Seems like when it comes to the ocean, one thing many people agree on is that Dolphins are so cool.
We thought we would expand on this and talk some about dolphins and why they are awesome.
Dolphins are highly intelligent marine mammals and are part of the family of toothed whales that includes orcas and pilot whales. They are found worldwide, mostly in shallow seas of the continental shelves, and are carnivores, mostly eating fish and squid. Dolphin coloration varies, but they are generally gray in color with darker backs than the rest of their bodies.
Did You Know? Like bats, dolphins use echolocation to navigate and hunt, bouncing high-pitched sounds off of objects, and listening for the echoes.
Dolphins are well known for their agility and playful behavior, making them a favorite of wildlife watchers. Many species will leap out of the water, spy-hop (rise vertically out of the water to view their surroundings) and follow ships, often synchronizing their movements with one another. Scientists believe that dolphins conserve energy by swimming alongside ships, a practice known as bow-riding.
Dolphins live in social groups of five to several hundred. 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. Dolphins will also follow seabirds, other whales and fishing boats to feed opportunistically on the fish they scare up or discard.
Facts about Dolphins
1. Nearly 40 species of dolphins swim the waters of the world. Most live in shallow areas of tropical and temperate oceans, and five species live in rivers.
2. Dolphins are carnivores. Fish, squid and crustaceans are included in their list of prey. A 260-pound dolphin eats about 33 pounds of fish a day.
3. Known for their playful behavior, dolphins are highly intelligent. They are as smart as apes, and the evolution of their larger brains is surprisingly like humans.
4. Dolphins are part of the family of whales that includes orcas and pilot whales. Killer whales are actually dolphins.
5. Dolphins are very social, living in groups that hunt and even play together. Large pods of dolphins can have 1,000 members or more.
6. Depending on the species, gestation takes nine to 17 months. After birth, dolphins are surprisingly maternal. They have been observed nestling and cuddling their young.
7. A dolphin calf nurses for up to two years. Calves stay with the mothers anywhere from three to eight years.
8. Dolphins have acute eyesight both in and out of the water. They hear frequencies 10 times the upper limit of adult humans. Their sense of touch is well-developed, but they have no sense of smell.
9. Dolphins have few natural enemies. Humans are their main threat. Pollution, fishing and hunting mean some dolphin species have an uncertain future. In 2006, the Yangtze River dolphin was named functionally extinct.
10. Because dolphins are mammals, they need to come to the surface of the water to breathe. Unlike land mammals that breathe and eat through their mouths, dolphins have separate holes for each task. Dolphins eat through their mouths and breathe through their blowholes. This prevents the dolphin from sucking up water into the lungs when hunting, reducing the risk of drowning.
Dolphin research has centered largely on the Bottlenose Dolphin with regard to dolphin cognition, communication, calf development, most appropriate methods of conservation and dolphin-assisted therapy. Communication in Bottlenose Dolphins appears to be extensive and complex. Scientists at the dolphin research center believe that as a group of dolphins finds a school of prey fish, they will increase their vocalizations to attract more dolphins to the area. This, they believe, achieves a two-fold benefit. Firstly, more animals increase the chances of rounding up the prey species efficiently. Secondly, increased numbers confer safety on the group should other large predators want to feed from the same prey source or on members of the group. Although conclusions drawn from dolphin research on captive animals have to be treated with caution there are a number of instances where studies on captive animals, under strictly controlled conditions, can yield valuable information on the physiology of diving, social behavior and sleep requirements and patterns. Participants in the long-term Sarasota Bay study of Bottlenose Dolphins have identified four types of social unit. A mother-calf pair, groups of sub adults of either sex, adult females with their calves and adult, sexually mature males. In this society, dubbed the fission-fusion society, there is considerable movement of individual animals and the way they interact is determined largely by the breeding biology of the different units.
Origin of Dolphins
It is generally believed that all marine mammals evolved from land-based ancestors around 50-60 million years ago. Of all the marine mammals the dolphins are among those most adapted to an aquatic way of life. All cetaceans were well diversified around 50 million years ago. It is widely accepted in scientific circles that both the baleen and toothed whales shared a common ancestor, now extinct. The closest living relatives of dolphins today are the even toed ungulates such as camels and cows with the humble hippopotamus being the closest living relative. The origin of dolphins and the origin of whales in general is the subject of much debate. Did they evolve from an ancient ungulate order or did they diverge along with the hippopotamus from another lesser known group of animal’s land-based ungulates?
