How To Identify Dolphinfish

The Mysterious Pompano Dolphin
    The pompano dolphin, Corypheana equiselis, is largely a mysterious fish to science and US fishermen alike. Very little is known about their life history. It has been largely overlooked by fisheries science. Little information is available on its growth rate or life span. They are known to be significantly smaller, seldom reaching nine pounds. The pompano’s body coloration tends to be more silver and blue but can exhibit a somewhat muted green/yellow color pattern. It is considered to be more of an open-ocean species than its larger cousin, the common dolphinfish. Pompano have been shown to be common in the waters around Bermuda. Fishermen in the Florida Straits have documented pompano dolphin occurring in the same school with common dolphinfish and even in mixed schools of common dolphin and blackfin tuna. 

    The species’ role within commercial and recreational fisheries is mainly based on reports from fishermen and not on any hard scientific data. Anecdotal reports from fishermen indicate that most specimens caught recreationally are in the 14 to 20 inch size range. The species appears to be more abundant in the Florida Straits than anywhere else in US territorial waters. It is has been documented as occurring off the North Carolina coast but has not been documented off South Carolina or Georgia. Recreational anglers in the Gulf of Mexico report pompano dolphin as being an important part of their dolphin fishery. However, no scientific data is available to substantiate this claim.

     Anglers who catch what they think is a pompano dolphin are asked to take a digital photograph of the fish, a broad side view clearly showing the dorsal and anal fin extended. Send the photo to the Dolphin Study at CSSLLC@bellsouth.net. By doing this, anglers can help science in documenting the occurrence of this species.

What is a pompano dolphin? At top is a female common dolphinfish with a male common dolphin in the middle and a female pompano dolphin at the bottom. These specimens were collected off North Carolina in June 2010. Note the blunt, vertical edge of the male’s head, compared to the sloping line of the female’s head. This characteristic can be used in both species to distinguish males.
Should you have any additional questions regarding dolphinfish identification,
contact the research program’s office.
Donald L. Hammond
Marine Fisheries Biologist
Cooperative Science Services, LLC
961 Anchor Rd.
Charleston, SC  29412-4902
(843) 795-7524
CSSLLC@bellsouth.net
® Copyright 2005-2011 Cooperative Science Services, LLC
Dolphin of the Western North Atlantic
  • Two species are known to occur in the North Atlantic Ocean, the common and the pompano dolphin.
  • Pompano are smaller, seldom reaching 30 inches in fork length and nine pounds in weight while the common dolphin can reach lengths in excess of 60 inches and 80 pounds.
  • Both species are known to occur in the same school.
  • Pompano dolphin are more oceanic in occurrence and are thought to be more common in the Gulf of Mexico and southeast Florida than along the rest of the U.S. East Coast.
  • It is unknown what portion of the annual U.S. dolphin harvest is pompano dolphin.
  • Little information is available on pompano dolphin in U.S. territorial waters.


Characteristic Common Dolphinfish Pompano Dolphin
(reference arrow) Corypheana hippurus Corypheana equiselis
 Rays in Dorsal Fin 55 to 65 Rays 48 to 55 Rays
 Supporting elements
 Greatest Body Depth
Occurs just behind the head Occurs at mid-body, in front of anal fin
 Pectoral Fin
Long – More than half of head length Short – Less than half of head length
 Anal Fin Shape
First three rays longer than remaining rays All rays same length, no longer lobe present, edge of fin straight
 Tongue Tooth Patch
Small and oval in shape Large and rectangular in shape
Dolphin Identification
(See photos below with reference arrows indicating characteristics.)
Body Characteristics
Common Dolphin
Pompano Dolphin
Fish weighing 15 pounds or more are 99 percent likely to be the common dolphinfish.
The typical pompano dolphin caught by anglers is 14 to 20 inches long.
This large bull pompano dolphin exhibits the more elongated,
deeply forked tail typical of the species.
Photo provided by Richard DeLizza.
First glances can be deceiving. This 15 pound fish taken off South Carolina initially appears to be a pompano dolphin but is actually a deformed common dolphinfish. Note the pointed lobe on the anal fin, the smaller, shallower forked tail and the relatively large pectoral fin. In spite of the body depth, these characteristics say this is a common dolphinfish.
Photo by J. Burgess.
Article by Donald Hammond, Cooperative Science Services, LLC,
961 Anchor Rd., Charleston, SC 29412,
Revised January 2011. All rights are reserved.
Made possible by a grant from the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation.