Lagenorhynchus acutus (Atlantic white-sided dolphin)

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Atlantic white-sided dolphin
Atlantic white-sided dolphin.jpg
Atlantic white-sided dolphin size.svg
Size compared to an average human
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Infraorder: Cetacea
Family: Delphinidae
Genus: Lagenorhynchus
L. acutus
Binomial name
Lagenorhynchus acutus
(Gray, 1828)
Cetacea range map Atlantic White-sided Dolphin.PNG
  Atlantic white-sided dolphin range

The Atlantic white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus) is a distinctively coloured dolphin found in the cool to temperate waters of the North Atlantic Ocean.


An Atlantic white-sided dolphin off the coast of Cape Ann, Massachusetts

The dolphin is slightly larger than most other oceanic dolphins. It is just over a meter in length at birth, growing to about 2.8 m (9.2 ft) (males) and 2.5 m (8.2 ft) (females) at maturity.[2] It weighs 180–230 kg (400- 510 lb) once fully-grown.[2] Females reach sexual maturity at between 6 and 12 years, and males between 7 and 11 years.[3][4] The gestation period is 11 months and lactation lasts for about 18 months — both typical figures for dolphins.[2] Individuals are known to live for at least 17 years.[2]

The key distinguishing feature is the white to pale yellow patch found behind the dorsal fin of the dolphin on each side.[2] This colour variation is unique amongst the mixtures of white, greys and blues of other pelagic cetaceans.[2] The rest of the body's coloration is well demarcated: the chin, throat and belly are white; the flippers, dorsal fin and back are dark grey to black with the exception of the yellow patch; there is a further white patch below the dorsal fin, lying above a light grey stripe that runs from the beak, above the eye and down to the tail stock.[2]

Dolphin group sizes vary by location, with groups averaging 60 in number close to the Newfoundland shores, but rather smaller east of Iceland.[2] From the analysis of the stomach contents of stranded animals, fish such as herring and mackerel and squid appear to form the species' main diet.[2] The Atlantic white-sided dolphin is fairly acrobatic and keen to interact with boats, however it is not as wildly gregarious as the white-beaked and common dolphins.[2]

Geographic range and distribution[edit]

The species is endemic to the North Atlantic Ocean.[2] The distribution limits are Norwegian sea in the north east; Davis Strait in the north west; North Carolina in the south west and Celtic Sea in the south east (possible range extension to the Azores).[2] Areas of particularly high population density include the shores of Newfoundland and Cape Cod, the triangular area of sea between the United Kingdom, Iceland and Greenland and the North Sea.[5][6] In 2008, sightings of Atlantic white-sided dolphins as well as the melon-headed whale were documented in South Carolina after a few stranding had taken place in the area at the time.[7] The species tends to occur in continental shelf waters, around 100m depth.[8] They show preference toward areas with steep slopes and canyons.[9][10] They are more likely to be observed in cold, less saline waters but it's unclear whether it is due to preference or if these factors influence prey distribution.[11][12]



The diet of Atlantic white-sided dolphins includes mainly herring, hake and squid.[2] However, they consume a large variety of prey including small mackerel and various bottom fish.[2] They have been observed to cooperatively hunt on the surface.[2] It has been suggested that larger groups split while feeding.[9]

Social Behaviour[edit]

Like all species of the dolphin family, Atlantic white-sided dolphins are very social animals. Often traveling in large pods and displaying aerial behaviors as they travel.[13] The group size varies from several dozen to several hundreds individuals with average size around 50.[14] However, there seems to be little relatedness between the members of the group. Studies in different parts of the distribution range found that individuals were mainly unrelated to each other.[15][16] Juveniles spend at least some time in separate groups than adults.[2] Atlantic white-sided dolphins jump and breach more frequently when in larger groups thus this behaviour might have a social context.[13] They have a wide vocal repertoire which includes squeals, whistles, clicks and buzzes.[14][17] It is suggested that vocalisation is used for communication as noise production increases during socialising.[17]

