Dolphin symbolism and meanings include help, guidance, intelligence, fun, joyfulness, freedom, and other special qualities.
Dolphins live in every ocean on Earth as well as some rivers. So, they are subjects in the mythology and folklore of coastal peoples around the world. In addition, some believe that dolphins have metaphysical powers. So, the dolphin spirit animal is an important figure to those who feel a strong kinship with these special animals.
In this post, we’ll take a deep dive into dolphin meaning and symbols, including dolphin spiritual meanings, dolphin mythology, and more.
Just a note before we begin: In this post, I’ve included porpoises with dolphins, referring to them collectively as dolphins. Porpoises are part of the dolphin family, however they are slightly different. One of the main differences between the two is that dolphins tend to have elongated beaks while porpoises have more rounded faces and smaller mouths.1 However, the two share similar symbolic meanings, and in historical mythology it’s sometimes hard to determine if stories are referring to dolphins or porpoises specifically.
What does the dolphin symbolize?
- Help and Guidance
- Psychic Abilities
Dolphin Meaning: Help and Guidance
There are numerous documented stories about dolphins helping people at sea. For example, in one story, a group of marine biologists had been studying the behavior of a pod of bottlenose dolphins off the coast of Los Angeles, California. Their work usually occurred near the coastline, where the pod would feed. The researchers followed the pod in their boats, taking photos and videos and documenting their behavior.
One day, as they followed the pod along the coastline, one of the dolphins took an abrupt turn and headed quickly out to sea. The rest of the pod then followed. So, the researchers followed them. As they got further out to sea, the researchers saw the dolphins circle a dark object in the water. As the biologists got closer, they realized it was a young woman.
Getting closer, they saw she was in distress, so they pulled her from the ocean into their boat. She was alive but was hypothermic. One of the researchers noticed she had a passport and a piece of paper in a ziplock bag tied around her neck. After getting her to shore and to the emergency room, they learned she had attempted suicide. The dolphins and the researchers saved her life.2
This is just one of many awe-inspiring stories of dolphins intervening to save people. Other stories involve dolphins preventing shark attacks.
In ancient cultures, which you can read more about below, people saw dolphins as guides and helpers. In fact, there are many legends about dolphins guiding off-course boats to shore.
For the Polynesians, sharks were also seen as guides. However, as I explain later in this post, some historians believe that the ancient Polynesians may have believed that dolphins and sharks were the same animals. Thus, what they thought were sharks guiding people were actually dolphins.
When you need guidance…
The dolphin spirit animal is a powerful totem for when you feel you need some extra help and guidance in your life. If you don’t have all of the answers, know there is help. Meditate or pray and simply ask. There are powers in the Universe that we don’t always understand. Never give up hope that help is on the way.
Like other cetaceans, dolphins possess complex communication systems. They use sonar, or echolocation, to emit low and high-pitched frequencies to better understand their environment. They also communicate with each other through clicking and whistle sounds that are unique to each dolphin. In addition, they use body language to express themselves.3
If a dolphin has made themselves known to you, whether in real life, art, or the media, it can be a sign that you need to tune in more to subtle messages and forms of communication. Signs are everywhere.
The dolphin spirit animal embodies the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” People may be saying one thing to you, but if their behavior isn’t in line with their words – beware.
The dolphin is also a reminder of the importance of communication skills. If you are finding that people are not reacting well to how you express yourself, it may be a sign that you need to work on your delivery. Then your intentions will be in line with how things are perceived by the other person.
Scientists consider dolphins to be among the most intelligent animals.4 For one, they have large brains, second only to ours by body size. Like crows and gorillas, they also use tools, such as using sharp pieces of coral to dig.
In addition, dolphins demonstrate complex social interactions, such as mourning the deaths of family members, just as elephants do. Plus, they exhibit complex playful behavior, such as mimicking and teasing.
The dolphin reminds you of the gift of your intellect. In many ways, your mind is like a muscle. When you nourish it and challenge it, it can become stronger. Commit yourself to life-long learning. There’s a great big world out there, waiting to be discovered, even if only from a book.
Fun and Joyfulness
Riding waves with surfers, swimming alongside boats, and doing stunning acrobatics above the ocean’s surface – it’s clear that dolphins like to have a good time.
The spirit of the dolphin may be asking you: Are you having enough fun? Are your frolicking in the waves enough and chattering with your pals? It might be time to take up sailing. Or at least take a ride in a canoe. After all, life is not all about being serious and getting ahead. There is joy and fun for the taking!
Dolphin Symbolism: Freedom
Dolphins are known to travel 80 miles per day and to dive to 150 feet.5 Clearly, they love to be on the move. For this reason, dolphins are also symbols of freedom. It should also be noted that dolphins are polygamous, meaning they have more than one mate. So, they like their freedom in relationships too.
This doesn’t mean that if you see a dolphin you should go out and have an affair! But it can be a sign that if you’re single, it’s ok to play the field until you find your soulmate. It can also mean that if you’re in a committed relationship, you and your partner may need to give each other more room in your relationship to grow and explore new interests, even if they are not shared.
Seeing a dolphin can also be a reminder that you are freer than you might realize. As we go about our days keeping our lives managed, sometimes it can feel like we’re trapped in our responsibilities. The dolphin spirit animal reminds you that while it’s important to manage your life, it’s equally important to get out, travel, and explore your community or the world. And you don’t have to do it alone.
While dolphins revel in their freedom, they also like to stick with their pods. They’re not independent animals in the way that hawks and foxes are. They love their dolphin buddies too much. Perhaps it’s time to plan a trip with a group of friends, your family, or to join a club of some kind that helps you to expand your horizons.
Dolphins are extremely social animals who rely heavily on their pod for survival and for emotional security and fun. If you’re feeling isolated in any way, the dolphin is a powerful totem to help you find your own pod. As mentioned above, this could be in the form of a club of some kind where you can relax with like-minded individuals who also stimulate you.
The dolphin spirit reminds you to look for opportunities for collaboration based around shared goals, values, and interests.
All life on Earth originated in the water, yet some creatures evolved to walk on land. Of those animals, a few species, including marine mammals, such as otters and manatees, as well as reptiles like turtles, chose to return to the water.
Thus, these special animals are symbols of evolution and transformation.
As a symbol of transformation, the dolphin spirit guide reminds you that you have the power to transform your life and to be joyful in the process. No matter how deep you dive, you can propel yourself out of the depths and into the sunshine.
As Lao Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” The dolphin spirit animal reminds you to visualize what you want and where you want to go in life. Then, break that journey into small, achievable goals. The ultimate goal may seem daunting, but when you achieve each small goal, your confidence will grow. Your subconscious will register that success and begin to believe that the ultimate is possible.
Psychics who are in-tune with animals, including Ainslie MacLeod, say that cetaceans, which are in the order of marine mammals that includes whales, dolphins, and porpoises, have psychic abilities. This could be why dolphins tune into humans and endeavor to help them. (It could also be that they are simply protective by nature, as they demonstrate altruistic behavior with their own species.)
In essence, having psychic abilities means you are more tuned in to things happening in the Universe, which may not be readily apparent by other people.
The fact that dolphins use echolocation is an example of how they have a sensitivity to something that humans do not. In the same way, animals, such as eagles and wolves can see, hear, and smell things that we cannot.
Dolphins also symbolize the ability to move between the natural and supernatural worlds. They can dive deeply into the sea, then speed up to the surface and hurl themselves out of that water in spectacular fashion. Symbolically, land represents the material world and your logic-driven left brain. While water represents the supernatural world, your subconscious, and the emotional right brain.
The dolphin reminds you to tune into your intuition. We all have this capability. Finding stillness through prayer or meditation and being in nature can help to fine-tune your intuitive abilities. Dolphins tell us there is much more about the Universe that we do not know, and it’s waiting to be explored.
Dolphin Mythology and Folklore
Dolphins can be found in every ocean on Earth. Thus they are subjects in the mythology and folklore of coastal peoples around the world. Here are some of those stories:
Dolphin Symbolism in Polynesia
The Polynesians have many legends about sharks. However, some historians believe that these legends also included dolphins.6 After all, from an untrained eye, dolphins and sharks can resemble each other, especially from the ocean’s surface as both have dorsal fins. Furthermore, the behavior of the “sharks” in many of these legends more closely resembles that of dolphins.
Here’s one legend, which I wrote about in my post about the shark spirit animal. I’ve taken the liberty to change “shark” to “dolphin” for this story. If you’re not already familiar with this story, you’ll see why at the end.
Ina and the Dolphin
Ina was a beautiful maiden who fell in love with Tinirau, the god of the ocean. Tinirau lived on a remote island and asked Ina to visit him. A dolphin came to the shore and told Ina that he would take her to the island. So, Ina climbed on his back, carrying some coconuts with her in case she got hungry during the voyage.
Halfway through the voyage, Ina did get hungry, so she banged the coconut on the dolphin’s head to crack it open. Upset, the dolphin shook her off his back. He was about to devour her, when Tekea, the king of all dolphins, rescued her and carried her the rest of the way to Tinirau’s island. To this day, all dolphins have dents in their heads because of Ina’s coconut.
Hawaiian Dolphin Mythology
In Hawaiian culture, the dolphin is associated with the god Kanaloa, who rules and protects the sea. According to Hawaiian legends, Kanaloa travels with the creator deity Kāne to find fresh water for the People. He is also a protector of sailors and a shapeshifter. Some of the creatures whom Kanaloa embodies include the whale, the albatross, and of course, the dolphin.
Māori Dolphin Mythology
For the Māori People and the Ngāti Wai of New Zealand, dolphins are viewed as water spirits. The Māori tell tales of dolphins intervening to help people. And the Ngāti Wai view them as communicators who can bring messages to people on the mainland.
The Māori associate dolphins with the water spirits they call taniwha. While taniwha are described as more closely resembling terrifying dragons or sea monsters, some are benevolent and serve as guides. Historians believe the helpful taniwha were inspired by dolphins.7
Tuhirangi and Kupe
In one Māori story, the legendary Polynesian explorer Kupe asks Tuhirangi, a friendly taniwha, to help him. At Kupe’s request, Tuhirangi guides canoes and other boats through the dangerous waters in the Marlborough Sounds, which are located at the northern end of the South Island of New Zealand.8
Hinepoupou and Kahurangi
In another story, a woman named Hinepoupou is abandoned on an island by her husband and his brother. Becoming lonely, she decides to brave the waters and swim across the Cook Strait, the body of water between the North and South Islands of New Zealand. During her perilous swim, a dolphin named Kahurangi serves as her guardian and ensures she makes it safely to the other shore.9
Dolphin Symbolism in South America
Along the Amazon River, there are many legends about the pink Amazon River dolphin. For the Indigenous Peoples who live along the river, the pink river dolphin is sacred. In fact, they believe that killing one can bring bad luck.10
In Amazonian tales, the river dolphin is viewed as a shapeshifter who transforms from dolphin to human and back. He is known to turn into an elegantly dressed man who comes to shore, charms women, and gets them pregnant.
In other stories, the pink river dolphin charms children and brings them to an enchanted world under the water, from which they never return.
Guardian of the Manatee
The pink river dolphin is not all bad in Amazonian stories. They are also seen as guardians of the manatee. According to local legends, if you would like to see a manatee, you must first make peace with the river dolphin.
Dolphin Meaning in Greek Mythology
As regular seafarers, the ancient Greeks had many stories about dolphins.
Apollo, the Dolphin
In Homer’s Hymn to Apollo, the god disguises himself as a dolphin, jumps aboard a Cretan merchant ship, and steals it. He then makes the ship’s crew serve to become his priests in his temple at Delphi at the base of Mount Parnassus.
Both Apollo and the goddess Aphrodite were associated with dolphins. In fact, the dolphin symbolized romance in ancient Greece. Thus, Aphrodite was often depicted in the presence of dolphins. Furthermore, Apollo was the god of music. So, the Greeks believed that he could charm dolphins with his beautiful music and singing.
Arion and the Dolphins
In another Greek myth, a young man named Arion was a talented lyre-player who was hired by the King of Corinth to play. Because the people loved his music so much, Arion soon became famous and wealthy. With his earnings, he decided to take a pleasure cruise in the Mediterranean.
When the ship’s crew realized how much money Arion had, they conspired to steal it. They captured him and told him he had two choices: kill himself or be thrown into the sea. Arion begged the crew to let him play one more song before he had to make this fateful decision. Knowing how well he played, the crew relented and allowed him to play one more song.
After he played his song, Arion jumped into the sea. Of course, a pod of music-loving dolphins who had been lured to the ship by Arion’s beautiful playing. They rescued him and took him safely to shore.11
Dionysus and the Dolphins
In another myth, a group of pirates saw the god Dionysus and mistook him for a prince. So, they decided to capture him and hold him for ransom. Dionysus became enraged at being held captive, so he turned the ship’s oars into serpents. Terrified, the pirates jumped into the sea. However, they apologized profusely for their mistake and begged for mercy. Taking pity on them, Dionysus turned them into dolphins.12
Dolphins, Poseidon, and the Constellation Delphinus
Dolphins were also considered to be messengers for Poseidon, the god of the sea. In one story, Poseidon was obsessed with a nymph named Amphitrite. So, he sent a dolphin to find her, which the dolphin did. To reward him, Poseidon turned him into the beautiful constellation Delphinus, which means dolphin in Latin.13
Dolphin Spirit Animal
With their joyful spirits, dolphins are beloved by people around the world. Throughout the ages, dolphins have been seen as especially helpful spirit guides. When the dolphin is one of your spirit animals, you have been blessed with a special guardian.
