The Dolphin family (Delphinidae) has 36 species. The largest is the orca, or killer whale at 23 feet long and 4.5 tons. The smallest is the Heaviside’s dolphin, only 3 1/2 feet long and 88 pounds. Dolphin species range in color from white, pearl, and pink to darker shades of brown, gray, blue, and black. Their skin is very smooth.
Dolphins have an eye on each side of their head. They can see forward, sideways and even behind them. Their eyes move and react independently. Dolphin can see well underwater and in the air. They have a single blowhole on top of their heads, which has a flap that opens to reveal a pair of nostrils. They breathe by coming to the surface of the water. Dolphins have sharp, conical teeth in each side of their jaw.
Dolphin are found in all tropical and warm-temperate waters, in coastal waters, and in offshore waters. They often live in large herds called pods. They are very social animals.
Dolphins produce a variety of sounds: clicks, whistles, and burst-pulse sounds. Clicks are used for echolocation, the dolphin’s form of sonar. Dolphins swim at different speeds, depending on the species, but leap out of the water, to go even faster.
Some dolphin feed exclusively on either fish or cephalopods (squid, octopus and cuttlefish), while others have a more varied diet including fish, squid, crabs, shrimps, lobsters, rays and even shark. Of course, orcas eat even larger prey, such as seals and sea lions. All dolphin are carnivorous.
Fun Dolphin Facts
- Bottlenose dolphins are probably the best well know.
- Dolphin calves are born tail first and must swim to the surface of the water for air. The mother dolphin will help push her baby to the surface to get that first breath.
- The dolphin has an organ in the forehead used to direct sonar clicks called a melon. Their snout or nose is called a beak, though not all dolphins have pronounced beaks.
- In the eastern tropical Pacific the spotted dolphin swims with yellowfin tuna.
- The spinner dolphin spins on its tail in the air before splashing back into the water.
The Dolphin Institute
San Diego Zoo
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