What is a dolphin?

Dolphins are normally considered playful mammals.

A dolphin is a marine mammal, closely related to whales and porpoises. While it is most commonly thought of as living in the sea, river species also exist. Most are familiar with the Bottlenose, often seen at dolphin shows at water parks. This is just one of 40 known species, including the killer whale, which although it is called a whale, actually belongs to the Delphinidae family.

The so-called “killer whales” are actually dolphins.

While killer whales are quite large, up to 9.14 m in length, many dolphin species are considerably smaller, averaging around 2.44 m in length. The smallest, the Maui Dolphin, is just 1.22 m long and weighs less than most adult humans.

These animals are considered happy and playful creatures, but they can be deadly when protecting their young. They often use their noses to slam into sharks with full force, preventing them from attacking their babies. The dolphin also draws strength in numbers, often traveling in a group of up to 12 animals to provide protection and meet its social needs. Superpods, which can include up to 1,000, can be found in areas where food supplies are plentiful.

Dolphins will hit sharks with their noses to protect their young.

Although dolphins are considered friendly to humans, and they usually are, killer whales can be particularly aggressive. In general, killer whales do not see humans as a food source and are adaptable to water park training. However, they hunt other dolphins and there is no record of killer whales peacefully coexisting with smaller species.

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Although often associated with the ocean, dolphins such as the river dolphin can sometimes live in fresh water.

Dolphins have several abilities that adapt them well to marine existence. They are believed to have excellent eyesight and extraordinarily good hearing, far surpassing the auditory abilities of humans. They use echolocation to navigate their underwater world and to find objects. They can swim very quickly to easily catch escaping fish. They have also been observed using tools and teaching their children to use them.

The dolphin is considered one of the smartest creatures on the planet.

The dolphin is considered one of the most intelligent creatures on the planet, and arguments abound as to whether or not it exceeds the great apes in intelligence. Recent research that analyzed dolphin clicks and whistles led to a preliminary conclusion that certain species may, in fact, have unique names. Also, two dolphins can discuss a third animal by name. This study, released in 2006, lends great support to the theory that they are in fact smarter than the great apes and highly deserving of our protection.

There is also evidence that some varieties of dolphins can congregate and hunt with their close cousins, the porpoises. While some species clearly discourage association with porpoises, other groups have been observed feeding them, suggesting that porpoises may be something akin to pets.

Although uncommon, the dolphin can also mate with other species. This has been observed both in the wild and in captivity. When successful, the result is hybridized species. Both Bottlenose and Spotted species have mated with Spinners.

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Unfortunately, not all people are serious about protecting dolphins. For many years, fishermen used nets that could easily trap and kill them. Although more dolphin-friendly fishing methods have been developed, that doesn’t mean the animals are completely protected from the newer nets. In fact, while many tuna cans now label their tuna as safe for dolphins, some still die when they get caught in nets. Overfished areas can also lead to less food for dolphin populations, reducing their numbers.

The dolphin has been hailed by many cultures as a sign of good fortune. Anecdotes report cases of these animals saving humans from drowning or from imminent shark attacks. Their pleasant way of swimming in the wake of ships has endeared them to many. When their protection is not ensured by environmentally sound fishing practices, it is indeed sad.

The dolphin’s skill and intelligence has been praised in literature and films. Swimming with them is now thought to have beneficial effects for those with illnesses or developmental disabilities. Their high intelligence continues to be of great interest to many, and it is hoped that more studies will aid in the protection of all 40 species.

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