For kids who love animals by a kid who loves animals
Dolphins are one of the most popular mammals of the oceans and rivers, loved by young children, Greek mythologists, and marine biologists for their docile nature (towards people, anyway) and almost fantastical features, including blowholes and sweeping pectoral fins (more commonly known as the fluke or tail fin). Here are some quick facts that you probably didn’t know about these animals.
10. Dolphins are carnivores. Their cuteness and kind appearance have captured the marvel of people, particularly little girls in movies such as Dolphin Tale and Barbie spin-offs. Dolphins, however, are actually in the same ranks of some of nature’s most vicious creatures, such as snakes and lions, because they are carnivores, meaning that they exclusively eat meat, mostly fish.
9. Dolphins are predators, too!. In addition to fish, some dolphins also eat cephalopods, and crustaceans such as squid, and crab. Some of their favorite fishy snacks include cod, mackerel, sawfish, and herring. It’s funny to think that, while humans generally see dolphins as majestic, harmless animals. To fish, dolphins are scary predators. Adult dolphins eat 22-50 pounds of fish a day depending on how large they are.
8. Dolphins; Mythical Creatures?! As mentioned in the intro, large sea mammals such as dolphins, seals, manatees, and even whales also caught the attention of Greek and Roman mythologists around 800 B.C. to 500 B.C. Some historians and theorists today believe that dolphins and manatees, in particular, are responsible for some of the myths today about mermaids, and hydras. Back in those times, people knew even less about the ocean than we know today. In addition to many natural phenomenon such as giant swarms of fish, storms, and whirlpools, dolphins and manatees were mistaken for mythical creatures that are of our imagination today (Or, so we think — I still believe! 🙂 ). For instance, manatees and seals, known for sunbathing on rocks, were thought to have been mermaids seen off the shore from far away. You can empathize with these ancient sightings, when you consider the resemblance between a dolphin’s sweeping back tail and that of a mermaid. Check out my mythical creatures and mermaid posts if you want to learn more about them!
7. Dolphins are often confused with Sharks. Both dolphins and sharks, very different sea creatures, have a similar-looking dorsal fin, so much so that they can be confused as the other at a first glance, which can be a dangerous mistake to make when swimming in the ocean. The dorsal fin is the fin on the back of the animal, which often sticks out of the water when either species is swimming. Here’s how you tell them apart: sharks have a straighter edge to their fin, leading to a more triangle shape, and sharks often have a second, smaller dorsal fin, while dolphins have a more curved fin that looks like a boomerang. Compare and contrast the two with the pictures below!
6. Dolphin Languages Dolphins are said to have an extremely large vocalization range, almost like a vocabulary of a language that is made up of squeaks, clicks, whistles, and squeals. You can often hear it when you visit the aquarium! What most people don’t know, however, is that the sounds do not come from the dolphin’s mouth like a human’s voice does, but from the blowhole on the top of their head. They make sounds by releasing air through the hole! They can also create and mimic new sounds that they hear, especially in captivity. How cool is that?
5. Dolphins are smart. Dolphins are said to be some of the most intelligent animals within the animal kingdom, particularly in the ocean. Many marine biologists claim that dolphins can grasp skills and concepts quickly and with depth. Some scientists say that they may even be self aware, having and displaying a range of emotions such as grief and playfulness. It has been found that some dolphins even have a name for each other, and argued that they possess an almost alien intelligence that is difficult for humans to understand or comprehend.
4. Dolphins and their feeding techniques An example of the intelligence of dolphins can be seen in their habits, even in the wild. Dolphins have been observed to use smart techniques such as “mud ring feeding” to confuse their primary prey, fish. What the dolphins do is make a circle of mud around the fish they want to catch — they disturb pluff mud and make it float in the water, this commotion blinds and confuses the fish which are now more vulnerable. This can be compared in a way to squid behaviors, that confuse prey and predators by squirting ink into the water. In this way, the dolphins have recreated a natural method of catching prey by squids. Click here to see the video of mud ring feeding on youtube, produced by BBC Earth!
3. Interesting Echolocation! Many people are aware of the echolocation of dolphins, or the ability to locate objects by using reflected sound waves. Humans still know relatively little about this power and even scientists struggle to find out many of the inner workings of this super-ability. However, what you probably didn’t know is what dolphins use echolocation for. Some echolocation uses are to avoid predators and catch prey as one would expect. They also use it to generally see better in the water, like avoiding obstacles. Interestingly enough, dolphins can determine many things from their built in sonar, such as shape, speed, size, and direction of travel. Some scientists even think that they can get some basic understanding of the internal structure of creatures and objects in the murky water around them from their echolocation!
2. Eating Dolphins? Although it may seem unusual to some people, many groups, particularly people indigenous to tropical islands, eat dolphin meat. It is important to remember that, while it may seem strange to people who are not part of these cultures, the people of these tropical islands use responsible, safe, and humane methods of not only eating, but also respecting dolphins and other sea creatures, like eating the entire animal so as not to waste anything. It is important to think about how our own customs can seem strange to people who do not observe them. For instance, in Hindu religion, cows are sacred and not to be eaten, while in America, we eat them all the time (not to mention how cows are treated in the process of becoming food). It is important to gain perspective and realize that, for the most part, the importance isn’t about how cute or prized the animal is, but how humanely it is treated and cared for, and that we might have different views on what animals are okay to eat and which aren’t. In fact, some people think that we shouldn’t eat any animals. What are some other examples you can think of personally where an eating habit that your country or culture practices can be seen as strange, different or unusual to others?
1. Protecting our Dolphin and Ocean Animals! Dolphins are vulnerable to pollution caused by humans. Like all sea creatures, putting plastic in our oceans greatly damages the ocean eco-system and the lives and well-being of dolphins. Don’t forget that you can help by reducing your plastic use and participating in beach, ocean, river, and lake cleanups near you. Another way is to donate to organizations such as Oceana and Greenpeace.
Answer this in the comments, if you’d like:
What practices does your country or culture have in terms of eating animals or animal products? Think about how they could be seen as strange by others!
What’s your favorite fact about dolphins?