Dolphins and Humans
If you’ve heard a story about dolphins rescuing a person at the ocean, you’re not the only one. For thousands of years, dolphins have interacted with humans in several ways that most animals do not. For example, what other animal helps fishers do their job? The intelligence of these cetaceans, highly developed and similar in some aspects to that of humans, places them in a position that no other species have.
A quick glance in the media shows a considerable amount of people who claims to have lived an incredible experience, in which a dolphin or a group of dolphins saves them from the danger that the sea involves, even without realizing it.
Dolphins show behaviors at times similar to that of humans. In the wild they usually help the sick pod mates, supporting them to reach the surface so they can breathe. Females are loving mothers devoted to their offspring while they feed on breast milk and even long time after weaning.
Reasons Sharks are afraid of Dolphins
Source: seaworld.com Dolphin Cove
Just like we check under our beds for monsters, sharks check for dolphins before nodding off. That’s right, the toughest kids on the undersea block swim in fear of dolphins. Here, we’ve compiled a splash of facts to tell you why.
Flexibility Gives Dolphins the Upper Fin. A combination of soft skin and flexible skeletal joints make it easier for dolphins to maneuver quickly in a fight against their cartilage-filled counterparts.
Tail of Two Species. The vertical plane of shark tails limits their upward and downward mobility while the horizontal plane of dolphin tails allows for great agility and directional change for quick attacks.
When You Mess with the Dolphin, You Get the Snout. Made of very strong and thick bone, dolphin snouts are biological battering rams. Dolphins will position themselves several yards under a shark and burst upwards jabbing their snout into the soft underbelly of the shark causing serious internal injuries.
More than Peas in a Pod. Sharks are solitary predators, whereas dolphins travel in groups called pods. Whenever a member of the group is in danger from a shark, the rest of the pod rushes in to defend their buddy. Dolphins have even been known to protect humans in danger of sharks.
Apex Prey. Orcas are the largest member of the dolphin family and have been known to hunt great white sharks when food is scarce.
Full-Time Orcas, Part-Time Shark Tamers. Proving a basic knowledge of shark biology. Orcas use their immensely strong tail fins to flip sharks on their back, rendering them immobile. After that, it’s a docile buffet for the Orcas.
Baby Dolphins and Big Consequences. Sharks have a taste for anything smaller than themselves, which includes vulnerable baby dolphins. When a shark chooses to attach a baby dolphin, they also choose to be attacked by a pod of angry dolphins.
You Can’t Spell Dolphin without PhD. Sharks vs dolphins is a classic battle of brawns vs brains. Dolphins’ biggest advantage over sharks’ strength is their intelligence. Using echolocation, Dolphins can quickly navigate through water to avoid or attack sharks.
Bite Me If You Can. Known to be stealthy hunters, sharks’ best chance to take down a dolphin is when it’s unaware or in a blind spot. However, if the first attempt is not successful, the dolphin can easily escape or regroup to combat the shark with the rest of the pod.
Faster Food. To compliment dolphins’ superior intelligence is their incredible speed. They can swim faster than most shark species making them an elusive meal not worth the chase.
Military Use of Dolphins
While the use of dogs in modern-day combat is well-known, and the bravery of the animals rightly lauded, considerably less is written about the use of dolphins.
But marine mammals play an important role in militaries across the world – and have done for many years.
Four countries are known to have had trained military dolphins – the United States, the Soviet Union/Russia, Iran and Ukraine.
The US Navy began working with bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions in 1960 to help with mine detection and the design of new submarines and underwater weapons.
Tests had been undertaken with more than 19 species of marine mammals, including some sharks and birds, to determine which would be most suited to the work that needed doing.
In the end, it was the dolphins’ highly-evolved biosonar, which made them helpful for finding underwater mines, and the sea lions’ impeccable underwater vision, which made them able to detect enemy swimmers, that saw them come out on top.
America, for its part, currently trains around 75 dolphins as well as sea lions under the US Navy Marine Mammal Program, based in San Diego, California. The US Navy spent $14 million in 2007 on marine mammal research and training programs.
Military dolphins continue to be used to locate underwater mines, as well as for object recovery and the rescue of lost naval swimmers.
Due to the secrecy surrounding the use of dolphins in the military, there’s also a number of rumors of different uses.
It’s been claimed military dolphins have been trained to lay underwater mines, locate enemy fighters, or even to seek and destroy submarines using kamikaze methods.
It’s even been speculated that dolphins have been used to carry poison darts and sonar jamming devices, with the potential for combat between different countries’ marine mammals also discussed.