Despite being docile creatures, even known to interact with various species of cetacean in a nonviolent manner, most notably with the long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas),[18] they have also been known to display violent behavior towards harbor porpoises, attacking them until they eventually succumb to their wounds, a similar behavior observed in bottlenose dolphins.[19][20]


Atlantic white-sided dolphins do not undertake specific seasonal migration.[9] However, they do move within their home range following prey distribution.[9] For example, in the waters off eastern North America this species moves southwards in winter and spring.[2]


Most of the calves are born around June and July.[2] The gestation period is 11 months and lactation around 18 months.[2] The birth interval varies between 1–3 years.[8]

Females reach sexual maturity around the age of 6–12 years.[3] Males reach sexual maturity around 7–11 years.[4] The reproduction is most likely seasonal, beginning in February, as some studies have identified dormant testes in some males.[4] 


The Atlantic white-sided dolphin was named by John Edward Gray in 1828. The specific name acutus comes from the Latin for 'pointed' and refers to the sharply pointed dorsal fin.[2] Sometimes also referred to as ‘white-sides’ or ‘lags’ which is short for Lagenorhynchus.[2] L. acutus is one of six oceanic dolphins in the genus Lagenorhynchus.[2]

Population status[edit]

The estimations for the U.S. shelf and shelf-edge water suggest that the population size is about 300,000.[2] Additional 120,000 individuals have been estimated to spend summer in the Gulf of St.Lawrence.[2] In the eastern North America waters the numbers increase southwards in winter and spring in association with cold waters from the Gulf of Maine.[2] Two projects attempted to estimate the population trends - multinational Small Cetacean Abundance in the North Sea and Adjacent Waters (SCANS) survey project and the North Atlantic Sightings Survey (NASS). SCANS surveys, however, failed to produce species specific estimation as it combined both white-sided and white-beaked dolphins. NASS surveys did not indicate any population trends.


Hvalba, Faroe Islands in August 2006


Historically, Atlantic white-sided dolphins were killed in drives conducted from Norway and Newfoundland. These have ceased in recent years, although they still occur to a lesser extent from the Faroe Islands, where the meat and blubber are in high regard as food.[21] Reported catches in the years from 1995 to 1998 were 157, 152, 350, and 438, respectively. In 2002, the number reported killed was 774.[21] Most years, no dolphins are killed, only to have individual years suddenly stand out, such as 2017 when several small pods were killed, after an 11-year period with no dolphins killed north of the southernmost island.[21]

Entanglement and by catch[edit]

Atlantic white-sided dolphins have also been killed in incidental catch situations in the fishing industry. Such occurrences have been reported in Canada, United States, United Kingdom and Ireland.[22] Between 1977 and 1988, 13 Atlantic white-sided dolphins were reported as being incidentally caught in the Northeastern United States by U.S fisheries observers, 11 of these in Mackerel fisheries.[23] They have also been reported to get caught  in pelagic or near surface trawl or drift nets.[9][14]


Any anthropogenic underwater noise is a potential disturbance to Atlantic white-sided dolphins as they use sounds to communicate and catch prey.[17] Survey done in the UK showed that the sighting rate of Atlantic white-sided dolphins declines when airguns were firing compared to when they were not.[17]


Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as PCBs and organochlorine pesticides (e.g. DDT, DDE) and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants have been identified in body tissues of Atlantic white-sided dolphins throughout their range.[6][24][25][26] Males had higher levels of PCBs suggesting that females pass some of the contamination to offspring during lactation[30]. Similarly to other species, studies have identified heavy metals in Atlantic white-sided dolphins including cadmium levels higher than in other dolphin species in southern latitudes.[27] The full effect of this contamination is currently unknown.

Conservation status[edit]

The International Union of the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently classifies Atlantic white-sided dolphins as Least Concern.[22]

The North and Baltic Sea populations of the Atlantic white-sided dolphin are listed on Appendix II [28] of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). They are listed on Appendix II[28] as they have an unfavourable conservation status or would benefit significantly from international co-operation organised by tailored agreements.[29] These species of dolphin are known to fall victims to in a polluted environment, a study from 1997 confirmed that the British and Irish populations of Atlantic white-sided dolphins to succumb to these effects.[6][30]

In addition, the Atlantic white-sided dolphin is covered by the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas (ASCOBANS).[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hammond, P.S.; Bearzi, G.; Bjørge, A.; Forney, K.; Karczmarski, L.; Kasuya, T.; Perrin, W.F.; Scott, M.D.; Wang, J.Y.; Wells, R.S.; et al. (2008). "Lagenorhynchus acutus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2008: e.T11141A3255721. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2008.RLTS.T11141A3255721.en. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is of least concern.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y Reeves, Randall (2008). Guide to Marine Mammals of the World. New York: National Audubon Society. pp. 398–401. ISBN 978-0375411410.
  3. ^ a b Sergeant (1980). "Life history and northwest Atlantic status of the Atlantic white-sided dolphin, Lagenorhynchus acutus". Cetology. 37: 1–12.
  4. ^ a b c Neuenhagen (2007). "Histology and morphometrics of testes of the white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus) in bycatch samples from the Northeastern Atlantic". Mammalian Biology. 72 (5): 283–298. doi:10.1016/j.mambio.2006.10.008.
  5. ^ Schevill, W. E. (1956). "Lagenorhynchus acutus off Cape Cod". Journal of Mammalogy. 37 (1): 128–129. doi:10.2307/1375559. JSTOR 1375559.
  6. ^ a b c Mckenzie, C.; Rogan, E.; Reid, R.; Wells, D. (1997). "Concentrations and patterns of organic contaminants in Atlantic white-sided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus acutus) from Irish and Scottish coastal waters". Environmental Pollution. 98 (1): 15–27. doi:10.1016/s0269-7491(97)00109-7. PMID 15093341.
  7. ^ Powell, J.W.; Rotstein, D.S.; Mcfee, W.E. (2012). "First Records of the Melon-Headed Whale (Peponocephala electra) and the Atlantic White-Sided Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus) in South Carolina". Southeastern Naturalist. 11 (1): 23–34. doi:10.1656/058.011.0102. S2CID 83544895.
  8. ^ a b Waring (2006). "U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico marine mammal stock assessments – 2005". NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NE. 194: 346.
  9. ^ a b c d e Gaskin (1992). "Status of the Atlantic white-sided dolphin, Lagenorhynchus acutus, in Canada". Canadian Field-Naturalist. 106: 64–72.
  10. ^ Palka (1997). "Summary of knowledge of white-sided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus acutus) from US and Canadian Atlantic waters". Report of the International Whaling Commission. 47: 729–734.
  11. ^ Selzer (1988). "The distribution of white-sided (Lagenorhynchus acutus) and common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) vs. environmental features of the continental shelf of the northeastern United States". Marine Mammal Science. 4 (2): 141–153. doi:10.1111/j.1748-7692.1988.tb00194.x.
  12. ^ Doksæter (2008). "Distribution and feeding ecology of dolphins along the Mid-Atlantic ridge between Iceland and the Azores". Deep-Sea Research II: Topical Studies in Oceanography. 55 (1–2): 243–253. doi:10.1016/j.dsr2.2007.09.009.
  13. ^ a b Weinrich, M.T.; Belt, C.R.; Dorin, D. (2001). "Behavior And Ecology Of The Atlantic White-Sided Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus) In Coastal New England Waters". Marine Mammal Science. 17 (2): 231–248. doi:10.1111/j.1748-7692.2001.tb01268.x.
