Dolphins can travel in superpods of more than 1,000 individuals!
Dolphin Scientific Classification
Dolphin Conservation Status
Along with tigers and elephants, dolphins are often listed when someone asks, “What is your favorite animal?”
Many people have become familiar with the playful antics of dolphins through films like Flipper and Dolphin Tale. But there is much more to these animals and their behavior! Keep reading to learn more facts about these amazing animals.
5 Amazing Dolphin Facts!
- These animals are social and typically live in groups called pods. Most pods have up to 30 individuals, but superpods of more than 1,000 dolphins have been observed!
- Not all of them live in ocean habitats. There are a few remaining species of river dolphins – one of them is pink in color!
- They have been known to help or protect humans, often by scaring away sharks.
- Beginning in the 1960s, these animals were trained for military purposes such as locating and collecting lost objects, delivering items to divers, guarding vessels, or holding a surveillance camera in their mouths. The program ended in the 1990s, and some of the retired animals began working with children as therapy animals.
- These animals show self-awareness in that they are able to recognize themselves and experience individuality. Only a few animals – apes, elephants, dolphins, and toothed whales – demonstrate this trait.
Where to Find Dolphins
These animals can be found in all of the world’s oceans, and they are especially prominent in coastal areas. Five species live in brackish habitats or freshwater river systems in South America or Asia.
The common name “dolphin” comes from the Greek delphis, meaning “womb.” Even these ancient observers realized dolphins’ classification as mammals, or animals with a womb. Oceanic species, along with their scientific names, are as follows:
- Australian snubfin -, Orcaella heinsohni
- Irrawaddy -, Orcaella brevirostris
- La Plata -, Pontoporia blainvillei
- Long-beaked common -, Delphinus capensis
- Short-beaked common -, Delphinus delphis
- Common bottlenose –, Tursiops truncatus
- Indo-Pacific bottlenose -, Tursiops aduncus
- Burrunan -, Tursiops australis
- Northern right whale -, Lissodelphis borealis
- Southern right whale dolsphin, Lissodelphis peronii
- Costero, Sotalia guianensis
- Indo-Pacific humpback -, Sousa chinensis
- Atlantic humpback -, Sousa teuszii
- Atlantic spotted -, Stenella frontalis
- Clymene -, Stenella clymene
- Pacific white-sided -, Lagenorhynchus obliquidens
- Pantropical spotted -, Stenella attenuata
- Peale’s -, Lagenorhynchus australis
- Spinner -, Stenella longirostris
- Striped -, Stenella coeruleoalba
- Rough-toothed -, Steno bredanensis
- Chilean -, Cephalorhynchus eutropia
- Commerson’s -, Cephalorhynchus commersonii
- Haviside’s -, Cephalorhynchus heavisidii
- Hector’s -, Cephalorhynchus hectori
- Risso’s -, Grampus griseus
- Fraser’s dol-phin, Lagenodelphis hosei
- Atlantic white-sided -, Lagenorhynchus acutus
- Dusky –, Lagenorhynchus obscurus
- Pacific white-sided -, Lagenorhynchus obliquidens
- Hourglass -, Lagenorhynchus cruciger
- White-beaked dolphin, Lagenorhynchus albirostris
There are also a number of small “whales” that are genetically in the same classification as dolphins:
- Killer whale or orca, Orcinus orca
- Pygmy killer whale, Feresa attenuata
- False killer whale, Pseudorca crassidens
- Long-finned pilot whale, Globicephala melas
- Melon-headed whale, Peponocephala electra
River dolphin common and scientific names are as follows:
- Baiji, Lipotes vexillifer
- South Asian river dolphin, Platanista gangetica
- Amazon river dolphin, Inia geoffrensis
- Araguaian river dolphin, Inia araguaiaensis
- Bolivian river dolphin,Inia boliviensis
- Tucuxi, Sotalia fluviatilis
Dolphins’ earliest ancestors were terrestrial ungulates. Sixty million years ago, one of their ancestors which was also the ancestor of the hippo diverged from the main evolutionary branch at the time. Their distant forbears however, first began to associate with the sea approximately 49 million years ago and about 1 million years later, another separation occurred from a bovid-like ungulate, known as the Indohyus. The full separation between dolphins and hippos occurred 40 million years ago as a result of their common evolutionary pathway branching into cetacea and anthracotheres.
Between 34 – 39 million years ago, their transformation from aquatic to terrestrial mammals was complete.
