Dolphins are mammals with exceptional intelligence who live in oceans or rivers around the world. Learn more about these playful creatures with dolphin facts, movies, books and other activities.
Dolphins come in different sizes, shapes and colors. Agencies like Defenders of Wildlife work to make the world safe for dolphins by sharing important information on what they look like and how they live.
- Dolphins are members of the "toothed whales" family, which all have teeth and one blowhole, along with orcas and pilot whales.
- Dolphins belong to the family Delphinidae.
- The average dolphin is less than 10 feet long.
- A baby dolphin, called a calf, nurses from its mother for up to two years.
- In the wild, dolphins can live anywhere from 40 to 70 years.
- Dolphins are master imitators and can copy the exact whistle sounds of a person or another dolphin.
Types of Dolphins
Whales, dolphins and porpoises are all part of the cetacean order, which includes over 90 species. Each of these kinds of dolphins has unique abilities and features, but also displays shared attributes.
- There are around 36 species of ocean dolphins.
- The orca, also called a killer whale, is the biggest kind of dolphin.
- A finless porpoise is the only porpoise without a dorsal fin and is the lightest dolphin weighing in at around 120 lbs.
- Spinner dolphins can jump up to ten feet out of the water and spin around up to seven times before landing back in the water.
- Not all dolphins are gray, the Amazon River dolphin has pink on some parts of its body.
Habitat and Diet
While all dolphins live in the water, each species has a unique habitat and their food choices are based on other creatures living in the same area.
- There are five dolphin species that live in rivers instead of oceans.
- Dolphins are either coastal, meaning they live near shorelines, or offshore, meaning they live in the open water.
- Even though they have teeth, dolphins don't chew their meals.
- Although they choose from fish, squid and shrimp living nearby, dolphins show preferences for specific kinds of fish.
- Some dolphins hunt in groups where they all surround a school of fish then take turns swimming in to grab some.
- Many dolphins use their tail flukes to slap the water and scare fish out of hiding or startle them, making it easier to catch them.
Communication Between Dolphins
Scientists are still researching the complex nature of dolphin communication. Like humans, dolphins make different sounds with specific meanings in their verbal language, but they also use nonverbal cues to communicate.
- Dolphins remember each other's whistle even if they don't see each other for decades.
- Dolphins can whistle, chirp, click and scream.
- When a dolphin makes a bunch of clicking sounds in a row, it's called a click train.
- Dolphins "communicate" with their surroundings using echolocation where they make a sound and listen for the echo as a way to "see" what's around them.
- They also use their tails, flippers and jaws to make loud noises that communicate specific messages to other dolphins.
Listen to dolphin sounds and learn how they communicate emotions with this educational video from BBC Earth.
Unique features help dolphins survive in ocean or river habitats. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation, or WDC, provides a detailed drawing including labels for all parts of a dolphin's body to showcase these physical features.
- They conserve energy by bow-riding, which involves swimming along the side of a ship.
- When dolphins sleep, only half their brain rests at one time, so they don't drown.
- The top part of a dolphin's head is called its melon.
- Dolphins actually have a beak and ears, although their beaks and ears do look different from those of other animals.
- The shape of a bottlenose dolphin's mouth makes it look like it's always smiling.
- Dolphins have sensitive skin and will show affection for others by stroking them with a fin.
Many dolphin species fall into different categories in terms of conservation status. However, all dolphins are impacted by the actions of humans.
- Maui's Dolphin and the Vaquita are both endangered species, each having only around 100 individuals left.
- Nearly 10 species are in danger of becoming extinct at this moment.
- The Baiji dolphin was the first of its species to become extinct as a direct result of humans, particularly fishing practices along the river where they lived.
- Dolphins are most threatened by pollution.
- Each year over 40 percent of all marine mammals swallow or get stuck in debris polluting the water.
Because dolphins are so adorable, smart and fascinating there are tons of books, shows and movies about them. Learning animal facts helps people understand their importance and find inspiration to help these animals survive.
Television shows, short videos and movies highlight specific areas of dolphin life in fun, creative ways.
- Wild Kratts is an animated television show on PBS Kids about two animal-loving brothers who explore animals of the world with the help of some unique technology created by their friends. In episode 213, Speaking Dolphinese, they learn about how dolphins communicate with each other. Look for the episode in your local TV guide or purchase a DVD containing the episode for around $12.
- Dolphin Tale is a children's movie based on true events of a dolphin named Winter. In the film, Winter gets tangled in some fishing nets and loses her tail, but a couple young kids help her get through this difficult time.
- Disneynature's upcoming film Dolphins follows a dolphin named Echo living in the wild. The film is set to release in April 2018.
If you want to know more about dolphins, books are a great place to start.
- Learn more dolphin facts, including visual descriptions of how big and fast they are, see more pictures, and find more videos at National Geographic Kids online.
- Dolphins by Josh Gregory is a 48-page nonfiction book for kids in grades 3-5 loaded with dolphin facts and pictures.
- Acclaimed British author, Michael Morpurgo, shares the fictional story of a boy and a town who save a dolphin in Dolphin Boy. Thanks to their efforts, the dolphin population around the town rises helping bring in tourists and money. This picture book is great for kids as young as four years old.
Take your interest in dolphin life to the next level with these fun activities you can do alone or at school.
- Print out the Do You Know Your Dolphins? or Amazing Anatomy word search from the Dolphin Research Center. Can you find all the dolphin-related words? If not, the provided answer keys will help.
- See how well you can perform in a dolphin show with the online game My Dolphin Show 8. Use your arrow keys to work through over a dozen levels as you guide a dolphin through obstacles and challenges.
- Make dolphin art with crafts from Activity Village like a felt bookmark or clay necklace pendant in the shape of a dolphin.
Beloved Marine Life
People love to watch and interact with dolphins because they look and act friendly and playful. Learning facts about dolphins helps you appreciate these amazing creatures even more.