Dolphin symbolism and meanings appear in the legends and folklore of seafaring cultures around the world. Often, dolphins were imbued with metaphysical powers, as the dolphin spirit animal is common in many cultures.
Dolphins and porpoises exist for themselves. They are not here for us. But they have much to teach us. In this post, you’ll find dolphin mythology and other stories from ancient cultures, as well as details about what the dolphin spirit animal can mean in your own life.
Just a note, 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.
Here’s a list of common dolphin meanings:
Help and Guidance
Fun and Joyfulness
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 post about spirit animals, according to Native American tradition, your spirit animals select you. And often this is during a profound experience that affects the course of your life. The even could be during a vision quest, a dream, or another powerful experience. Or, in some cases, your spirit animal may also be an animal with whom you feel an unexplainable kinship, something you may have felt your entire 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 and expand your consciousness. If a dolphin makes himself or herself 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.)
You might experience dolphins in films, art, or the media. 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, about why you’re here, and even your purpose.
How do you know if the dolphin is your spirit animal?
If you’re wondering whether the dolphin is one of your spirit animals, consider the questions below. And as you read this post, you’ll learn more about dolphin meanings and symbols in cultures around the world, so it may become even more clear to you.
If you already feel that the dolphin is one of your power animals, you may learn some new things in this post that further guide you on your life path. And if you’re curious about other animals who might be your spirit guides, you can take the spirit animal test in UniGuide’s post about spirit animals.
Questions to consider:
- Were you especially interested in dolphins when you were a child?
- Has a dolphin or a pod of dolphins made themselves known to you in a way that riveted your attention?
- Is there a book, movie, or a piece of art that depicted dolphins that caught your attention and stuck with you?
- Has a dolphin or dolphins entered your dreams?
- Are you a naturally joyful person who doesn’t let the challenges of life get you down?
- Do you like to socialize and have a good time more than the average person?
If you answered yes to a majority of these questions, you may very well be a dolphin person!
Detailed Dolphin Symbolism and Meanings
Help and Guidance
There are numerous documented stories of dolphins helping people at sea. In one story, a group of marine biologists had been studying the behavior of 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 coast line, 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 see, the researchers saw the dolphins circle a dark object in the water. As they got closer, they realized it was a young women.
Getting closer, they saw she was in distress and pulled her from the ocean. She was alive, but hypothermic. One of the researchers noticed she had a passport and a piece of paper in a zip lock 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.
This is just one awe inspiring story of dolphins intervening to save people. Other stories involve dolphins intervening to prevent shark attacks.
In ancient cultures, which I write more about below, people also saw dolphins as guides who helped people, often guiding off-course boats to shore. For the Polynesians, sharks were also seen as guides. However, as I explain more about later in this post, some historians believe that the ancient Polynesians may have believed that dolphins and sharks were the same family if fish. 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 the answers, know there is help. Mediate 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.
If a dolphin has made themselves known to you, it can be a sign that you need to tune in to more subtle messages and forms of communication. Signs are everywhere. The dolphin spirit 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 you intentions can be in line with how things are received by the other person.
Scientists consider dolphins to be among the most intelligent animals. For one, they have large brains, second only to ours when compared to body size. Like crows and ravens, 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, as elephants do. And they exhibit complex playful behavior as well, such as mimicking and teasing.
The dolphin is your spirit animal reminds you of the gift of your intellect. In many ways, your mind if just 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 from a book.
Fun and Joyfulness
Surfing the 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 dolphin spirit asks 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 surfing! Or at least take a ride in a canoe. After all, life, relationships, and even work are not all about being serious and getting ahead. There is joy and fun for the taking!
Dolphins are known to travel 80 miles per day and to dive to 150 feet. Clearly, they love to be on the move. For this reason, dolphins are symbols of freedom. It should also be noted that dolphins are polygamous, meaning they have more than one mate.
Is the dolphin spirit telling you to go out and have an affair? Hardly! But if you are in a committed relationship, the dolphin can a sign that you and your partner need to give each other more room in your relationship to grow and explore new interests, even if they are not shared.
