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  • Writer's pictureCapt. Jay Leach

Bottlenose Dolphin Fun Facts

Updated: Feb 11, 2021

Throughout the entire year, Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins can be found off the coast of Virginia.  Oftentimes in the morning you can see them feeding on the area’s ample selection of baitfish, traveling to the nearest school of them. The bait usually follows the dominant long current north along the Oceanfront.  In the afternoon, they tend to congregate around Cape Henry, where they play right off Joint Expeditionary Base Fort Story / Little Creek.  More often than not, they will swim into the direction of the sunset towards Lynnhaven Inlet or up the Thimble Shoal Channel between the first and second islands of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.  You can find dolphin pods, or social groups, all over the mouth of Chesapeake Bay from Chick’s Beach all the way over to Fisherman’s Island of the Eastern Shore.  During Patriotic Excursions, I have seen different species of dolphins and even porpoises swimming the bow wake of the faster moving large ships traveling into the Port of Virginia or up to Baltimore.  It can be quite a sight watching 4-10 dolphins launch themselves out of the water in front of these massive vessels. 

Bottlenose dolphins (scientific name: Tursiops Truncates) are carnivores that traditionally feed on bottom dwelling fish, shrimp, and squid. They prefer Virginia Beach because we offer them Menhaden/Bunker, Spanish Mackerel, and many other fine dishes. Sometimes you can watch them encircle a group of fish into a smaller ball to make eating easier. Females dictate the social order of most pods while babysitting their young. Newborn calves, which are conceived and born in late April and May, are usually the size of a human forearm. They can grow up to fourteen feet long and weigh over 1,000 pounds. The average lifespan of a bottlenose dolphin is forty-five to fifty years and they can exceed eighteen miles per hour.

They are well known for being extremely sexual, charismatic, and intelligent. They are not afraid of coming right up to our boat. I have had a juvenile almost jump into one of our boats and luckily for those on the port side, it bounced and slide down the sponson right back into the water like it knew exactly what it was doing! 

Dolphins breathe every two to three minutes and communicate by a complex system of squeaks and whistles, called echolocation. They use this to track prey; their large brains interpreting the reflection of the sounds and clicks they emit to figure out the location, size and shape of the target beyond their eyesight.

Coastal bottlenose dolphins typically do not engage in mass migration, while I do not know the exact percentage, it appears to me that 25-30% of our summer’s population stays throughout the winter months while the rest travel south to feed in the warmer waters of North Carolina.  Our winter locals will even hang out in Broad and Linkhorn Bays to forage on the slow-moving specs and stripers chilling out in the shallows. Come check them out for yourself!

- Captain Jay

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