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10 Amazing Facts About Dolphins

A wild Pacific white-sided dolphin leaping in the air

“No aquarium, no tank in a marine land, however spacious it may be, can begin to duplicate the conditions of the sea. And no dolphin who inhabits one of those aquariums or one of those marine lands can be considered normal.”~ Jacques Yves Cousteau

Dolphins are part of an extraordinary group of toothed whales called Odontocetes. Odontocetes have incredible characteristics making them unique to other whales like larger rorquals in that they are all about family. Odontocetes swim together, hunt together, play together, and travel with their family members, often staying together in their family pods for a large portion of their life, if not their entire lives. Here are 10 dolphins facts interesting enough to remember and share with your friends and family. After reading you will be sure to want to book your dolphin and whale watching trip today!

#1 There are 49 different species of dolphins and porpoises!

What makes dolphin facts interesting, starts with how many species of dolphins and porpoises there are! Forty-nine different species of dolphins and porpoises exist in the world today, including the pink-colored Amazon River Dolphin and the various species of ocean dolphins in Dana Point. Dolphins and porpoises are grouped into six families. The largest is the oceanic dolphin family of 38 members. This group includes common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, pacific white-sided dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, and killer whales; all of which can be seen right here in Dana Point, California, and are dolphins we can see all year round. The next group includes the porpoise family, with seven members, and lastly four river dolphin families, each containing just one species each.

 #2 Dolphins stay with their families for life.

One of the dolphin facts interesting to most passengers, regarding the dolphin species as a whole, is their dedication to their families. As we mentioned above, dolphins are Odontecetes and Odontecetes are all about the pod. Dolphins form matriarchal societies and will stay within their family groups with grandmothers, cousins, brothers, sisters, and friends. Oftentimes, dolphins will stay with these large family groups for their entire lives. Males may separate and form smaller bachelor groups for a few years but will come back and meet up with their pods at some point throughout their lives.

#3 The largest member of the dolphin family is the Orca or killer whale!

You heard it correctly! What makes our next dolphin facts interesting is that killer whales are dolphins too! Orcas are the largest member of the dolphin family and the apex predators of the sea. They reign supreme when it comes to the ocean’s food chain, hence their name. While their name suggests that they are vicious predators there are almost no recorded attacks on humans in the wild. However, keeping these incredibly intelligent mammals in large marine parks or holding tanks has resulted in documented attacks and even death. One of the most important dolphin facts interesting to most people today, and one we can’t stress enough, is that all marine life belongs in the ocean where it can live long wild and free lives.

#4 Dolphins have more than one stomach!

Did you know that dolphins swallow their prey whole? As such, they typically do so head first so dolphins require one stomach for holding their favorite flavor of the day and also require another stomach for the mastication of their food source. Their third stomach is reserved for the final acts of digestion and the process from digestion into waste. Having multiple stomachs is a phenomenon very similar to the land mammal Bos taurus Linnaeus or “cow”, who also possess multiple stomachs and are a great example of more interesting dolphin facts.

#5 Dolphins can live to over 50 years in the wild.

Another one of our favorite dolphin facts, interesting to most people who hear it, is that in their free and natural environment, dolphins can live an average of 45-60 years. Male dolphins typically can live to be 45 to 50 years old while their female counterparts can live to be 60 years old! Known by researchers in Sarasota Bay Florida, Nicklo is the oldest documented bottlenose dolphin. She was last photographed at age 66. While many dolphins can live long lives, on average many dolphins live an average of about 15 to 20 years. Killer whales are the largest members of the oceanic dolphin family and live longer than any of the dolphin species. “Granny” known to researchers as J2 was born in 1911 and is the most recognizable Orca. Granny lived to be 90 years old, and this dolphin fact interesting to most cetacean researchers is one that breaks record books! As of today, she is the oldest known killer whale to have ever lived. In captivity, dolphins and killer whales sadly only live to be about 10 to 12 years old and that is if they live past one year in the tank. Studies have found that dolphin calves born into captivity are also over 56% more likely to die in their first year than if they were born in the wild.

