A dolphin laying on land in the sand
Dolphins can't live on land, they need to be in the water

Can Dolphins Survive on Land?

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  • Post category:Dolphins
  • Post last modified:5 February 2022
  • Reading time:8 mins read

Dolphins can’t survive on land because their bodies have evolved to live underwater. If they don’t stay in the water, they will die. Also, their limbs won’t support them when they go onto land, and their skin will become dehydrated and damaged from the sun. They also need the diet of fish and other sea creatures found in the water to survive.


Dolphins need a steady consumption of fish or other aquatic animals to survive. Most dolphins can consume food that weighs about one-third of their body weight. If dolphins started to live on dry land, it would be impossible for them to hunt and maintain this continuous food source. 


The limbs of a dolphin are not structured to live on dry land. Their limbs are only made up of dense fibrous connective tissue, and there are no bones or muscles to support any weight at all. Dolphins cannot hold their weight when they get stranded on land. 

Living in the water, dolphins do not need to worry about their weight as buoyancy helps them move around without much effort. But once they get on the land, gravity impacts them in the same way it affects all the other terrestrial animals.

How much does a dolphin weigh?

Depending on the dolphin species, they can weigh anywhere from 23 kg to 4,000 kg. Common Bottlenose weight 150 – 650 kg, Hector’s dolphin spices are roughly 50 kg. Orcas are the heaviest, up to 4,000 kg.

Do dolphins have limbs?

Dolphins have limbs. Dolphins’ limbs are found on either side of their body at the front called flippers. They have a tail of flukes on the back, and on top, they have a dorsal fin. These limbs are boneless and made out of dense fibrous connective tissue that does not have any muscle or cartilage.


Though they need air to breathe, dolphins are not classed as semi-aquatic animals. Unlike the hippos, these animals can live and survive on land and water. 

One of the other problems dolphins will face if they ever live on land or get accidentally stranded is dehydration. 

Like all other aquatic animals’ dolphins also need water in their surroundings to stay hydrated. Dolphin skin is impossible to manage the hydration requirements on dry land. 

This life-saving technique is often put in place when dolphins become accidentally stranded. Keeping them wet using the water nearby and soaking material to lay on them A dolphin could survive for several hours, even on dry land.

A stranded dolphin will always need help in returning to the water. Even though dolphins can breathe in the air, they do not have strong enough limbs to move around in the dry land to get them back to the water.

How long can a dolphin hold its breath?

A dolphin can hold its breath between eight to ten minutes at any time. After this time, a dolphin will need to resurface for oxygen. 


Another problem dolphins face if they start living on dry land is the heat. The dolphins need to stay in the water to survive. They need to keep their skin wet all the time. But when they come out of the water, their skin becomes extremely dry very quickly. In this situation, the dolphin’s skin will start to crack and burn within an hour if it stays under direct sunlight. This situation gets even more severe if the weather is hot.

Can dolphins suffocate on land?

Since the dolphins have lungs, they do not have difficulty breathing when out of water. As they do not have gills like fish, they must come up to the surface of the water to breathe.

Instead of suffocating the dolphins, most of the time, dolphins die on land due to dehydration and excessive heat. The bodies of the dolphin have evolved so that they can only function when they are living in the water.

The breathing process of the dolphins is voluntary. That means they can decide when to take a breath and when they need to hold.

While diving into the water, the dolphins hold their breath. On average, the dolphins can hold their breath for 8 to 10 minutes. A couple of dolphin species can hold their breath for more than 15 minutes. 

But it entirely depends on what activity they are doing. If the dolphins stay in the water for too long, there is a high chance of death due to suffocation. 

There are several pieces of evidence where the dolphins have died because they could not come up to the surface of the water for a fresh breath.


The breathing process of the dolphins is quite similar to that of a whale. That means the whales’ dolphins also have a blowhole located directly at the top of their heads. Using this blowhole, the dolphins exhale carbon dioxide and all the remaining air in their lungs and take a fresh breath of air full of oxygen. 

The exhaling process is quite powerful. Whenever a dolphin needs to take a breath, it comes to the surface of the water and reaches the surface. During that short period, it exhales through the blowhole before taking its next breath. 

The dolphins spray up water during this process, known as the Dolphin Spout. 

The characteristics of these spouts are different among various species of dolphins.

Why don’t dolphins have gills?

Dolphins are mammals that have evolved so that they can lead aquatic life. But as these animals are mammals, they do not have gills for breathing underwater.

How do dolphins keep water out of their blowhole?

After the dolphins take a breath, they seal the blowhole tightly using their strong muscles that surround it perfectly. This watertight stoppage makes sure that not a single drop of water gets into the lungs of a dolphin.

How To Help A Stranded Dolphin

If a dolphin is stranded, splash water on it to keep it cool and wet. Make sure not to put water in the blowhole. Put wet towels and t-shirts on the dolphin body and provide shade if possible. Do not cover any of its fins or tail with objects.

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Teresa Milne

Teresa is learning zoology and loves to share her knowledge through her articles. She has some pets that she adores two dogs, two cats, and one hamster. Teresa has also studied canine behaviour and canine nutrition.