To assess the dolphin's capacity for color vision and determine the absorption maxima of the dolphin visual pigments, we have cloned and expressed the dolphin opsin genes. On the basis of sequence homology with other mammalian opsins, a dolphin rod and long-wavelength sensitive (LWS) cone opsin cDNAs were identified. Both dolphin opsin cDNAs were expressed in mammalian COS-7 cells. The resulting proteins were reconstituted with the chromophore 11-cis-retinal resulting in functional pigments with absorption maxima (lambdamax) of 488 and 524 nm for the rod and cone pigments respectively. These lambdamax values are considerably blue shifted compared to those of many terrestrial mammals. Although the dolphin possesses a gene homologous to other mammalian short-wavelength sensitive (SWS) opsins, it is not expressed in vivo and has accumulated a number of deletions, including a frame-shift mutation at nucleotide position 31. The dolphin therefore lacks the common dichromatic form of color vision typical of most terrestrial mammals.