The small delphinid community (bottlenose Tursiops truncatus, common Delphinus delphis, and striped Stenella coeruleoalba dolphins) of the Bay of Biscay (100 000 km of continental shelf along the French Atlantic coast) has been studied here by combining striptransect aerial surveys conducted between 2001 and 2004 and ship-based surveys conducted between 2003 and 2006. Distribution was modelled spatially in relation to several large-scale descriptors of the environment. Highest densities of small delphinids were associated with the shelf break, in particular in two hotspots located in the north and the south of the bay. Using ship-based data, we found strong spatial segregation between common and bottlenose dolphins in spring, with common dolphins associated with coastal areas (and especially river plumes) and bottlenose dolphins on the outer shelf and the shelf break. Assuming a detection probability of 1, a strip-transect abundance estimate for the small delphinid community was obtained in August 2002 with 56 500 (95% CI 29 100–90 400), but relative abundance varied across months.