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AKA: dolphin, mahi mahi, dorado

Description: The dolphin has bright turquoise, green and yellow patterns, which fade almost immediately upon death. Its body tapers sharply from head to tail and has irregular blue or golden blotches scattered over the sides. Dolphins have a single dark dorsal fin extending from just behind the head to the tail.

Size: Dolphins are common up to 50 pounds.

Sometimes confused with: pompano dolphin, bottlenose dolphin

Habitat: Dolphins are found in offshore warm waters and are attracted to Sargassum, a seaweed, which serves as a hiding place and source of food. As shallower Continental Shelfwaters warm in the summer, the fish move closer to shore, and are occasionally found within 10 miles of the coast.

Eating habits: Dolphins feed on food associated with Sargassum, such as small fish, crabs and shrimp. They may also pursue fast-swimming fish, such as flying fish or mackerels. Often man-made garbage is entangled in the floating Sargassum and is consumed by dolphins, which mistake the trash for food. Plastic wrappers, small light bulbs, rope and string have been removed from the stomachs of dolphins. Dolphins serve as an important forage species for many of the ocean’s predators, such as marlins and sharks.

Life cycle: Dolphins spawn off North Carolina in the Gulf Stream in June and July. They are a fast-growing fish with a short life span of about 6 years. The species matures at an early age, estimated as early as 3 months. Adult females are smaller than males.

Fishing tips: Sport fishermen catch dolphin by trolling artificial and natural baits from large boats. Bailing, another popular method, consists of keeping one live fish in the water to attract others to the boat and incite them into a frenzy.

N.C. Saltwater Fishing Tournament

Award for harvest of fish, 35 pounds or greater.

See the list of weigh stations


Persons engaged in recreational fishing in North Carolina coastal waters are required to possess a Coastal Recreational Fishing License in accordance with G.S. 113-174.2.

Current Proclamations

Recreational Size and Bag Limits

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