  14. ^ a b c Reeves (1999). "Atlantic white-sided dolphin Lagenorhynchus acutus (Gray, 1828). In S. H. Ridgway and R. Harrison (eds.)". Handbook of Marine Mammals. 6: 31–56.
  15. ^ Mirimin (2011). "Insights into genetic diversity, parentage, and group composition of Atlantic white-sided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus acutus) off the West of Ireland based on nuclear and mitochondrial genetic markers". Journal of Heredity. 102 (1): 79–87. doi:10.1093/jhered/esq106. hdl:10379/12915. PMID 21059883.
  16. ^ Fernández (2016). "A genomewide catalogue of single nucleotide polymorphisms in white-beaked and Atlantic white-sided dolphins". Molecular Ecology Resources. 16 (1): 266–276. doi:10.1111/1755-0998.12427. PMID 25950249. S2CID 8129929.
  17. ^ a b c d Hamran (2014). "Distribution and vocal behavior of Atlantic white-sided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus acutus) in northern Norway". University of Nordland.
  18. ^ Baraff, L. S.; Asmutis-Silvia, R. A. (1998). "Long-Term Association of an Individual Long-Finned Pilot Whale and Atlantic White-Sided Dolphins". Marine Mammal Science. 14 (1): 155–161. doi:10.1111/j.1748-7692.1998.tb00700.x.
  19. ^ Larrat, S.; Measures, L.; Stephane, L. (2012). "Short Note Rake Marks on a Harbor Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) Calf Suggestive of a Fatal Interaction with an Atlantic White-Sided Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus)". Aquatic Mammals. 38 (1): 86–91. doi:10.1578/am.38.1.2012.86.
  20. ^ Ross, H.M.; Wilson, B. (1996). "Violent interactions between Bottlenose dolphins and Harbour porpoises". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 263 (1368): 283–286. doi:10.1098/rspb.1996.0043. S2CID 85372260.
  21. ^ a b c
  22. ^ a b Hammond (2008). "Lagenorhynchus acutus". The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
  23. ^ Waring, Gordon. "Incidental Take of Marine Mammals in Foreign Fishery Activities Off the Northeast United States, 1977-88" (PDF). NOAA. Fishery Bulletin. Retrieved 16 March 2020.
  24. ^ Weisbrod (2001). "Species, tissue and gender-related organochlorine bioaccumulation in white-sided dolphins, pilot whales and their common prey in the northwest Atlantic". Marine Environmental Research. 51 (1): 29–50. doi:10.1016/S0141-1136(00)00032-5. PMID 11125702.
  25. ^ Tuerk (2005). "Factors influencing persistent organic pollutant concentrations in the Atlantic white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus)". Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. 24 (5): 1079–1087. doi:10.1897/04-120R.1. PMID 16110985.
  26. ^ Montie (2009). "Organohalogen contaminants and metabolites in cerebrospinal fluid and cerebellum gray matter in short-beaked common dolphins and Atlantic white-sided dolphins from the western North Atlantic". Environmental Pollution. 157 (8–9): 2345–2358. doi:10.1016/j.envpol.2009.03.024. hdl:1912/2815. PMID 19375836.
  27. ^ Gallien (2001). "Cadmium-containing granules in kidney tissue of the Atlantic white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhyncus acutus) off the Faroe Islands" (PDF). Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology. 130 (3): 389–395. doi:10.1016/s1532-0456(01)00265-4. PMID 11701395.
  28. ^ a b "Appendix II Archived 11 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine" of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). As amended by the Conference of the Parties in 1985, 1988, 1991, 1994, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2005 and 2008. Effective: 5 March 2009.
  29. ^ "Convention on Migratory Species page on the Atlantic white-sided dolphin". Archived from the original on 9 October 2011. Retrieved 31 August 2011.
  30. ^ Tuerk, K. J. S.; Kucklick, J. R.; McFee, W. E.; Pugh, R. S.; Becker, P. R. (2005). "Factors influencing persistent organic pollutant concentrations in the Atlantic white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus)†". Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. 24 (5): 1079–1087. doi:10.1897/04-120r.1. PMID 16110985.
  31. ^ Official website of the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas

External links[edit]

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