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Dolphins: Our Kin of the Sea

Updated on July 7, 2016
Dolphins leaping above their water domain at sunset.
Dolphins leaping above their water domain at sunset. | Source

Author's Foreword

My first personal encounter with a dolphin was at the petting pool of Sea World, San Diego, California, in 1987. I had already read The Dolphins and Me by Donald C. Reed, and had watched nearly every episode of Flipper when the television series appeared on NBC in 1964.

When I attended Michigan State University in the fall of 1970, I considered Marine Biology as a goal for a course of study. Jacques Cousteau had influenced me with his documentaries aired through his The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau series.

Legends of dolphins rescuing swimmers and protecting them from sharks have always held a place in my heart. Now, here in the 21st century, there are still some people on the planet who are abusing these creatures through malicious killings, some for meat, others for sick pleasure.

This article is my tribute to the dolphin with the hope that all will come to recognize the true value of this wonderful creature.

"Diviner than a dolphin is nothing yet created."

--Oppian of Corycus (169 A.D.)

The frescoes at the Palace of Knossos (1700-1450 BCE).
The frescoes at the Palace of Knossos (1700-1450 BCE).

Dolphins Appear in History

The frescoes in the Palace of Knossos in Crete, Greece, depict dolphins, recording man's encounter with them as early as the 15th century.

Dolphins appear in earlier works of art and sculpture wherever the Greeks had influence, in Knossos, from Palestine and Mesopotamia in the east to Rome in the west, and later throughout the Roman Empire. Even in the rock city of Petra, miles from the sea and hidden in a cleft in the Jordanian desert, there is a carving of a dolphin.

It is from the writings of Ancient Greek poets that we get the tales of Apollo disguising himself as a dolphin, Dionysos turning repentant pirates into dolphins, Arion's and Paros' rescues by dolphins, and Aelian's story of a deep love of a dolphin for a boy.

In Christianity, a dolphin saved the life of Saint Martinian, the hermit who threw himself into the sea to avoid the temptations of a woman (400 AD).

Dolphin wearing a locating pinger while heading to clear mines.
Dolphin wearing a locating pinger while heading to clear mines. | Source

Dolphins in Military Maneuvers

The U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program (NMMP) trains bottle-nose dolphins and sea lions to help with ship and harbor protection, mine detection and clearance, and equipment recovery.

One team of dolphins is trained to detect and mark the location of tethered sea mines floating off the bottom, while others detect and mark the location of mines on the sea floor or buried in sediment. Dolphins can also swiftly identify mine-free corridors for the initial landing of troops ashore.

How this works is that a dolphin awaits a cue from its handler before starting to search a specific area echolocation. The dolphin reports back to its handler, giving particular responses that indicate whether a mine is detected. The handler then sends the dolphin to mark the location of the object by releasing a buoy, so it can be avoided by Navy vessels or neutralized by Navy divers.

Mine-clearance dolphins were deployed to the Persian Gulf during the Iraq War in 2003. Dolphins effectively detected more than 100 anti-ship mines and underwater booby traps.

Dolphins and sea lions can act as sentries to protect harbor installations and ships against unauthorized human swimmers. Dolphins performed this task during the Vietnam War (1965-1975) and in Bahrain (1986-88). When an enemy diver is detected by a dolphin, the dolphin approaches from behind and bumps a buoy-attached device onto the back of the diver's air tank. The buoy which then floats to the surface and alerts Navy personnel of the intruder. The animals possess superior underwater senses and swimming ability to successfully perform these military-related maneuvers.

The NMMP is scheduled to end in 2017 when robotics will replace the animals.

Typical Makeup of Pods

  • a male and female pair
  • females and their young
  • older and younger males

Social Habits of Dolphins


Dolphins live in pods, which may consist of two to hundreds of dolphins. The larger pods are called "herds" or "schools" and may have more than one species. The Spinner and Spotted dolphins are examples of this type of mixed-species grouping. The two types have different diets, so do not compete for food sources.

A Spinner Dolphin
A Spinner Dolphin | Source
A Spotted Dolphin
A Spotted Dolphin | Source

Dolphins are extremely social. Relationships, excluding male and female pairs, between dolphins are long lasting.

In their natural environment, they engage in group hunting. The pod also offers protection in numbers. Dolphins have been known to attack sharks and killing them by butting their hard nose into the creatures' gills.

When a pod meets another pod, the dolphins greet each other in a kind of ceremony.

Dolphin Intelligence

Dolphins are intelligent and enjoy engaging in play. Pod members in the open sea have been seen playing "catch," for example, by tossing seaweed back and forth to one another.

The following video demonstrates the dolphin's ability of self-recognition, something that only animals of higher intelligence do.

Dolphin Behavior: Self Recognition

Another video (below) shows the dolphin's ability to make choices. In other experiments by trainers and persons studying dolphins, our kin of the sea can also create new things and exhibit basic planning skills.

