Are Mahi-Mahi Really A Type Of Dolphin?

Mahi-mahi, also known as dolphinfish, are a pretty common item found on restaurant menus throughout the U.S. Fishermen harvested more than 6.3 million pounds of mahi-mahi in 2020 in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico alone, according to NOAA Fisheries. The fish is also found in the Caribbean and in waters around Hawaii.

Unlike many fish whose numbers have been threatened by overharvesting and illegal fishing such as bluefin tuna, mahi-mahi populations are believed to be holding strong thanks to sustainable management practices and responsible harvesting. It's a mild-flavored fish with a sweet taste that has been compared to halibut and swordfish (per Food Network). You'll often see it prepared in tacos, sandwiches, and salads.

And because mahi-mahi is sustainably caught, you don't have to fret about ordering it while dining out or buying it from seafood markets or grocery stores. But what's up with that other name of dolphinfish? When we eat mahi-mahi are we really consuming a type of dolphin?

Mahi-mahi versus dolphins

Despite the name dolphinfish, mahi-mahi are completely unrelated to the marine mammal dolphins you might be picturing frolicking in pods at the beach or gliding playfully out of the water behind your boat. If you saw a mug shot of the two side-by-side, you would immediately detect major differences in their appearance.

Mahi-mahi are a vibrantly colored green, yellow, and blue compared to the dull gray hues of common bottlenose dolphins, and have a blunt face only a mother mahi-mahi could love. They are also fish and not mammals (via Florida Museum). Dolphins are warm-blooded and must ascend to the surface to breathe air through their lungs, while mahi-mahi breathe through gills. Additionally, dolphins give birth to live young whereas mahi-mahi, like other fish, lay eggs (per Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary).

Yet back when mahi-mahi was regularly referred to on restaurant menus by its English common name of dolphinfish or dolphin, it naturally caused some confusion and concern about whether that was a marine-protected mammal on one's plate. In fact, there are two types of dolphinfish, including mahi-mahi and the Pompano dolphinfish. Both are now marketed under the name mahi-mahi, a Polynesian word that translates to strong-strong (via Sciencing). So, rest assured that when you are eating mahi-mahi, you are not feasting on Flipper.