Dolphins are extraordinarily intelligent animals, one of the most interesting forms of aquatic life out there. And one of my favorite animals!
They are easy to recognize and you likely already know they are very smart. Yet there are plenty of great facts about them that you may not know. Let’s change that and explore 27 characteristics of dolphins and learn more about them!
Dolphins are not fish! They belong to a group of mammals referred to as cetaceans. Dolphins breathe air, give birth to live young, nurse their babies with milk, have hair at some point in their life and have a constant body temperature (are warm blooded).
Dolphins are highly intelligent. The evolution of their larger brains is surprisingly similar to humans.
Dolphins are carnivores (meat eaters!). Dolphins are known to eat a variety of food including, herring, cod, squid, plankton, and fish.
Bottlenose dolphins are the most common and well known species of dolphin.
The biggest dolphin is the Orca! Sometimes called as “killer whale”, it is in fact a member of the dolphin family. Pilot whales are also dolphins!
Dolphins are very social, living in groups that hunt and even play together. The bonds of dolphins in a pod are very intense. They have been observed carrying for the sick, the elderly, and those that have been injured with great care.
A group of dolphins is called a “pod” or a “school”. Large pods of dolphins can have 1,000 members or more.
Dolphins vary in size from 1.2 m (4 ft) and 40 kg (90 lb.) (the smallest dolphin species, Maui’s Dolphin), up to 9.5 m (30 ft) and 10 ton (9.8 long tons; 11 short tons) (the largest dolphin species, orca).
Female dolphins are called “cows”, males are called “bulls” and young dolphins are called “calves”.
There are almost 40 species of dolphin swimming the waters of the world. Most live in shallow areas of tropical and temperate oceans, and five species live in rivers.
Depending on the species, gestation takes 9 to 17 months. Typically dolphins give birth to a single calf, which is, unlike most other mammals, born tail first in most cases. The calf stays with its mother for 3-6 years, nursing for the first 12-18 months and learning to hunt once weaned.
The life span of a dolphin is up to 20 years old. The bottlenose dolphin can live over 40 years, and the orca can live to be 70 or 80! Dolphins that are kept in captivity die much earlier than those living in the wild.
Unlike most mammals, dolphins do not have hair, except for a few hairs around the tip of their rostrum (beak) which they lose shortly before or after birth. The only exception to this, is the Boto river dolphin, which has persistent small hairs on the rostrum.
Dolphins have acute eyesight both in and out of the water. They hear frequencies 10 times or more the upper limit of adult human hearing. Their sense of touch is well-developed, however, dolphins lack an olfactory nerve and lobes, and thus are believed to have no sense of smell.
Dolphins use echolocation to navigate and hunt, bouncing high-pitched sounds off of objects, and listening for the echoes. They use echolocation to find prey and often hunt together by surrounding a school of fish, trapping them and taking turns swimming through the school and catching fish. This is a natural version of radar!
Dolphins have to be conscious to decide when to breathe. To prevent drowning while sleeping only half of the dolphin’s brain goes to sleep while the other half remains awake so they can continue to breathe!
Dolphins haze approximately 250 teeth in there mouth. Bottlenose dolphins have 72-104 teeth. Dolphins use their teeth to catch their food and then they swallow it whole.
Despite the fact that they live underwater and can hold their breath for up to 7 minutes, dolphins must come to the surface to breathe air. A muscular flap covers their blowhole while underwater and opens to exhale once they reach the surface. Dolphins can exhale air at 160 km/hr (100 mph). When they inhale, they can exchange up to 80% of the contents of their lungs. Humans, by comparison, only exchange 17% of the air in their lungs when they breathe.
Dolphins use many sounds to communicate including clicks, whistles and squeaks. They have a “signature whistle” which allows other individuals to recognize them.
Dolphins can jump as high as 20 feet out of the water.
A dolphin may be able to dive up to 2,000 feet.
Dolphins can swim at a speed of up to 25 miles per hour for a long time. This is about 3 times faster than the fastest humans in the world.
Even though they are usually very mild tempered, dolphins can be aggressive.
The dorsal fin on every dolphin is very unique and it can be used to identify them from each other.
They have a fast healing process for their bodies even when they have deep wounds such as those that are the result of shark bites. Experts haven’t been able to determine how this is possible for dolphins when other mammals would hemorrhage.
The most endangered species of dolphin is the vaquita, which in Spanish means little cow, only found in a small area of the northern Gulf of California. The worldwide population is estimated to be between 100 and 500 individuals, but most likely around 125.
Unfortunately, the Yangtze River dolphin or Baji, was declared extinct in 2007.
And finally, an amazing behavior: dolphins naturally expel air bubbles as they exhale below the surface of the ocean, and they use the exhaled air to form bubbles, rings, or torus formations, which they can spin, split, merge and otherwise “play” with, either alone or in groups.