The US Navy, for its part, denies having ever trained its marine mammals to injure humans or to carry weapons capable of destroying ships.
It is known, however, to have used them during both Gulf Wars, while sea lions were deployed to Bahrain in 2003 to support Operation Enduring Freedom after the September 11 attacks.
Training of dolphins follows much the same pattern as that of police and hunting dogs.
They’re trained to detect underwater mines and enemy swimmers and then report back to their handlers, who give them rewards such as fish on correct completion of a task.
A full-time staff of veterinarians, veterinarian technicians and highly-trained marine biologists care for the US Navy’s marine mammals, with doctors and staff on call around the clock in case the animals need care.
Dolphins and sea lions are kept healthy and fit for duty with routine physicals, with nutrition oversight and extensive data collection and management also used to keep them in good shape.
Why Dolphins are Awesome
They like Dogs
While some animals might consider our beloved canine companions to be clumsy, tail-wagging mounds of hair and drool (we are looking at you, cats), dogs really are like furry gatekeepers to the human heart. It’s no wonder then, after learning of the amazing camaraderie shared between a white labrador and a wild dolphin in Ireland, you just might start to look upon those majestic aquatic mammals as a friend of a friend.
They Invent Games to Play With Whales
In recent years off the coast of Hawaii, biologists have recorded several incidents of what appears to be wild humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins mutually engaging in playful roughhousing. This rare interspecies play consists of a game wherein the whale hoists the dolphin out of the water, sending the rider happily tumbling down its back. That’s right, dolphins have convinced whales to be their Slip ‘n Slide.
They’re Not Afraid to Ask For Help
Being smart is one thing, but it takes wisdom to know when to ask for help. While in the waters off the coast of Hawaii recently, a group of divers were approached by a wild dolphin that was having trouble swimming. As it turns out, the dolphin was tangled in fishing line was looking for a helping hand — and its persistence paid off. Incredibly, the entire incident of dolphin-human solidarity was captured on film.
They Help Rescue Other Species
Nautical lore is ripe with tales of dolphins helping humans in the high sea, though sometimes they’ll even go out of their way to help other aquatic species, too. When two pygmy sperm whales beached themselves in New Zealand a few years back, beachgoers did their best to usher them back out to sea, but to no avail. That’s when a bottlenose dolphin, known as Moko by locals, came to the rescue. Witnesses that after Moko communicated with beached whales, they “changed their attitude from being quite distressed to following the dolphin quite willingly and directly along the beach and straight out to sea.”
Even Sperm Whales Seem to Love Them
Sperm whales may not have a reputation as the friendliest of sea-faring mammals, but even they are couldn’t resist the company of a bottlenose dolphin in need. While on an expedition to the whales in the North Atlantic, researchers ran across one group that had apparently adopted a deformed dolphin into their pod. “It really looked like they had accepted the dolphin for whatever reason,” says biologist Alexander Wilson. “They were being very sociable.”
They Blow Bubble Rings
The development of the blowhole was an essential part of dolphin evolution, allowing the sea-faring mammals to quickly inhale and exhale air at ocean’s surface while keeping an eye out for predators and prey in the water below. Oh, and apparently, it’s really handy for blowing rings too.
They Work With Fishermen to Catch Fish
Along a stretch of coastline in Laguna, Brazil, local fishermen and dolphins have formed a partnership in the pursuit of a meal. Researchers, who published a study on this unique behavior, describe how the unlikely allies work as a team to wrangle fish: “Through highly synchronized behavior with humans, cooperative dolphins in Laguna drive mullet schools towards a line of fishermen and ‘signal,’ via stereotyped head slaps or tail slaps, when and where fishermen should throw their nets.”
They Look Out for Their Friends
While studying dolphins off the coast of South Korea, biologists were treated to a particularly moving scene of dolphin solidarity. One group of dolphins were observed coming to the aid of their sick or injured counterpart who was struggling to stay afloat. The dolphins formed a ‘raft’ of sorts with their bodies, propping up their pod-mate to keep her from drowning.
They Know How to Have a Good Time
While we might have a lot to learn about the intricacies of dolphin emotions, it seems pretty clear when they’re having a good time as they leap through the air with utmost precision or engage in artful displays of underwater acrobatics. Sure, humans and dolphins come from completely different worlds, but there’s nothing quite as unifying as the shared joy of being alive.
Next time you see a dolphin when at, in, or on the ocean, you may just want to let them know, “Hey, you are awesome!”