20 Facts About Dolphins That Will Make You Love Them Even More
There's more behind these friendly faces.
Dolphins are universally loved creatures. They’re fun. They’re friendly. And they’re kind of having a moment. In recent years—as seen in popular documentaries like Blackfish (technically a dolphin) and The Cove—it’s become crystal clear that humans really, really care about the wellbeing of these finned creatures.
Well, get ready to care a whole lot more. As enchanting as dolphins are, the species as a whole is full of bottomless wonder. We’ve rounded up some jaw-dropping facts that prove dolphins are the coolest creatures in the sea—and, quite possibly, the coolest on the entire planet. And for more on the creatures under the sea, check out 20 Bizarre Sea Creatures That Look Like They’re Not Real.
A dolphin’s skin regenerates every two hours.
The dolphin’s skin, which is smooth and rubbery, plays an important part in their movement under water. Because of this, a bottlenose dolphin’s skin flakes and peels to have new skin cells replace old cells almost every two hours—which is nine times faster than humans. This helps ensure a smooth body surface to increase swimming efficiency. And for more on these beautiful sea creatures, check out the 13 Gorgeous Photos of Dolphins in the Wild.
Dolphins can inhale eight gallons of air in a single second.
Research published in the Journal of Experimental Biology studied the breathing patterns of dolphins and found that they could inhale eight gallons of air in a second and exhale 34 gallons per second—three times faster than humans, allowing them to replace as much as 95 percent of the air in their lungs in a single breath. For perspective, humans can only manage a measly 65 percent.
Dolphins are conscious breathers.
Humans are unconscious breathers. We breathe in and out without realizing it, whether we’re asleep or awake or just totally unaware. Dolphins, however, have to make an active decision on each and every breath. As Bruce Hecker, director of husbandry at the South Carolina Aquarium, told Scientific American, a dolphin must be fully aware that their blowhole is at the surface, and then deliberately make the choice to inhale.
Dolphins can actually speak to one another.
Aristotle was not wrong. Scientists have found that dolphins have “highly developed spoken language” much like humans, making a combination of pulses, clicks and whistles that form a full language that dolphins understand and respond to. Their study, published in Physics and Mathematics, describes how the language “exhibits all the design features present in the human spoken language, [which] indicates a high level of intelligence and consciousness in dolphins… [T]heir language can be ostensibly considered a highly developed spoken language, akin to the human language.” And for more on animal communication, check out the 25 Amazing Ways Animals Communicate That You Never Knew About.
Dolphins live on power naps.
Dolphins can’t just conk out for the night and get a solid eight hours of peaceful sleep like we humans do—they’d drown if they tried it. (See: that whole active breathing thing.) Instead, the Dolphin Research Center in Florida told Mental Floss they take power naps of 15 to 20 minutes throughout the day, allowing them to get rest without risking being under for too long.
Dolphins sleep with one eye open.
According to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation, dolphins only rest half of their brain at any given time. For one period of sleep, they’ll rest their left brain; then, they’ll do the same with their right brain.
That means that part of their brain can still open the blowhole while it’s above the water to take in air while the other part of the brain is sleeping. You can actually tell which part of their brain is currently active since the opposite eye remains open—allowing it to swim straight and watch for predators.
Dolphins live in rivers, too.
We usually think of dolphins as being dwellers of the salty ocean, but there are seven species of dolphin that prefer the fresh water of the river—including the Amazon river dolphin, the South American tucuxi, and the Irrawaddy dolphin (which can live in both salt and fresh water). Sadly, a number of these species are listed as endangered or vulnerable, such as the Ganges river dolphin, of which there are fewer than 2,000 left.
Dolphins have the longest memories of any animal.
Forget elephants—dolphins are the animals with the longest-lasting memories. Recent experiments published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B show that bottlenose dolphins can remember the whistles of other dolphins that they lived with even when they were separated from one another for two decades. While elephants and chimpanzees have both been found to have impressive recall, neither comes close to this long period of memory. And for more on genius animals, check out How Smart Are Dolphins Really? A Ranking of Dolphins Against Other Animals.
Some can jump as high as 15 feet!
