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Animalology: Dolphins - Social Animals of the Sea - Intelligent, Charming, and Good Looking Too

Updated on July 7, 2011

In a spontaneous moment we took a private charter, just my family, and a man who owned a boat. He claimed he knew where the dolphins played and would take us to see them in pods of 50 to 60 where they lived in the freedom of the ocean. It was a beautiful day, the ocean waves had an hypnotic movement as the boat cut its engine in the middle of open water.

On this gorgeous day off the coast of Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii, my family and I jumped into the Pacific Ocean to swim among the wild dolphins. It was an experience none of us will ever forget. As soon as we jumped into the ocean, one dolphin swam sideways by us, and greeted us with a wave of their tail. My kids and I dove underwater with our snorkeling equipment, and were immediately encircled by these large gray magnificient ocean beings.

The circle was big, and I couldn’t tell you how many dolphins were around us, but they floated about 25 feet away. Under the water, and looking as far into the depth of the sea as I could, dolphins layered 2, 3, and 4 levels deep surrounded us. Everywhere we looked, a dolphin’s eye looked back at us. We had never done something so daring. Here we were, small and insignificant, in an endless ocean so large above and so deep below. We alternated bobbing up and down on the Pacific waves so we could come up for air. Then we would dive below the surface to watch the dolphins, watch us, in their own domain.

I constantly came to the surface, looking for my kids to make sure they were safe in this massive sea of blue. There was no other fish around, no other people, only my family and Capt. Ron, the man who stayed in the boat, and had brought us to this spot. Above the surface, I would feel tense until I would spot my kids and know they were okay. Below the surface, there was a quietness and a calmness that I have never felt before. It was so quiet under the water with the dolphins. The silence was beautiful and profound. While the dolphins watched us, I felt safe and a feeling of serenity that I have never felt before or since.

Maybe the dolphins were sending me signals, that they would make sure everything was okay. Maybe under the ocean in their domain, there exists a beauty of calm that we don’t feel on dry terrain. Maybe I was imagining more than what was there. All I know, is my family and I had a wonderful shared experience. Being with the dolphins was beautiful and special, one that words can not adequately express. I have immense respect for these fascinating and very intelligent animals of the ocean.

Dolphins Have Nostrils and Lungs

Dolphins come in many shapes and sizes. Dolphins are not fish. They are mammals, which means they have lungs and need to breathe air. Being mammals, they are warm blooded. They have live births and their babies drink milk from their mothers. They even have hair on a part of their bodies, at some point in their lives.

They actually hold their breath underwater and swim to surface to get air. The blow hole has a flap. Underneath the flap is a pair of nostrils that helps them breathe air when they swim to the top of the surface. They can stay underwater 10-15 minutes between breaths.

There are 32 different species of oceanic dolphins in the world. The dolphins we swam with in Hawaii, were Spinner Dolphins. Most dolpins you would see in captivity in places like Sea World are Bottlenose dolphins.

  • dolphins swim in all 4 oceans of our planet
  • there are certain species of dolphins that live in harbors and rivers.
  • they vary in colors of white, pink, brown, pearl, gray, black, and blue, some may even be striped or spotted.

True or False

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Dolphins at Play in Hawaii

Interesting Things About Dolphins

Dolphins have these characteristics:

  • flippers
  • smooth skin
  • dorsal fins
  • their skin is lined with blubber for warmth
  • they have cone shaped teeth
  • a blowhole on top of their heads which is how they breathe air
  • they see very well under water and above
  • dolphins may have the best hearing in the animal kingdom
  • they have a natural ability to swim very fast and leap out of the water
  • they work together to hunt, and care for each other, even helping when another is giving birth
  • they will take turns pushing a newborn to the surface to help the baby breathe
  • they will attack a shark or other intruder to protect themselves against an enemy
  • they have sex for fun

Dolphins have 2 eyes, one on each side of their head, that move independently of the other. They can look to the side, ahead, behind above, and below them. In the water, a dolphin’ s pupil part of their eye will enlarge, and be only tiny slits in bright light above the surface of the ocean. Dolphins have a liquid that is jelly like consistency to keep the salt in the ocean water from irritating their eyes.

Dolphins in the Pacific

Dolphins Don't Have a Sense of Smell - They Use Echolocation

Dolphins use clicking to create sounds for echolocation. Echolocation is a complex sensory system that allows the animal to get an image from the echo of the sound waves that have bounced off an object. Echolocation helps in hunting for food, even in darkness or waters that are murky. Some scientists believe echolocation helps the dolphins create a holographic image of their surroundings and send it to another dolphin. To think, how primitive we are, we need our cell phones to send a picture to each other. Dolphins can use their brain. 

Dolphins are able to communicate with each other. They create clicking sounds, whines, squeaks, groaning sounds, and whistles, and they will also clap their jaws. Sometimes they even sound like they are laughing. Researchers have also heard dolphins make a variety of other sounds, and believe they can make all these sounds simultaneously.

