Informed conservation management of marine mammals requires an understanding of population size and habitat preferences. In Australia, such data are needed for the assessment and mitigation of anthropogenic impacts, including fisheries interactions, coastal zone developments, oil and gas exploration and mining activities. Here, we present large-scale estimates of abundance, density and habitat preferences of southern Australian bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) over an area of 42,438km2 within two gulfs of South Australia. Using double-observer platform aerial surveys over four strata and mark-recapture distance sampling analyses, we estimated 3,493 (CV = 0.21; 95%CI = 2,327-5,244) dolphins in summer/autumn, and 3,213 (CV = 0.20; 95%CI = 2,151-4,801) in winter/spring of 2011. Bottlenose dolphin abundance and density was higher in gulf waters across both seasons (0.09-0.24 dolphins/km2) compared to adjacent shelf waters (0.004–0.04 dolphins/km2). The high densities of bottlenose dolphins in the two gulfs highlight the importance of these gulfs as a habitat for the species. Habitat modelling associated bottlenose dolphins with shallow waters, flat seafloor topography, and higher sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in summer/autumn and lower SSTs in winter/spring. Spatial predictions showed high dolphin densities in northern and coastal gulf sections. Distributional data should inform management strategies, marine park planning and environmental assessments of potential anthropogenic threats to this protected species.