Dolphins' Ability to Choose with Echo Location

Dolphin Facts

  • The size of the dolphin brain, relative to its body, is second only to ours.
  • Gestation may take anywhere between 11-17 months, depending on the species.
  • Calves, the name for newborn dolphins, are generally born tail first.
  • Fish and squid are the principals of diet.
  • Orcas, also known as "killer whales," are part of the dolphin family.
  • Dolphins communicate by frequency modulated whistles, burst-pulsed sounds, and clicks.
  • Pod members assist when a dolphin is distressed, indicated by a special whistle.
  • Individual dolphins have signature whistles, a sound unique to each.

Hazards to Dolphins

  • purse seine, driftnets, gill-nets, and by-catch fishing methods that kill
  • potential entanglement in fishing gear
  • inhumane captivity
  • marine pollution resulting in habitat degradation
  • low frequency sonar
  • boat and ship traffic

Dolphin Advocacy

There are many organizations today that are active in the protection of dolphins and other sea mammals.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was founded in 1981 and is based in Oregon. Marine life protection is conducted in many cases by direct action. The ship "Sea Shepherd" has made over 200 voyages around the world in its efforts to protect marine life. Particular to dolphin advocacy, the organization has focused against the killing of dolphins in the Faeroe Islands and Japan.

Global Volunteer Network (GVN) has a Dolphin Conservation program along the coast of Kenya for researching the quality of marine life. Dolphins being studied include the bottle-nose, humpback, and spinner species. GVN is endorsed by Bill Gates.

The Oceanic Society has an Adopt-A-Dolphin program that keeps members informed with pictures and news of their chosen dolphin residing in the Bahamas. The Society is based in Ross, California, and does dolphin research and engages in marine ecology and conservation. A $40 membership supports their work.

The MarineBio Conservation Society is based in San Diego, California, and offers year-round learning programs. Informing the public about marine ecology and acting as a coordinator of many marine conservation groups, MarineBio provides listings of U.S. colleges and universities offering degrees in marine biology and oceanography.

Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project is part the Marine Mammal Project of Earth Island Institute, a non-profit organization founded in 1982. The primary aim of the project is to stop global dolphin slaughter and exploitation. Animal Planet's mini-series Blood Dolphin$ is a film production of this group.

Afterword

We have a close relationship to all the animals in our world. Dolphins are especially unique in their adaptation to the sea. Their brains function in ways scientists are barely beginning to understand.

When I visited Sea World in San Diego, the trainer entertained the audience with dolphin tricks. I found the animal's ability to recognize geometric symbols and correctly follow a swim path requested by the trainer truly remarkable. At one point, my elder daughter had even considered becoming a dolphin trainer herself. She enjoyed the playful antics of the dolphins that would come up close to her during her body board lessons at Redondo Beach, California.

I secretly dreamed about putting some lady synchronized swimmers together with dolphins for an incredible performance. After doing research for this article, that day-dream doesn't seem all that far-fetched.

Because of this mammal's intelligence, cooperation with man, and joyful nature, we need to pay more attention to its protection and marine environment.

This is the personal story of the author who cared for aquarium dolphins. The story of Vernestine giving still birth will bring a tear the to reader's eye. A heart-warming read.

Anyone who loves dolphins will delight in having art of the mammal. This collectible makes a great gift for that special dolphin-lover in your life.

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    • Bk42author profile image

      Brenda Thornlow 3 years ago from New York

      Thank you for posting. I love dolphins, I really enjoyed this. I love how how pod members assist when another dolphin is in distress and hear its call. The're so intelligent!

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Marie, Dolphins are amazing creatures, and this was a wonderful hub providing interesting facts and information. I used to love 'flipper' too. Voted up.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Marie, I have a new appreciation for the dolphin--brainy, social, organized etc . Thank you for highlighting their ability. Voted Up!

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Thank all of you for reading, commenting, and even voting on this hub. I feel that awareness and compassion for our animal kingdom is an important subject. We can't give dolphins a Purple Heart for their service, so the least we can do is stop killing them and clean their environment to ensure their health. Awareness and sensitivity are keys to our correct actions on their behalf. Blessings!

    • TurtleDog profile image

      TurtleDog 3 years ago

      Wow, no idea the navy used them. Very interesting article. Voted up

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

      Wow Marie what a brilliant hub .

      Loved it and vote up plus share.

      Here's to wishing you a great day.

      Eddy.

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      When reading THE DOLPHIN AND ME by Don C. Reed, I distinctly remember the passage about the mother dolphin's repeated action over and over to get her newborn calf to breathe. The calf was still born, but the mother refused to give up her useless effort--very touching. At the time, I was a new mother myself, so I connected directly with the dedication of the dolphin mother and my eyes welled with tears. I had to take a deep breath, several of them, before I could read further.

      God bless the dolphins!