Dolphins are one of the Fastest Swimmers in the Ocean

A dolphin’s tail is very muscular. The end of the tail spreads out into 2 flukes. To propel itself through the water the dolphin pushes the flukes up and down. The dorsal fin on the top of the dolphin help keep its balance in water. 

These mammals navigate their way through the water by following the mountains and hills of the ocean floor, by sensing the way of the currents, by the sun and by tasting the water as they make direction to where they are going.  

Dolphins can leap as high as 20 feet above the water.

Dolphins use their flippers to steer themselves in the direction they are swimming. The flippers are smooth and firm, with 5 sets of bones, under the skin of the dolphin. These sets of bones similar to our fingers, except the dolphin’s are fused together to form a singular smooth surface.

Their sleek, slender bodies enable them to swim extremely fast. Their streamline shape helps the water flow over their bodies as they move through the water. They have been known to be able to keep up with ships sailing in the ocean, and playing alongside the boats as they move through the water.

Dolphin Giving Birth

Dolphins Take Care of Each Other

Dolphin mothers are very devoted to their babies, called calves. Dolphins are pregnant for 10 to 12 months depending on the species. They usually give birth to 1 baby at a time, and space their reproduction about 2 to 3 years apart. They give birth underwater. When a baby dolphin is born, it must rise to the surface to breathe, but it can't swim upwards on its own. The mother and another dolphin will push the newborn to the surface for air. The baby can then start to swim. 

Dolphins develop bonds with each other, and have been known to help other dolphins to help other injured, ill and dying dolphins. Other females will help protect the babies from danger.

Dolphins and porpoises are known to be social animals. In the ocean they can exist in a community of about a thousand. They hunt together, and rely on each other for their ability to survive. Dolphins can be seen swimming in formation, the youngest members are protected in the center. This is called the navigating formation, similar to the way we see birds flying in formation. Dolphins also swim in a parade formation, usually an open circle, a square, or a single file line. This formation is usually done in the open seas. Dolphins will also use a hunting formation where they will divide into small groups to help each other hunt. Dolphins can also be very aggressive. They have even been seen abusing weaker members of the pods.

When sharks try to attack young dolphins, the adult dolphins surround the shark and take turns ramming the underbelly of the shark with the dolphin’s hard snouts. Sharks are devoid of bones, they only have cartilage, so dolphins can usually defeat the shark in the battle.

Did You Know?

Some unusual things about dolphins:

  • dolphins are the only baby mammals who are born tail first
  • dolphins have cone shaped teeth. They swallow fish whole, and most do not chew with their teeth. Their teeth are used to grasp their prey.
  • a dolphin’s age can be determined by counting the rings on the inner part of the teeth. Each ring is equal to 1 year.
  • dolphins don’t drink ocean water, they get the water they need from the fish they consume.
  • they can see underwater and above because the have a flexible muscle inn their eyes that change the shape of the lens from underwater viewing to seeing above the water
  • a dolphin’s dorsal fin has such special characteristics, it is as distinct as a person’s face
  • It is believed they are the 2nd smartest creatures on earth.

Pollution Can Threaten Dolphin Population

Dolphins and many sea animals are threatened by water pollution,. industrial pollution, garbage dumped into the ocean, oil spills and other pollutants done by man and can impact the dolphin population. Dams, and other threats to their habitats, in addition to them getting caught in fishing nets, and hunting have threatened the dolphin population. Many countries are part of the International Dophin Conservation Program which was created to stop the danger of dolphins getting caught in tuna nets. The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 is designed to protect bottlenose dolphins.

A dolphin’s skin is very delicate and can easily be scarred from scratches or damaged from rough surfaces.

All dolphins are not endangered, but some are, many times due to the destruction of their habitat.

If you would like to help protect the marine life in oceans you can sign this petition.

Thanks Capt. Ron, for an amazing experience

Dolphins Have a Long History of Interacting With Humans

The largest dolphin is the killer whale. Whales, porpoises, and dolphins are part of the same species called Cetaceans. Delphinidae is the scientific category dolphin families are part of.Delphi in Greece means dolphin town.

Dolphins are believed to bring good luck to travelers. Ancient Greek scholars have written about dolphins playing with humans and sailing alonside ships. Fisherman in ancient times thought it was a bad omen to kill dolphins, because it was the dolphins the drove the fish towards the fishermen’s nets.

In 1888, there was a dolphin named Pelorus Jack who met every large ship that sailed into the waters between the 2 main islands in New Zealand. Pelorus Jack would swim about 6 miles with every ship he greeted for nearly 24 years.

Dolphins are highly intelligent creatures. It is known they communicate with each other. There are many many stories of these mammals interacting with humans. With the intelligence that dolphins have, I wonder what they say about us.

Spinner Dolphin Performing Acrobatics for Us in Hawaii


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