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Dolphin Facts: Whales, dolphins, and porpoises are Cetaceans and belong to the Order Cetacea. In total, there are over 80 species of cetaceans worldwide, and many of them are under threat.
Whales, dolphins, and porpoises are divided into two main groups: the Mysticetes or ‘baleen whales’; and the Odontocetes or ‘toothed whales’. All dolphins have teeth, and belong to the family Delphinidae, or ‘dolphin’ family.
Dolphins vary in appearance, size, habitat and food preferences, as well as the number and size of teeth. Additionally, some of the largest members of the dolphin family like the Orca (or Killer whale) are referred to as whales because of their size – only. Orcas are actually members of the dolphin family.
All dolphins are mammals, meaning they are air-breathing, warm-blooded, and they nurse their offspring. Similarly to humans, dolphins are highly intelligent and exhibit strong social bonds within groups. Furthermore, they communicate with one another using a complex system of clicks and whistles.
At the top of the food chain, dolphins play an important role in marine and freshwater ecosystems. Unfortunately, dolphins are under threat for various reasons including habitat degradation, pollution, incidental capture in fisheries, commercial harvest, as well as depletion of prey species.
But how many types of dolphins are there? Watch this quick eHow video featuring Maddalena Bearzi to find out more dolphin facts!
The bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) is the most common and perhaps most widely recognized species of dolphin. It is distributed worldwide in warm temperate and tropical seas, both near and offshore. In general, bottlenose dolphins are robust in size and grey overall in color, with lighter colored bellies. Adult bottlenose dolphins range between 8-12 feet in length and weigh 500-1400 pounds.
The lesser known river dolphins differ physically from their oceanic counterparts. Designed to survive in a murky river and estuarine environments, they have poorly developed eyesight and instead rely almost exclusively on echolocation to ‘see’ their environment and locate prey.
Worldwide, river dolphins are found only in the Amazon, Ganges, Indus, Mekong, and Yangtze rivers. These types of dolphins are under serious threat from human activities including construction of dams, entanglement in fishing gear, and pollution. Overall river dolphin populations are declining rapidly.
Orcas are not actually whales but the largest member of the dolphin family Delphinidae. Orcas first got their name from sailors who witnessed them attacking large whales. They live in tight social groups, hunting together and can reach lengths of 30 feet and weigh between 8 to 9 tons.
Spinner dolphins are the most social species of dolphin. They are noticed mainly for their incredible jumps, spins, and flips.
Spinner dolphins average a size of 6-7 feet long, weighing between 130 and 170 pounds. These dolphins are slender and often have a long, dark grey stripe that runs along their sides. The average size for a Spinner Dolphin is from 6 to 7 feet in length.
Spinner dolphins can often be found in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans. They are considered endangered due to pollution.
Striped dolphins are extremely active and vocal. They are the only species of dolphin that can roto-tail – meaning they can jump up to 20 feet out of the water and quickly rotating their tail. Striped dolphins are a blue color with a light stripe pattern. This species can grow up to 9 feet in length and weigh up to 350 pounds.
Striped dolphins are found in warmer oceans, including the Gulf of Mexico. They are not considered endangered at this time.
Many organizations work proactively to protect dolphins and their habitats around the world. Here are some great dolphin conservation organizations: