How Long do Dolphins Live?

How Long do Dolphins Live?

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One of the questions that people often ask is, “How long do dolphins in marine mammal facilities live?” To answer that question, researchers in this study analyzed life expectancy and survival rates for all bottlenose dolphins in U.S. zoological facilities since 1974. They analyzed the data across several time periods to track historical trends, and also compared the data to previously published studies of wild dolphin populations.

The results showed that:

  • dolphin survival rates and life expectancies in U.S. zoological facilities have increased significantly over the past few decades;
  • specifically, their average life expectancy is now about 28 - 29 years; and
  • dolphins in U.S. zoos and aquariums today live as long or longer than dolphins in the wild.

In interpreting the results, it is important not to confuse life expectancy with life span. Life expectancy is the average number of years that animals in a population are expected to live, whereas life span is the maximum number of years that an animal in that population has lived. In humans, for example, the maximum life span so far is about 122 years, but the average life expectancy worldwide is about 72 years. Since maximum life span is not typical (by definition), life expectancy is a more useful measure to describe a population.


  • Jaakkola, K., & Willis, K. (2019). How long do dolphins live? Survival rates and life expectancies for bottlenose dolphins in zoological facilities vs. wild populations. Marine Mammal Science.

Affiliate Organizations: Dolphin Research Center, The Minnesota Zoo

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