fins. Despite having the name “black dolphin,” these creatures are actually gray, with white undersides and under-flippers.

Interesting Facts About the Black Dolphin

These little dolphins truly are unique creatures. Many other dolphin species, like bottlenose dolphins or common dolphins, are widespread across the oceans. These marine mammals, however, are located only in one small area, much like the Critically Endangered vaquita.

  • Cephalorhynchus – These dolphins are closely related to three other species. They actually share the same taxonomic genus, Cephalorhynchus. Its closest relatives are Commerson’s dolphins, Heaviside’s dolphin, and Hector’s dolphin.
  • Not Neighbors – While the four species in Cephalorhynchus are closely related, they are definitely not close geographically. Their ranges vary anywhere from the coasts of Africa, New Zealand, South America, and more.
  • “Black” Dolphin – Nowadays, these dolphins more commonly have the name “Chilean dolphins.” Scientists studied animals that had washed up and dried, or animals spotted from a distance. These factors made the dolphins appear darker in color than they actually were. In reality, they are not black at all, but gray!

Habitat of the Black Dolphin

These marine mammals are coastal inhabitants. They like to live just offshore, or in river deltas. Remaining, for the most part, in waters shallower than 650 feet deep. These dolphins seem to prefer areas with fast-moving water, like tidal areas and river mouths. They live nowhere else in the world, and do not migrate or leave their native habitats.

Distribution of the Black Dolphin

This dolphin has a very small distribution and range. The population is quite small, and debated by scientists. As with any animal that has minimal populations, they are not particularly widespread. You can find these dolphins from Valparaiso, Chile to Cape Horn, Chile. They simply do not exist anywhere else in the world.

Diet of the Black Dolphin

Scientists know very little about black dolphins, and they are one of the least studied marine mammals in the world. There is literally no scientific study about the diet of these creatures. However, there are anecdotal accounts describing feeding behavior. Based on this information, researchers believe they feed on rock cod, anchovies, crustaceans, squid, and sardines.

Black Dolphin and Human Interaction

We honestly do not know how extensively humans have threatened (or otherwise interacted with) black dolphins. Scientists know that humans have hunted these dolphins for decades, but do not know the extent of their population decline.

Fishermen capture the dolphins for food and as bait, both intentionally and accidentally. Accidental captures, called incidental mortality, still occur in a number of fishing operations. The IUCN Red List classifies them as Near Threatened.


Humans have not domesticated these dolphins in any way.

Does the Black Dolphin Make a Good Pet

No, black dolphins do not make good pets. It is illegal to keep any marine mammal as a pet, because they are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Black Dolphin Care

No aquariums have kept these dolphins. Though we do not know very much about these creatures, we can assume that their care would be similar to those of close relatives. Even their close relatives rarely reside in zoos or aquariums. Their care would likely be similar to that of other dolphin species, and their diet similar as well.

Behavior of the Black Dolphin

Scientists know very little about this dolphin, and even less about their behavior. Like most marine mammals, they are social, and will live in small groups. Most groups of this species, called pods, range from two to ten animals. They do not know how these social structures change or how mate choice occurs.

Reproduction of the Black Dolphin

Researchers have conducted almost no research about the reproduction of these dolphins. Scientists do not have any definitive information about how long their gestation period runs, nor how long the offspring nurse before weaning. However, closely related dolphins likely have similar gestation periods, so one might assume that black dolphins give birth after 10 – 12 months.