The lineage of the anthracotheres would become extinct, 37 million years later, leaving only one line which would provide the modern hippos.
Size, Appearance, & Behavior
Maui’s dolphin is the smallest, with a length of 1.7 meters (5 ft 7 inches) and a weight of 50 kg (110 lbs). The largest is the killer whale, weighing in at 10 tons and reaching 9.5 meters (31 ft) in length.
Most people visualize them as grey in color, but many have blocks of black, white, or even yellow. Some are speckled. One species of river dolphin is even pale pink.
These are communicative social animals that live in groups called pods.
Some species migrate when the water temperature changes or in order to follow food sources.
These animals are carnivores.
What Do Dolphins Eat?
These animals mainly eat fish, squid, and ocean invertebrates. They may also opportunistically feed on small birds or mammals. For a more complete list of foods dolphins eat, check out our “What Do Dolphins Eat?” page.
Predators and Threats
Adults have few predators. Their primary threat is humans. Many die each year after becoming entangled in fishing nets.
What Eats Dolphins?
Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan
These animals typically give birth to just one offspring, but twins and triplets have been observed. The infant feeds on milk, and the mothers train and care for their babies for several years. Dolphins typically live 10-20 years in the wild.
Dolphins have brains that are larger than human brains and are among the most intelligent species on Earth. They possess surprisingly complex communication. Yet, they’re not as smart as humans. What are the key differences between human brains and dolphin brains? One difference is that dolphin brains have a relatively small prefrontal cortex and a smaller hippocampus. These smaller areas on the brain lead to dolphins having less higher-level thinking and memory when compared to humans. Yet, dolphins are still perhaps the second most intelligent species on Earth.
The most common species number into the hundreds of thousands or even millions. The most endangered species, the Irrawaddy dolphin, has only 92 known individuals.
Read about the world’s dolphin population.View all 109 animals that start with D
Dolphin FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Dolphins vs Whales
Dolphins belong to the same Order as whales, which is Cetacea. Dolphins are generally different than whales in some key ways. First, they’re generally smaller than whales. Second, dolphins live in pods that are generally much larger.
Are Dolphins herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?
Dolphins are Carnivores, meaning they eat other animals.
What Kingdom do Dolphins belong to?
Dolphins belong to the Kingdom Animalia.
What class do Dolphins belong to?
Dolphins belong to the class Mammalia.
What phylum to Dolphins belong to?
Dolphins belong to the phylum Chordata.
What family do Dolphins belong to?
Dolphins belong to the family Delphinidae.
What order do Dolphins belong to?
Dolphins belong to the order Cetacean.
What type of covering do Dolphins have?
Dolphins are covered in smooth skin.
In what type of habitat do Dolphins live?
Dolphins live in temperate coastal waters, harbors, and bays.
What is the main prey for Dolphins?
Dolphins prey on fish, crab, and squid.
What are some predators of Dolphins?
Predators of Dolphins include humans, sharks, and killer whales.
What are some distinguishing features of Dolphins?
Dolphins have rounded dorsal fins and striped skin.
How many babies do Dolphins have?
The average number of babies a Dolphin has is 1.
What is an interesting fact about Dolphins?
Dolphins can reach speeds of up to 25 mph!
What is the lifespan of a Dolphin?
Dolphins can live for 20 to 45 years.
How fast is a Dolphin?
A Dolphin can travel at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour.
Is a Dolphin a Fish?
No, a dolphin is not a fish. Dolphins and fish do share some characteristics – both are aquatic, living in the ocean. Both have fins and a similar body pattern. But there are key differences. Dolphins are warm-blooded; fish are not. Dolphins have rubbery skin, while fish are covered in scales. Most fish lay eggs, but dolphins are mammals, giving birth to live young. They nurture their young for a long time, feeding baby dolphins with milk.
Do Dolphins Kill Humans?
Dolphins do not hunt humans – that is, they do not see humans as prey or a food source. They do not eat humans. But dolphins are large, strong animals that will defend themselves if they feel threatened. This can result in death to humans by drowning or injury.
One example was reported by National Geographic in 1994. A dolphin rammed two men in Brazil, striking them with its snout at a high rate of speed. One of the men succumbed to internal injuries.
What Does a Dolphin Eat?
Dolphin diets consist mostly of fish, squid, and crustaceans, including shrimp and other marine invertebrates. Uncommon foods include small mammals such as seals or birds such as penguins.
How to say Dolphin in ...
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