Sightings of white-sided (Lagenorhynchus acutus) and common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) from survey vessels operating on the continental shelf of the northeastern United States were recorded during spring and fall of six years. Distributions of these sightings were compared with sea surface temperature and salinity, and bottom topography. The apparent geographic distributions of the two species are complementary, although there is a broad overlap. White-sided dolphins occurred primarily within the Gulf of Maine, but also on Georges Bank and in the mid-Atlantic region. Common dolphins were abundant within a broad band paralleling the continental slope (100–200 m depth contour) from latitude 35°N to the northeast peak of Georges Bank. Sightings of this species were distributed primarily along the edge of the continental shelf south of 40°N in spring and north of this latitude in fall. Few sightings of common dolphins occurred in the Gulf of Maine.
Although both species of dolphins were sighted more frequently in areas of high sea floor relief, white-sided dolphins occurred in areas where sea surface temperatures and salinities are low while common dolphins were sighted in warmer, more saline waters. However, these environmental conditions may be only secondarily influencing dolphin distribution. Seasonal variation in sea surface temperature and salinity, and local nutrient upwelling in areas of high sea floor relief may affect preferred prey abundances, which in turn may affect dolphin distribution.