As I wrote about in my overview post about spirit animals, according to Native American traditions, your spirit animals select you. And often occurs during a profound experience, such as a vision quest, a vivid dream, or another powerful experience that affects the course of your life. In addition, your spirit animal may be an animal with whom you feel an inexplicable kinship, something you may have felt your whole life.
In other cases, an animal might cross your path or rivet your attention in a way that inspires you to learn more about them.
If a dolphin makes themselves known to you in a way that captivates your attention – take notice. There are no coincidences.
You may be lucky enough to experience dolphins in the wild while at the beach, while paddle boarding or surfing, or from a boat. But please don’t support organizations that keep them captive, like SeaWorld or petting zoos. Dolphins are wild animals who deserve to live freely in their natural habitats.
Regardless of how the dolphin comes to you, if these special beings capture your attention, by all means, learn as much as you can about them. They can expand your awareness about life on Earth, why you’re here, and even your purpose in this lifetime.
Dolphin Power Animal
As the name implies, a power animal can empower you with their most dynamic traits.
So, if you want to transform an area of your life, consider the attributes that the power animal represents. For example, you can meditate on the dolphin power animal when you:
- Want to hone your psychic abilities and sharpen your intuition.
- Would like more support from others and the opportunity to connect with like-minded souls.
- Hope to transform an area of your life.
- Need more fun and joy in your life.
- Are going through changes in your life and need guidance. Ask for answers from your higher power knowing that your angels and dolphins are part of divine creation.
Dolphin Totem Animal
An animal totem embodies the protective powers of the animal it represents. Thus, the dolphin totem serves as a helpful symbol for personal transformation and honing in on your psychic abilities. The dolphin totem is also a helpful symbol for finding the guidance you need in a particular situation and for making intelligent decisions. In addition, the dolphin totem serves as a reminder to always look for the joy and fun in life.
Dolphin Dream Meaning
What does it mean if you dream of a dolphin or dolphins? Dreams can mean a variety of things. For one, they can be the result of fears or anxieties about issues that we need to address in our conscious, wakeful state. Or they can be our brain’s way of imagining pleasant experiences.
In addition, your dreams can be messages from your spirit guides or other information that you pick up metaphysically. Because dolphins, along with other cetaceans, are known to be psychic, dolphin dreams especially can be your super-conscious making a connection with a dolphin, dolphin spirit, or a spirit guide.
Dream meanings are personal to the dreamer. There is not one cut and dry answer to what a dream about a dolphin means. However, understanding these animals better as well as what they symbolize in the collective consciousness may provide insights into what your dream is telling you. In addition, it’s important to analyze the emotions you felt in your dream, as our emotions are our subconscious’ way of providing insights on what we should act on in our wakeful state.
Dolphin Tattoo Meaning
A dolphin tattoo is a positive symbol of joy, freedom, and transformation. While it sends the message that you feel a special kinship with these fun-loving marine mammals, it can also mean much more. For example, it can mean you feel a psychic connection to dolphins or that you believe in protecting their natural habitat.
Of course, tattoo meanings are deeply personal to the individual who has the tattoo. But hopefully understanding more about dolphin symbols and mythology can bring even deeper meaning to your tattoo.
How You Can Help Dolphins
There are 49 species of dolphins and porpoises in the world.14 These include 38 species of oceanic dolphins (which includes orcas, who are considered dolphins; not whales), seven species of porpoises, and four species of river dolphins. Some species of dolphins are endangered, including the Yangtze River dolphin, the Ganges River dolphin, the Maui dolphin, and the short-beaked common dolphin.15
However, today all dolphins face threats. These threats include being hunted for their meat, getting caught in commercial fishing nets, disruptions to their habitats from global warming and dams in riverways, as well as being captured for human entertainment. If you care about dolphins, please do what you can to protect them. Here are some organizations that work to protect dolphins and other cetaceans:
- Sea Shepherd
- The Dolphin Project
- American Cetacean Society
- Ocean Conservancy
- Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project