The dolphin spirit can also mean that you are more free than you realize. It’s easy to think that we are trapped in simply keeping life well-managed. The dolphin encourages to get out, travel, and explore your community – or the world.
However, while dolphins revel in their freedom, they also stick with their pods. They are not independent animals in the way that hawks and foxes are. Perhaps it’s time to plan a trip with a group of friends or 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 powerful totem to help you find your own pod. As mentioned above, this could 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.
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 have the power to 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 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 the order of marine mammals that include 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.
But 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 while they go about their day-to-day in the conscious minds.
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 the sea in spectacular fashion. Symbolically, land represents the material world and your logic-driven left brain. While water represents the supernatural world, your sub-conscious, 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 all help to fine-tune your intuitive abilities. Dolphins tell us there is so much more about the Universe that we do not know, and it’s waiting to be explored.
Dolphin Meanings in Cultures Around the World
Dolphins can be found in every ocean on Earth, thus they are the subjects of the mythology and folklore of coastal peoples around the world. Here are some stories of dolphin symbolism and meanings in some of these cultures.
Dolphin Symbolism in Polynesia
The Polynesians have many legends about sharks. However, some historians believe that these legends also included dolphins. 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 legend more closely resemble 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 and, if you’re not familiar with this story already, 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.
Dolphins Meanings in the Māori Culture of New Zealand
For the Māori People, as well as 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 messengers 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 serpents, some are benevolent and serve as guides. Historians believe the helpful taniwha were inspired by dolphins.
Tuhirangi and Kupe
In one Māori legend, the legendary Polynesian explorer, Kupe asks Tuhirangi, a helpful taniwha, to help him. As 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.
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.
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, and killing one can bring bad luck.
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 legend, if you would like to see a manatee, you must first make peace with the river dolphin.
Dolphin Symbolism 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 and jumps aboard a Cretan merchant ship and steals it. He then makes the ship’s crew serve as his priests in his temple at Delphi, at the base of Mount Parnassus.
Both Apollo and the goddess Aphrodite were associated with dolphins, which symbolized romance in ancient Greece. Aphrodite is often depicted in the presence of dolphins. Apollo was also the god of music, and the ancient Greeks believed that dolphins could be charmed by beautiful music and harmonious singing.
Arion and the Dolphins
In another Greek myth, a young man named Arion is a talented lyre-player who is hired by the King of Corinth to play. Arion soon becomes famous and wealthy because people love his music. With his earnings, he decides to take a pleasure cruise in the Mediterranean.
When the ship’s crew realize how much money he has, they conspired to steal it. They capture Arion and tell him he has two choices: to kill himself of be thrown into the sea. Arion begs the crew to play one more song before he has to make this fateful decision. Knowing how well he plays, the crew relent and allow him to play one more song.
After he plays his son, Arion jumps quickly into the sea. Of course, a pod of music-loving dolphins who have been lured to the ship by Arion’s beautiful playing. They rescue him and take him safely to shore.
Dionysus and the Dolphins
In another myth, a group of pirates see the god Dionysus and mistake him for a prince. Thus, they decide to capture him and hold him for ransom. Dionysus becomes enraged at being held captive and turns the ship’s oars into serpents. Terrified, the pirates jump in to the sea. However, they apologize profusely for their mistake and beg for mercy. Taking pity on them, Dionysus turns them into dolphins.
Dolphins, Poseidon, and the Constellation Delphinus
Dolphins were also considered to be messengers for Poseidon, the god of the sea. Poseidon is obsessed with a nymph named Amphitrite, so he sends a dolphin to find her. The dolphin does find her, and to reward him, Poseidon turns him into the beautiful constellation Delphinus, which means dolphin in Latin.
Organizations that Protect Dolphins
There are 49 species of dolphins and porpoises in the world. These in 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.
However, all dolphins face threats today. These threats include being hunted for their meat, getting caught in commercial fishing nets, habitat disruptions 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 protect dolphins and other cetaceans: