Dolphins in Komodo National Park

There aren’t many better ways to start your day than with a boat ride out to Komodo National Park and seeing dolphins gliding playfully alongside the bow of the boat.  Although Komodo is best known for the Komodo dragons on land and the reef mantas in the underwater world, there are actually 10 different species of dolphin that call Komodo national park home.  It is not uncommon to see dolphins from the boat either in the distance or dancing in the bow wave, it is however, a rare treat to see them while diving.  Here we will go over 6 of the more commonly seen dolphins in the park in hopes that the next time you see one, whether from the boat or on a dive, you will be able to identify the species and gain a better understanding of the marine environment we are lucky enough to explore.  If you hear any of our staff or crew shouting “Lumba lumba!! Lumba lumba!!”, the Indonesian word for dolphin, be sure to stop what you are doing and have a look out to sea!

  1. Spinner Dolphin (Stellena longirostris)

komodo spinner dolphin

The spinner dolphin is called such due to their tendency to put on acrobatic displays in which it spins on its longitudinal axis while leaping out of the water, typically completing between two to five and a half spins per jump.  They are a year-round resident in the park and are a pleasure to see.  Aside from their acrobatic behavior they can be identified by their slender body, long rostrum (beak) and distinct coloration.  They have a light grey dorsal side which changes sharply into a white or cream-colored underside.  As many species of dolphin are, they are highly social animals and will typically be found large groups ranging from a dozen to several hundred individuals in the pod.

  1. Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops aduncus)

The bottlenose dolphin is another year-round resident to Komodo National Park and can be seen playing in the bow wake of the boat as you travel between dive sites.  Previously they were thought to be the same species as the common bottlenose dolphin (T. truncatus) however, they are generally smaller in size, have a proportionally larger rostrum and have spots on its belly and lower sides.  Indo-pacfic bottlenose dolphin is both highly intelligent and very social, they can live in groups that number into the hundreds but are typically found in groups of five to fifteen.  The Dragon Dive Komodo team has been lucky enough to see them at one of the northern dive sites Castle Rock. 

  1. Risso’s Dolphin (Grampus griseus)

komodo risso's dolphin

Risso dolphins are less frequent visitors to Komodo national park and have very distinct physical features, especially when it comes to the bulbous shape of their head, triangular shaped dorsal fin and the unusually large amount of scaring found on their skin.  Although scaring is not uncommon among toothed whales due to male on male competition, the scaring on the risso dolphin is particularly pronounced.  This is due to the lack of pigmentation and is thought to be advantageous by discouraging further challenges from other males.  The risso dolphin typically travels in groups of ten to fifty.

  1. Pantropical Spotted Dolphin (Stenella attenuate)

pantropical spotted

As the name suggests, this species of dolphin can be found in tropical and subtropical waters around the world.  They are a medium sized dolphin with a slender body, long rostrum and a distinct spotted pattern on their sides and back which appears once they have reached maturity. They are highly active and are known for leaping out of the water to make a big splash.  They can often be swimming with yellowfin tuna although they don’t feed on them; due to their association with the tuna, they are unfortunately frequently caught as bycatch. 

  1. Frasers Dolphin (Lagenodelphis hosei)

frasers dolphin

Frasers dolphins are another relatively rare species of dolphin here in Komodo as they are typically found in deep tropical waters. This species has a stocky body with a small, distinct rostrum. Some of the more noticeable physical characteristics of the frasers dolphin is a dark stripe that extends down their side from their eye to the pectoral flipper.  The flippers and fluke are smaller that that of other dolphin species and the dorsal fin is triangular and located midway down their back.  Frasers dolphins are highly social, are found in large groups from 10-1,000 and are often seen mixing with other cetacean species such as false killer whales, melon-headed whales and rissos dolphins.

  1. Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin (Souso chinensis)

indo pacific humback dolphin

This species of dolphin sometimes referred to as a Chinese dolphin is one of the few that will typically live in small groups of less than ten individuals.  They are often thought to be albino, however they can be grey, white or pink.  The pink color does not come from the pigment in their skin but rather blood vessels which have overdeveloped for thermoregulation.

Dolphin Fun Fact: Dolphins do not have the ability to shut down their brains to sleep like we do, or they would drown. They use a process called unihemispheric sleep, where they shut down one hemisphere of their brain at a time.  They will often rest motionless at the surface or make slow U-shaped patters.  When the left eye is closed the right side of their brain is shut down and visa versa, thus they never completely lose consciousness.   

Indonesian seas are home to a wide range of whales and dolphins due to the deep-water channels between the islands creating strong currents and upwellings that bring in nutrient rich water.  As divers we have the opportunity to appreciate these beautiful animals in their natural environment and observe inter and intra species interactions.  

At Dragon Dive Komodo we view our guests as ocean ambassadors and encourage you to spread the word on marine conservation, not just in Komodo, but around the world.