Growing Up Dolphin

Panama City Beach is home to one of the highest concentrations of wild bottlenose dolphin in the world. A large pod, consisting of mothers and their calves, several groups of adolescents and of course the protective males, can be seen playing and hunting in the crystal clear waters of the Gulf. Most people agree that the highlight of their vacation is seeing these amazing animals in their natural habitat in the shallow waters off Shell Island. Here are some interesting facts about bottlenose dolphin calves.

Pregnancy & Birth

A female dolphin is pregnant for a full year and generally gives birth every three years during their reproductive years. Though calves are born throughout the year, the birthing season peaks at different times throughout the world. Off the coast of South Africa, the highest birth rate occurs in summer. On the west coast of the United States, peak calving occurs in the fall, while on the east coast, pregnantparticularly Florida dolphin, it seems that most bottlenose dolphin give birth in the spring.

Like all mammals, bottlenose dolphin are born alive. After a labor that last only a few hours, calves are delivered tail-first. The umbilical cord is broken as the calf is delivered, usually with the help of an “auntie” dolphin who assists the calf to the surface for its first breath.


Baby bottlenose dolphin weigh 20 to 40 pounds and birth, and measure between 3 and 4 feet in length. Their skin tends to be darker than their mothers, with vertical, light lines on their sides, due to the way they were folded within the womb. These lines disappear within six months or so. Though their tail flukes and dorsal fin are soft and pliable to aid in the birthing process, they do become stiff within the first year.

Calves are fed milk produced by their mothers and nurse underwater. During the first week, when growth is at its peak, a calf can nurse up
calfto 4 times per hour for 10 seconds or so, day and night. (Talk about parent sleep deprivation!) Baby dolphin nurse for up to 18 months, until they are weened onto fish.

Calves remain with their mothers for several years, swimming very close to remain protected and to take advantage of the mother’s hydraulic wake. Staying within her “slip stream”, calves are able to swim at the speed of the pod.

Calves in the Wild

Seeing mothers with their calves is heartwarming. Like all parents, they protect and teach their young how to hunt, socialize, and play with other dolphins in the pod. There’s nothing like enjoying a dolphin tour in Panama City Beach to witness these amazing creatures in the wild. Give DOLPHIN EXPRESS a call, stop by our location at Lighthouse Marina, or use our convenient online feature to book your dolphin tour today and enjoy an adventure you’ll be talking about for years to come.