Act! Support Our Efforts
Ocean Conservation Marine Life Species Database Education+Careers Projects Contributors Photos Videos News Connect

Risso's Dolphins, Grampus griseus

Risso's DolphinsRisso's DolphinsRisso's DolphinsRisso's DolphinsContribute Photos or VideoContribute Photos or Video

Description & Behavior

Risso's dolphins, Grampus griseus (G. Cuvier, 1812), aka Grampus, are rather large cetaceans with rounded heads, similar in shape to pilot whales. They have a characteristic crease in their melons (the organ in the front of the head used for echolocation) visible from the forehead to the mouth. They have 7 or fewer pairs of teeth located in the front of their lower jaws.

Adult Risso's dolphins are a dark gray with a white underside that becomes whiter with age as the heavy criss-crossed scars that cover their bodies increase. These scars likely result from from encounters with other Risso's dolphins and their primary prey, squid. Circular white scars have also been noted resulting from bites of lampreys, cephalopods and cookiecutter sharks, and some from infestations of parasites or bacterial infections. Juveniles are light gray, which darkens as they age to a brown-gray. Like pilot whales, Risso's dolphins have a white anchor-shaped patch on the ventral side. This species has a tall, curved dorsal fin that tends to be more erect in males and long flippers. The flukes are broad and curved with a deep notch and the tailstock is slender.

Risso's dolphins are a gregarious species that form groups of between 3-30 individuals on average, however they have been known to form massive schools of thousands of dolphins. Recent studies indicate stability among groups, and it is thought that members may be genetically related. Risso's dolphins also travel with other dolphin species, and hybrids between Risso's and bottlenose dolphins have been recorded in the wild and in captivity.

They are an agile species that perform leaps and fluke and flipper slapping. The lifespan is estimated at 20-40 years.

World Range & Habitat

Risso's dolphins, Grampus griseus, are found in offshore temperate and tropical waters worldwide. The northernmost range of their habitat is Newfoundland and the Shetlands in the Atlantic, and the Gulf of Alaska in the Pacific. The southern ranges are Cape Horn, the Cape of Good Hope, Australia and New Zealand. It is not known whether this is a migratory species, however they may move to cooler waters during warmer months and travel to follow prey movement.

Feeding Behavior (Ecology)

Risso's dolphins, Grampus griseus, feed primarily on squid and are also known to feed on a variety of fish.

Life History

Risso's dolphins, Grampus griseus, are thought to reach sexual maturity when they reach between 2.6-2.8 m in length in both sexes. Little is known about the reproductive habits of this species, however Risso's dolphins in the North Atlantic have been observed calving during summer months. Calves measure about 1.2-1.5 m in length at birth.

Conservation Status & Comments

It is thought that Risso's dolphins, Grampus griseus, are abundant throughout their range, but population data are unavailable. Off the coast of California where Risso's dolphins are commonly sighted, a population of between 13,000-30,000 is estimated. These dolphins are killed for human consumption in some areas and have been sold on the open market in Taiwan. They are also caught in Japan, and in Sri Lanka where their commercial popularity increased when fisheries began selling their incidentally caught dolphins.

Getting trapped as bycatch, entanglement, and pollution from coastal development pose the greatest threats to Risso's dolphins.

References & Further Research

ACS Risso's dolphin Cetacean Fact Sheet - American Cetacean Society
Photos by Marine Team - a network of professionals working in the marine environment who are dedicated to the conservation of marine species and their habitat.
Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS)

Research Grampus griseus » Barcode of Life ~ Taxonomy ~ BioOne ~ Biodiversity Heritage Library ~ CITES ~ Cornell Macaulay Library [audio / video] ~ Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) ~ ESA Online Journals ~ FishBase ~ Florida Museum of Natural History ~ GBIF ~ Google Scholar ~ ITIS ~ IUCN RedList (Threatened Status) ~ Marine Species Identification Portal ~ NCBI (PubMed, GenBank, etc.) ~ Ocean Biogeographic Information System ~ PLOS ~ SIRIS ~ Tree of Life Web Project ~ UNEP-WCMC Species + Database ~ WoRMS

Search for Risso's Dolphins » ARKive ~ Flickr ~ Google ~ Creative Commons search ~ Wikipedia ~ YouTube

Feedback & Citation

Start or join a discussion about this species below or send us an email to report any errors or submit suggestions for this page. We greatly appreciate all feedback!

~^~ surface

Help Protect and Restore Ocean Life

Help us protect and restore marine life by supporting our various online community-centered marine conservation projects that are effectively sharing the wonders of the ocean with millions each year around the world, raising a balanced awareness of the increasingly troubling and often very complex marine conservation issues that affect marine life and ourselves directly, providing support to marine conservation groups on the frontlines that are making real differences today, and the scientists, teachers and students involved in the marine life sciences.

Show your support with a monthly donation today.

With your support, most marine life and their ocean habitats can be protected, if not restored to their former natural levels of biodiversity. We sincerely thank our thousands of members, donors and sponsors, who have decided to get involved and support the MarineBio Conservation Society.