How Long Do Dolphins Live?

When it comes to cetaceans estimating the life expectancy of 40 or so species of dolphin can be quite a challenge as there is no specific answer for all of the species.

Luckily there are some facts and estimates that have been acquired about certain dolphin species which can help bring clarity to this topic and provide some good assumptions to the average lifespan of these marine mammals.

At the end of this article we’ve also included a list with estimates for the life expectancy of several dolphin species.

The average life expectancy of a dolphin can determined by a number of varying factors such as the dolphins habitat, geography, diet (both what they eat and the amount of food available to them), level of endangerment (which can affect its ability to repopulate), health status, social structure (species that engage in a positive social culture may or may not live longer than dolphins that do not) and the dolphins species.

Female killer whales for example are extremely social and have been known to live for as many as 90 years, although the average life expectancy for a female killer whale is usually around 50 years.

Male killer whales may live to be 50 – 60 years old, but generally only live until around the age of 30.

When brought up in captivity and isolated from friends and family members the killer whales live expectancy dramatically declines and most killer whales usually don’t live past their 20’s.

As you can see a dolphins environment, social bonds and diet can play a huge role in determining how long they are likely to live.

Dolphins that live in captivity may have shorter lifespans than those in the wild, despite being in a protected environment and well cared for.

Factors such as diet (captive dolphins are often fed a strict diet that may not include the prey they normal consume or be prepared in a way they would normally consume it), a closed environment (being separated from the wide and open ocean) and a lack of a strong social structure (being separated from family and potential friends) may all contribute to the shorter lifespan of captive dolphins.

A dolphins species also plays a big role in determining how long a dolphin will live.

For example the Amazon river dolphin ( a freshwater dolphin) has a life expectancy of only 15 – 20 years while the Stripped dolphin may live to be 50 – 60 years.

While it is unclear whether or not their habitat is solely responsible for their lifespan we can assume that their lifespan may be partially based on their species.

Below is a list of the estimated life expectancies of several dolphin species

  • The Amazon river dolphin has a 15 – 20 year lifespan on average  although some river dolphins may live into their 30’s
  • The Baiji dolphin has a 20 – 25 year lifespan
  • The Dusky dolphin has a 20 – 25 year lifespan
  • Hector’s dolphin has a 15 – 20 year lifespan
  • The Chinese river dolphin has an average life span of 25 years
  • The Common bottlenose dolphin has a 20 – 50 year lifespan (20 – 30 year lifespan on average)
  • The Irrawaddy dolphin has a 25 – 30 year lifespan
  • Maui’s dolphin has a 20 year lifespan on average although some dolphins may live into their 30’s
  • The Killer whale has a 30 – 50 year lifespan (some killer whales have been estimated to live for over 90 years while captive killer whales have an average lifespan of 25 years or less)
  • The Striped dolphin has a 50 – 60 year lifespan
  • The Yangtze river dolphin has a 20 – 25 year lifespan