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      This was very informative Marie. I already knew about them being intelligent and killed by tuna fisherman but besides that, I learned a lot more from this Hub.

      I also used to watch 'Flipper' years ago and I still would since it is back only I am busy at the time.

      When I read about the Military Maneuvers, I wondered whether the dolphins take chances of dying - or are they safe due to echolocation? I enjoyed both videos and the photos were beautiful.

      Kevin

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      I would think they would be relatively safe because of their ability to echo locate, Kevin, and I found no statistics on dolphin deaths relative to mine explosions. Animal humanitarians, however, have apparently protested the use of the bottlenose for mine detection, hence the planned discontinuation of the program.

      Thank you for your visit and comment.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      That is a shame if they are doing a good job and in no harm nor being abused in any way.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 3 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Awesome animals. Being able to admire them at work and play at sea is yet another reason to end practices that harm the oceans and its denizens.

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      i'm hoping that all weapons of destruction and power mongers, not dolphins, are what become obsolete, Examiner.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      I am with you Marie.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Fascinating insight into the amazing intelligence of dolphins. I watched both videos and they were amazing. We were among the first to participate in Sea World's Dolphin Encounter program and gained such respect for them from the educational portion they provided. I really enjoyed reading this article.

    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 3 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      I really enjoyed this article. Informative and inspiring.

      I recently saw on t.v. a study of dolphin self-recognition - a scientist had put a two way mirror in a dolphin pool and watched in wonder as dolphin after dolphin came up to the mirror to admire themselves! One even seemed to be posing, with flippers at an angle and that comical smile pronounced. Remarkable.

      I no longer eat tuna having watched a documentary about the so called friendly fishing techniques, which are anything but. The thought of these creatures being thoughtlessly slaughtered for the sake of a can of tuna made my mind up for me.

      The world did succeed (save for Norway and Japan) in saving the whales - I wonder if we can pause and re-think our whole attitude to the sea and it's wondrous inhabitants at some time in the near future?

      Votes and a share. Thank you.

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Peg and Chef, thank you for the reads and comments. I'm hoping this hub goes viral. I see on Facebook there was a demonstration in New York to protest dolphin killing around the globe. I have my reasons for being vegan, and writing about the dolphins has reinforced those reasons.

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      The city of Malibu, California, has made an official proclamation signed by Mayor Joan House that states both dolphins and whales “deserve the right to their own freedom and lives.”

      For the entire article, the web address is: http://www.onegreenplanet.org/news/city-of-malibu-...

      Kudos to the City of Malibu!

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image

      William Leverne Smith 2 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Small world! I first met a dolphin, up-close and personal, at the same place, in the same way. Thanks for sharing a really fun experience! ;-)

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 2 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Thank your, Dr Bill, for the read and comment. I'm glad this article helped you recall an enjoyable experience. Blessings!

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 2 years ago from San Francisco

      Hooray for the City of Malibu declaring that dolphins and whales deserve freedom. I will be so glad when we no longer enslave animals for our entertainment or to do the dirty work we deem too dangerous to do ourselves. I will also be grateful when we no longer feel the need, even in the name of science, to pin and strap tags, cameras and other devices to animals in the wild. We have much to learn from them, but this is not the way.

      Thank you for an informative, compassionate article.

    • Michael Kismet profile image

      Michael Kismet 2 years ago from Northern California

      Greetings Marie! I didn't know that dolphins helped with US Navy operations, how fascinating! Orca are one of my favorite animals, which are basically giant dolphins.

      I have very fond memories of Sea World with my family, but after watching the documentary "Blackfish" I don't think I could ever go back. What they're doing to orcas is unconscionable.

      Aside from that, this article is such a rich source of information, fantastic hub!

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 2 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Echogranny and Michael, thank you both for reading and commenting.

      As much as people have enjoyed the dolphin and orca performances at Sea World, I have to agree that there are better ways of interacting with them without confining them to what must feel like prison. Some dolphins have been nursed back to health and then released back into the ocean, but initial confinement is traumatic for these animals.

      As for military maneuvers, I think the dolphins deserve medals of honor, but where would we pin them? Such an idea just wouldn't work, and I highly doubt the dolphin would want a medal, anyway. So, how about rewarding the creatures with freedom and protection? That way, the dolphin's service would not have been in vain.

      As I have stated in a previous comment, for the dolphin's sake, I hope this particular hub goes viral. (Amen!)

    • wilderness profile image

      Dan Harmon 2 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Thanks for the hub - I've always loved dolphins and enjoy reading and learning about them.

    • Marie Flint profile image
      Author

      Marie Flint 2 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Oh, you're very welcome, Wilderness. I post the link to this one whenever the subject of dolphins comes up on Facebook. There are a lot of dolphin lovers in the world. Somewhat related is Japan recently banning whale hunting in the Arctic Ocean. (Yes!)

      Thank you for the read and comment. Feel free to share this one; it will help raise awareness of the dolphin's plight.

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