Heaviside’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus heavisidii)

Heaviside's dolphin leaping
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Heaviside’s dolphin fact file

Heaviside’s dolphin description

GenusCephalorhynchus (1)

One of the most poorly known dolphins and also amongst the smallest (2) (5), Heaviside’s dolphin has a blunt head, rounded, paddle-like flippers (2), and bold markings. The front half of the stocky body is grey and the rear half is largely bluish-black. The flippers are dark and dark patches encircle the eyes and blowhole. The underside is white, as are the ‘armpits’ behind the flippers, and a distinct white finger-shaped marking extends from the belly along each flank (5) (6).

Also known as
Benguela dolphin, Haviside’s dolphin.
Céphalorhynque Du Cap, Dauphin De Heaviside.
Delfín Del Cabo, Tunina De Heaviside.
Length: up to 174 cm (2)
c. 75 kg (2)

Heaviside’s dolphin biology

Heaviside’s dolphins, often seen in small groups of two to ten individuals (2), are not as lively or boisterous as some other dolphins, but nevertheless, have been occasionally seen riding the bow waves of boats (5). They feed on a wide variety of prey found in their coastal habitat, including small schooling fish, fish dwelling on the sea floor, and squid (2).

While little is known about the breeding biology of Heaviside’s dolphin, it is assumed to be similar to that of closely related species. Males are thought to reach sexual maturity between the age of five and nine years, and females bear their first calf between six and nine years of age. Mating takes place in spring to late summer, and after a gestation period of 10 to 11 months, the calves are born. Mature females are believed to calve every two to four years (2).


Heaviside’s dolphin range

This species has an extremely small range, occurring only off the west coast of South Africa and Namibia. Sightings are most common around Walvis Bay, Namibia and Cape Town, South Africa (2).

See this species on Google Earth.


Heaviside’s dolphin habitat

Heaviside’s dolphins inhabit coastal waters, generally less than 200 metres deep. They can be seen during the surf zone, particularly during the summer (2).


Heaviside’s dolphin status

Classified as Data Deficient (DD) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1). Listed on Appendix II of CITES (3) and on Appendix II of CMS (4).

IUCN Red List species status – Data Deficient


Heaviside’s dolphin threats

The lack of information on Heaviside’s dolphin makes it difficult to assess how threatened this species may be (1). By-catch, whereby dolphins get entangled in fishing gear, represents one of the greatest threats this dolphin may face, but there is little information available on the numbers of individuals that may be killed in this manner (5). A number are also illegally hunted, apparently for their meat (7). The small distribution of Heaviside’s dolphin makes it particularly vulnerable to any threats it may face (7).


Heaviside’s dolphin conservation

Heaviside’s dolphin is protected within 200 miles of the coast of South Africa, and 12 miles of Namibia, in Exclusive Fishery Zones in which all dolphins are protected (8). In addition, this species may benefit from its listing on Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), which encourages range states (in this case Namibia and South Africa), to develop agreements for the conservation and management of the species (4).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For further information on the conservation of dolphins see:

To find out more about Heaviside’s Dolphin conservation projects, see:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:



In the fishing industry, the part of the catch made up of non-target species.
The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.


  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2007)
  2. Dawson, S.M. (2002) Cephalorhynchus dolphins. In: Perrin, W.F., Würsig, B. and Thewissen, J.G.M. (Eds) Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals. Academic Press, London.
  3. CITES (April, 2007)
  4. CMS (April, 2007)
  5. Jefferson, T.A., Leatherwood, S. and Webber, M.A. (1993) FAO Species Identification Guide. Marine Mammals of the World. FAO, Rome.
  6. Carwardine, M., Hoyt, E., Fordyce, R.E. and Gill, P. (1998) Whales and Dolphins. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
  7. Reeves, R.R., Smith, B.D., Crespo, E.A. and di Sciara, G.N. (2003) Dolphins, Whales and Porpoises: 2002-2010 Conservation Action Plan for the World's Cetaceans. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.
  8. Culik, B.M., Würtz, M. and Gerkman, B. (2002) Review on Small Cetaceans: Distribution, Behaviour, Migration and Threats. Convention on Migratory Species, Bonn, Germany. Available at:

Image credit

Heaviside's dolphin leaping  
Heaviside's dolphin leaping

© Todd Pusser / naturepl.com

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