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4 Types Of Dolphins You Can Expect To See In San Diego

a dolphin jumping out of the water

It’s estimated that over 28 million people visited San Diego in 2023 to enjoy all the tourist attractions in San Diego. From whale and dolphin watching in San Diego to Balboa Park, a top-rated vacation destination, the community has much to offer throughout the year. One of the most popular attractions has to be the ocean. Tide pools and ocean cruises are some of the best ways to enjoy water’s power and see marine animals in their natural environment. Although over 45 types of dolphins and porpoises globally exist, four main types come to San Diego.

a bird swimming in water next to the ocean

1. Bottlenose Dolphin

The bottlenose dolphin is the one that most people are familiar with. Still, it can be challenging to distinguish them from other types of dolphins. The bottlenose dolphin is the largest in the San Diego Bay area. This type of dolphin will generally have two shades: the top shade will be brown, gray, slate-colored, or even blackish, while the sides will be lighter shaded into white or pale pink gray underneath. Their average lifespan is about 20 years, but they can live up to 50. Offshore dolphins in the wild are incredibly playful and will enjoy showing off for you.

a dolphin swimming in a body of water

2. Common Dolphin

San Diego dolphins are anything but common. These dolphins can be up to 8 feet long, weighing 180 to 350 pounds. These types of dolphins are also very playful. A common dolphin can be either short-beaked or long-beaked. If you see one or two common dolphins, keep watching. These dolphins travel in large groups, called pods, of 50 up to 1,000. The short-beaked dolphins are active at the surface. They prefer warmer waters, so they can be seen almost year-round in the San Diego Bay area.

a polar bear swimming in a pool of water

3. Risso’s Dolphin

Risso’s dolphin is an offshore dolphin that can be hard to spot. This type of dolphin is closely related to pilot and false killer whales. Although some say spotting a Risso’s dolphin is rare, they are not considered endangered. They just don’t seem to get close to land. Their distinct gray body gets scarred from fights with squid, their primary prey. Risso’s dolphins tend to be larger than other dolphins, growing up to 13 feet. If you’re out on the ocean, you are lucky to see these large dolphins. 

a bird flying over a body of water

4. Pacific White-Sided Dolphin

The bottlenose dolphin might be the most familiar, but the Pacific white-sided dolphin is probably the prettiest and most recognizable dolphin. Technically, this creature is also known as a hookfin porpoise. Dolphins and porpoises aren’t fish. They are mammals that nurse their young. A dolphin is generally sleeker with a longer body than a porpoise. The white-sided dolphin is very friendly, and you’ll likely see a large group traveling together. They’ll enjoy chasing beside a boat but are much more active from May to September.

Enjoy Dolphin Watching in San Diego

It’s been said there’s no bad season for whale and dolphin watching in San Diego; it just depends on what type of marine life you want to see. Dolphins can be found in the coastal waters all year long. A whale and dolphin cruise is an adventure that you’ll never forget. Plan to cruise in San Diego to see sights from the water you can only dream about. Whether you live in San Diego or are just visiting, a whale-watching tour makes memories your family will discuss for years. Check out our schedule to book your tour.