Thai National Parks

Mammals of Thailand

Species of Thailand

Risso's dolphin

Binomial name: Grampus griseus, Georges-Frédéric Cuvier, 1812

Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus) is the only species of dolphin in the genus Grampus. It is commonly known as the Monk dolphin among Taiwanese fishermen. Some of the closest related species to these dolphins include: pilot whales (Globicephala spp.), pygmy killer whales (Feresa attenuata), melon-headed whales (Peponocephala electra), and false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens).


Risso's dolphin is named after Antoine Risso, whose description formed the basis of the first public description of the animal, by Georges Cuvier, in 1812. Another common name for the Risso's dolphin is grampus (also the species' genus), although this common name was more often used for the orca. The etymology of the word "grampus" is unclear. It may be an agglomeration of the Latin grandis piscis or French grand poisson, both meaning big fish. The specific epithet griseus refers to the mottled (almost scarred) grey colour of its body.


Risso's dolphin has a relatively large anterior body and dorsal fin, while the posterior tapers to a relatively narrow tail. The bulbous head has a vertical crease in front.

Infants are dorsally grey to brown and ventrally cream-colored, with a white anchor-shaped area between the pectorals and around the mouth. In older calves, the nonwhite areas darken to nearly black, and then lighten (except for the always dark dorsal fin). Linear scars mostly from social interaction eventually cover the bulk of the body; scarring is a common feature in toothed whales, but Risso's dolphin tend to be unusually heavily scarred. Older individuals appear mostly white. Most individuals have two to seven pairs of teeth, all in the lower jaw.

Length is typically 10 m, although specimens may reach 13.12 m. Like most dolphins, males are typically slightly larger than females. This species weighs 300 - 500 kg, making it the largest species called "dolphin".

Range and habitat

They are found worldwide in temperate and tropical waters, usually in deeper waters rather, but close to land. As well as the tropical parts of the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, they are also found in the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean and Red Seas, but not the Black Sea (a stranding was recorded in the Sea of Marmara in 2012). They range as far north as the Gulf of Alaska and southern Greenland and as far south as Tierra del Fuego.

Their preferred environment is just off the continental shelf on steep banks, with water depths varying from 400 - 1000 m and water temperatures at least 10 C F and preferably 15 - 20 C F.

The population around the continental shelf of the United States is estimated to be in excess of 60, 000. In the Pacific, a census recorded 175, 000 individuals in eastern tropical waters and 85, 000 in the west. No global estimate exists.


They feed almost exclusively on neritic and oceanic squid, mostly nocturnally. Predation does not appear significant. Mass strandings are infrequent. Analysis carried out on the stomach contents of stranded specimens in Scotland showed that the most important species preyed on in Scottish waters is the curled octopus.

A population is found off Santa Catalina Island where they coexist with pilot whales to feed on the squid population. Although these species have not been seen to interact with each other, they take advantage of the commercial squid fishing that takes place at night. They have been seen by fishermen to feed around their boats. They also travel with other cetaceans. They harass and surf the bow waves of gray whales, as well as ocean swells.

Risso's dolphins have a stratified social organisation. These dolphins typically travel in groups of between 10 and 51, but can sometimes form "super-pods" reaching up to a few thousand individuals. Smaller, stable subgroups exist within larger groups. These groups tend to be similar in age or sex. Risso's experience fidelity towards their groups. Long-term bonds are seen to correlate with adult males. Younger individuals experience less fidelity and can leave and join groups. Mothers show a high fidelity towards a group of mother and calves. But, it is unclear whether or not these females stay together after their calves leave or remain in their natal pods.

Social behavior

Risso’s dolphins do not require cutting teeth to process their cephalopod prey, which has allowed the species to evolve teeth as display weapons in mating conflicts.


Gestation requires an estimated 13–14 months, at intervals of 2.4 years. Calving reaches seasonal peaks in the winter in the eastern Pacific and in the summer and fall in the western Pacific. Females mature sexually at ages 8–10, and males at age 10–12. The oldest specimen reached 39.6 years.

Risso's dolphins have successfully been taken into captivity in Japan and the United States, although not with the regularity of bottlenose dolphins or orcas. Hybrid Risso's-bottlenose dolphins have been bred in captivity.

Human interactions

Like other dolphins and marine animals, there have been documentations of these dolphins getting caught in seine-nets and gillnets across the globe. Many of these incidents have resulted in death. Small whaling operations have also been cause of some of these deaths. Pollution has also affected many individuals who have ingested plastic. Samples from these animals shows contamination within their tissue.

In Ireland, though not apparently in England, Risso's Dolphin was one of the royal fish which by virtue of the royal prerogative were the exclusive property of the English Crown.


The Risso's dolphin populations of the North, Baltic, and Mediterranean Seas are listed on Appendix II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), since they have an unfavourable conservation status or would benefit significantly from international co-operation organised by tailored agreements.

In addition, Risso's dolphin is covered by the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas (ASCOBANS), the Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area (ACCOBAMS), the Memorandum of Understanding for the Conservation of Cetaceans and Their Habitats in the Pacific Islands Region (Pacific Cetaceans MoU) and the Memorandum of Understanding Concerning the Conservation of the Manatee and Small Cetaceans of Western Africa and Macaronesia (Western African Aquatic Mammals MoU).

Risso's dolphins are protected in the United States under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1992. Currently, Japan, Indonesia, the Solomon Islands, and The Lesser Antilles hunt Risso's dolphins.


At least one case report of strandings in Japan's Goto Islands has been associated with parasitic neuropathy of the eighth cranial nerve by a trematode in the genus Nasitrema. There was a recent reporting of a juvenile male Risso's dolphin that was stranded alive on the coast of Gran Canaria on April 26, 2019. This was the first documented case of capture myopathy and stress cardiomyopathy in a male juvenile Risso's dolphin that has received rehabilitation.

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Scientific classification

Grampus griseus

Common names

  • English:
    • Grey dolphin
    • Risso's dolphin
  • Spanish:
    • Calderón gris
    • Delfín de risso
    • Fabo calderón
  • French:
    • Dauphin de risso
    • Grampus

Conservation status

Least Concern (IUCN3.1)

Least Concern (IUCN3.1)

Range Map