What dolphins live in Canada’s coastal waters? | Oceana Canada
Pacific white-sided dolphins playing

Pacific-white sided dolphins can be found off the coast of British Columbia

Photo Credit: Andre Anita

When we think of dolphins, many of us imagine the tropics – warm, blue, pristine waters teeming with dolphins. What we might not always think of are the many species of dolphins that call Canada home! Here are a few of them:

Pacific white-sided dolphin

Known for the distinct white patches on their sides that give them their name, Pacific white-sided dolphins are extremely social and playful. They can often be spotted swimming near the front of a boat, breaching, splashing or even spinning in the air.

Killer whale 

Killer whales are actually dolphins! In fact, they’re the largest of the dolphins and one of the smartest animals on the planet, challenging chimpanzees and gorillas for the top spot. They are also extremely curious and will approach people to investigate. 

Risso’s dolphin

Octopus, squid and other cephalopods are the Risso’s dolphins favoured food. These dolphins are born a greyish colour, but many have extensive white scarring made by the teeth of other dolphins and by the beaks of their prey. They’re very gregarious and are often seen with other dolphin species, they have even been known to hybridize, or interbreed, with bottlenose dolphins!

Atlantic white-sided dolphin

Fast, charismatic and colourful, Atlantic white-sided dolphins can be spotted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. They are a dark blue-black colour on the top with white to yellow sides and a large sickle-shaped dorsal fin.

Short-beaked common dolphin

Short-beaked common dolphins are one of the most frequently spotted dolphins around the world. Their population is listed as ‘least concern’ meaning they are not considered threatened or near-threatened. They are often confused with their close relative, long-beaked common dolphins. For many years, both species were known as the “common dolphin,” but recently they were divided into two species, separated by size, appearance and habitat. 

White-beaked dolphin

White-beaked dolphins can be found in the cold waters of the North Atlantic, often ranging into ice-free arctic and sub-arctic waters – who said dolphins were only found in the tropics!? They have short, thick beaks and typically live in groups of five to 30 individuals. 

Striped dolphin

Striped dolphins are very social and acrobatic – they can jump several metres high! They are commonly spotted in the summer off the coast of Nova Scotia living in smaller groups of 25 to 100 individuals. They’re very fast swimmers and can dive extremely deep in search of prey.

Northern right whale dolphin

These dolphins are named after right whales and, like the whales, they lack a dorsal fin. Northern right whale dolphins are very slender, mostly black in colour and can be found in the deep, cold waters of the Pacific Ocean. Their close relative, the Southern right whale dolphin, lives in the southern hemisphere and is quite similar in appearance.