Dolphins can get some serious air. Researchers at the Wild Dolphin Foundation, for example, have reported seeing dolphins jump in the wild as high as 15 feet—with the spinner, spotted, and Commerson’s dolphins tending to be the highest jumpers. The reason for this behavior? It requires less energy to jump than swim, since the air is less dense than the water. And for more facts about the creatures under the sea, check out these 20 Sea Creatures More Dangerous Than Sharks.
Dolphins recognize themselves in mirrors.
Usually, when an animal looks into the mirror they either ignore what they see, or think the reflection is another animal, and act aggressively. Not so with dolphins—who have been found to recognize that it is not another animal, but rather their own reflection. In one study by researchers at the New York Aquarium, they installed mirrors in the tank of a pair of bottlenose dolphins, marking each dolphin with temporary ink—which the dolphin then stared at in the mirror.
Dolphins listen with their jawbones.
Scientists believe that sound is carried from the water to the dolphins’ inner ear by way of its lower jawbone. The jaw is hollow (unlike land-dwelling mammals) and contains a fatty substance that connects up to the ear. When a dolphin’s lower jaw is covered, it has trouble distinguishing sounds, while covering its ears makes no impact on its ability to hear.
The ancient greeks called dolphins “sacred fish.”
The ancient Greeks were big fans of dolphins, calling them “hieros ichthys,” which translates to “sacred fish.” The animals played a role in some Greek myths (usually portrayed as benevolent creatures assisting the characters). They were believed to be especially friendly to mankind, and killing a dolphin was considered sacrilegious.
Philosophers are major dolphin fans.
Ancient thinkers such as Pliny, Herodotus, Aelian, and Aristotle commented on the moral nature of dolphins and their human-like traits. For example, Pliny tells the story of a boy who, swimming across a lake, encountered a dolphin that took him on his back and “carried the poor frightened fellow out into the deepest part; when immediately he turns back again to the shore, and lands him among his companions.” And Aristotle reflected on, “The voice of the dolphin in air is like that of the human in that they can pronounce vowels and combinations of vowels.”
Baby dolphins are born tail first.
To prevent drowning, a baby dolphin is born with its tail first, and the mother swiftly breaks the umbilical cord by swimming away fast before doing a U-turn and rapidly escorting her newborn to the surface so it can take a breath. In other words, the new mom does not get a lot of time to rest after giving birth. (Incidentally, when a baby dolphin nurses, it has to hold its breath.)
Dolphins can live as long as humans.
These animals are not just wise—they can grow old too. At least that’s the case with the orca whale (which, yes, is a species of dolphin, not a whale). While the average killer whale lives to about 50, it’s not uncommon for them to get to 70 or 80 years old. In face, in 2014, a 103-year-old Orca named Granny was spotted off the west coast of Canada.
Every year, dolphin teeth grow a new layer.
Dolphins’ eyes move independently.
While humans’ eyes move the same direction, coordinating with each other, dolphins have much more leeway—with each eye located laterally on the sides of their heads and operating independently from one another. This means that they can get a far more expansive view of what’s happening around and even behind them as they swim through predator-filled water.
Dolphins are extremely maternal.
Some animals get a bad rap for pushing their young out into the wild as soon as they’re born—but not dolphins. Shimi Kang, author of The Dolphin Way, says we could actually learn something from the parenting skills of these sea creatures!
“The Dolphin Way has two distinct parts,” King writes in HuffPost. “A balanced authoritative parent-child relationship and a balanced lifestyle, including what many of today’s kids are missing—play and exploration, a sense of community and contribution, and the basics of regular sleep, exercise, and rest. These are things dolphins do every day that keep them healthy, happy, and motivated.”
Dolphins love to play-fight.
Dolphins are friendly creatures, no doubt. But just like humans, they love to goof off with their friends. Research from the University of South Mississippi observed dolphins play-fighting as if they were children. And, according to the research, this type of play actually helps dolphin calves practice and perfect their locomotor and social skills.
Dolphins enjoy intimacy.
One of the few animals besides humans to enjoy intercourse are dolphins, according to one interview published in Science. They have been known to practice foreplay and numerous positions when copulating. Okay, then! And for more incredible facts about those under the sea, check out 33 Mind-Blowing Facts About the Earth’s Oceans.
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