They are easily regarded as one of the most beautiful and lovable of all animals, a regular favorite for many. They are found world wide but prefer warmer, shallower water along coastal regions. There are approximately 40 species of dolphin with the bottlenose dolphin being the most commonly known. They are also known for their extreme intelligence and have even been used in the military for rescue operations and to identify buried lethal mines. Another well know trait of dolphins is their relative ease with which they approach and interact with humans. There are many tales of dolphins helping divers and surfers to ward off a shark attack. Not only are they willing to help us in dangerous situations but countless people will testify to the healing powers of being in close proximity with and touching a dolphin and there are many Dolphin Human Therapy centers where one can come and ease a troubled soul.
Bottlenose dolphins live in small groups of up to 15 individuals called pods. They can, however join pods and swim in combined groups of about a hundred animals. According to the American Cetacean Association, the main diet its small fish, squid and an occasional crustacean. When approached by a school of fish they will work as a team and herd the fish together and drive them towards the shore to facilitate an easy meal. If they hunt alone they sometimes use a procedure called “fish whacking” where they whack a fish right out of the water with their tail flukes and thereby stunning the animal and making it easier to catch as it fall back into the water. Dolphins are predators and though they are generally seen as gentile creatures, they do show aggressive behavior when the males fight for rank and mating rights. Also with declining food supplies due to man’s over fishing, they will attack smaller dolphins and kill them to eliminate the competition for food.
They are warm blooded mammals (not fish) who give birth to one calf at a time and display a very close bond with her young. The nursing period is between 18 and 20 months and it takes several years to wean them of their mother’s teats. They have an average lifespan of about 40 years but can get considerably older.
Here are some interesting facts about dolphins:
1. The female stays pregnant for a whole year and the birth is assisted by a “midwife”.
2. They have taste buds and show preferences in taste.
3. Dolphins cannot breathe under water and must come up for air.
4. They sleep for 8 hours a day near the water’s surface and they do so with one eye open.
5. Even though they are not blind, like bats, they use sonar waves to “see” what is ahead of them.
6. Females as old as 45 have been recorded to give birth.