#6 Some dolphins can swim up to speeds of 35mph!

Michael Phelps, a twenty-eight-time Olympic Gold Medalist can reach speeds of six miles per hour but even Big Mike cannot hold his seat in the race when it comes to any dolphin in the dolphin family. Bottlenose dolphins can reach top speeds of 18 mph, breathing only two to three times a minute!

During a dolphin stampede, some dolphins can reach speeds of 20 miles per hour! As mentioned earlier, Orca’s are the largest members of the dolphin family and also find themselves on the list of the fastest swimmers of this family, reaching speeds of up to 35 miles per hour!

#7 Dolphins have unique names.

Some other favorite dolphin facts interesting to our Dana Point passengers is that dolphins have names. Well, maybe not the same names we are used to hearing like Henry, Nora, Craig, Charlie, or Jessica but it has been proven by scientists and researchers that dolphins give themselves names that signify themselves as individuals. Instead of being called by their name as we hear in English, a dolphin’s name is developed by the unique whistle they are born with. Dolphins will remain recognizable for life as an individual by their specific whistle as they continue to grow. The coolest dolphin fact interesting to even the youngest eco-warriors is how pregnant dolphin mothers will begin working with the unborn baby dolphin in utero to develop their unique whistle before they are born so that they are recognizable to the pod immediately after birth.

A bottlenose dolphin calf swimming next to its mother

#8 Dolphin skin regenerates quickly.

Two hours is all it takes for a dolphin’s skin to regenerate. Dolphins need to keep their outer layers of skin sleek and supple and as ergonomic as possible so they can swiftly swim from place to place, evading predators and ambushing their prey when least expected. Humans slough their skin too but dolphins regenerate their skin 9x faster than that of any human – these are dolphin facts interesting and amazing! Dolphins can be aggressive towards one another and can also become injured from each other, their main predator, the Orca, or even a shark if found away from their pod. Humans can also injure dolphins through fishing gear entanglements and propellers. Just like some amphibians can re-sprout limbs, like a lost tail on a lizard, if the damage is not too severe, dolphins have the amazing ability to also regenerate missing chunks of skin in as little as two weeks due to the presence of special stem cells.

#9 Some dolphins can turn their heads 180°.

Dolphin facts interesting and weird would not be complete without the mention of the freshwater dwelling Amazon River dolphin. This amazing species may be most famously known for their pink color and large brains but they also can turn their heads 180 degrees! Due to the unfused vertebrae in their necks, these precious pink paddlers can maneuver around sunken tree trunks, rocks, and other obstacles found in their murky river habitats. Weird or super cool? You tell us…

#10 Dolphins use sonar to communicate.

Dolphins are highly specialized communicators and live in complex social societies. These magnificent creatures use a form of sonar communication called echolocation to communicate with one another. Inside their head contains their largest organ called their melon. To “see” in the water and hunt for their prey of choice, find one another, or avoid obstacles in the ocean, dolphins will send out sonar waves bouncing off objects. This information is relayed back to dolphins in their lower jaw, painting a picture for them in 3D, showing where objects are in the water, how big objects may be, and more. Dolphins can not only see their own echolocation but they can also see the echolocation of all the other dolphins in their pod. If this seems confusing, think of these 3D pictures like maps from Mission Impossible.

Even more amazing dolphin facts interesting to many of our passengers is that dolphins use this same echolocation to communicate to one another about us humans too. When joining us for a boat rental out on the water, you can see them bow-riding the forward pressure of the boat or the pressure wake of the stern, you can often hear dolphins click and whistle as they swiftly swim and play and find out information about you too. A dolphin’s ultrasound-like picture quickly tells them what you ate for lunch, if you have any metal in your body, and they seem to be especially interested in pregnant women as their sonar penetrates through bodies and they can see the unborn child inside. Dolphin language is so much more complex than ours that they may be able to understand our language, but researchers are still trying to figure out theirs!

There are so many more amazing facts we can’t wait to share with you about dolphins. So, come out and join us on a trip at sea!

Until next time,

Capt. Dave’s Whale Watching and Dolphin Safari

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