i i %

Delightfully Dynamic: A Look Into the Fascinating World of Dolphins

By Jessica Schul
March 2024

Satisfy your curiosity about one of the most fascinating marine animals in the world. Learn about dolphins, their different species, diet, and other interesting facts worth knowing about them. Discover the various efforts in place to conserve these amazing aquatic mammals.

The Amazon River Dolphin or Pink Dolphin

A welcome note from Jessica

Jessica Schul is a Zoological Senior Specialist, with a Bachelor of Sciences in Marine Biology from Texas A&M University at Galveston (TAMUG). She has worked for SeaWorld for 7 years, with 5 years of previous animal husbandry and observation experience, including marine mammal observation as a contractor for the US Federal Government in the Gulf of Mexico, for the protection of marine species. Jessica has worked with animals both under human care and in their natural environment, and loves to be able to share her knowledge with our guests, elaborating on the care and welfare all animals receive at SeaWorld Yas Island, Abu Dhabi.

Dolphin habitats: Where do dolphins live?

Most dolphins live in the ocean within temperate and cool waters around the world. Some species are found in coastal areas while others dwell in shallow waters and the high seas. But not all dolphins live in warm water. Several species also live in colder waters, including the white-beaked dolphin in the Arctic and the hourglass dolphin in Antarctica. Some species stay in their pod in the same area their entire lifetime, while others migrate from one place to another.

Factors influencing dolphins’ choice of habitat

Dolphins choose their habitat based on the type and temperature of water and food source. For instance, bottlenose dolphins and spotted dolphins prefer warm ocean waters. Dolphins that eat fish, squid, jellyfish and other smaller marine animals tend to have a broader habitat to access these sources. The shape, size and weight of dolphins also play a role in their choice of habitat, with the smaller ones more inclined to stay near shallow waters or a larger pod to avoid predators.

Dolphins in freshwater

Did you know that some dolphins also live in rivers?

There are four river dolphins that live in freshwater rivers and lakes in Asia and South America. Examples of these species include the Amazon River dolphin and the Ganges River dolphin. Some bottlenose dolphins also visit or inhabit inlets of large rivers for food.

Are dolphins really curious?

Dolphins are naturally outgoing. Because of these inherent dolphin traits, some species become so curious that they will approach boats and people on the shorelines. But remember, always observe wild animals from a distance. They are also highly sociable and can develop close relationships with other dolphins of the same species and sometimes with those of other species. This behavior is evident in their tendency to live in pods, usually composed of two to 30 dolphins, and their food-gathering techniques. Dolphins are also chatty and communicate by making different sounds, including whistles, clicks, squeaks, trills, squawks, and yelps.

Group of dolphins swimming in warm shallow waters
Modern dolphins have a blowhole that allows them to breathe
One of the 4 species of river dolphins, the Ganges River dolphin
A rare pink dolphin in the Brazilian Amazon river
Breaching black and white orca whale
The adorable beluga whale

Scientific Facts About Dolphins

Below are some facts worth knowing about the scientific classification of dolphins:

  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Cetacean
  • Families: Delphinidae, Platanistoidea and Inioidea

Presently, there are 43 dolphin species divided into 39 oceanic species and four river species spread across the globe.

Dolphins are one of the most sociable marine animals

What do dolphins eat?

Dolphins eat fish, squid, shrimp, jellyfish, octopuses and other crustaceans. Their diet depends greatly on the marine animals in and near their habitats.

As mammals, dolphins also need water, which they get from the fish, squid and other marine animals they eat.

Fun fact: Dolphins do not chew their food since swallowing it whole is easier for them.

Food gathering methods

Dolphins use echolocation to find fish, squid and other food. Echolocation is the ability of dolphins and other animals to locate food, objects and other marine animals using reflected sound. It helps them to move safely and efficiently when hunting, identify predetors, and avoid other obstacles. Once they locate food, they will herd or corral them.

Herding is a food-gathering method wherein a group or pod of dolphins surrounds a school of fish and packs them tightly, and then they take turns eating them.

Dolphins also corral fish, a technique where they chase a school of fish to shallow waters where the fish can’t escape. They then take turns feeding on the fish.

Dolphin characteristics
Dolphins are one of the smartest marine animals

Dolphin adaptations

Like other animals, dolphins have undergone evolutionary adaptations to survive and thrive in their environment. Below are some of the significant changes these marine mammals have gone through:

Echolocation

Dolphins have improved their echolocation trait to communicate with other dolphins, hunt, and avoid predators. They can produce up to 1,000 clicking noises for communication and other purposes.

Eyesight

Dolphins have excellent eyesight above and underwater. They rely on their keen sense of vision to hunt prey and avoid predators. They can also see in the dark and spot movements from a distance.

Breathing

Dolphins have a blowhole that allows them to breathe by exposing only the top of their heads to the surface while keeping their body underwater. After each breath, the strong muscles surrounding the blowhole closes it tightly to prevent water from getting into their lungs.

A bottlenose dolphin catching a fish
Dolphins do not chew their food but rather use their teeth to grab prey

Top facts about dolphins

Although we’ve shared several fascinating facts about dolphins, there are still other details worth knowing about these delightful marine mammals. Below are some of them:

  • Dolphins sleep with one side of their brain awake so they can continue breathing and be aware of threats even when resting.
  • Dolphins have two stomachs, one for storing food and the other for digesting it.
  • Each dolphin has a unique dorsal fin which can be used to identify them individually.
  • Dolphins can jump up to six meters in the air.
  • Dolphins are the only mammals that give birth to calves with their tail first instead of their head.
  • Female dolphins can undergo pregnancy between nine and 18 months and the mother can nurse their calf for up to two years.
  • A dolphin's skin is quite tough. Dolphins can use their teeth to scratch each other’s skins to communicate.
Dolphins can jump up to six meters in the air
Bottelnose Dolphin and its calve

See dolphins up close at SeaWorld Yas Island, Abu Dhabi

If you want to watch dolphins being their naturally friendly and playful selves, visit the Tropical Ocean at SeaWorld Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. This realm was designed to simulate a tropical rainforest, which includes a lagoon, to serve as a dynamic habitat for these aquatic mammals and other animals.

You can also learn more about these fascinating marine mammals and how you can help protect and conserve them through our Dolphin Encounter, a fun and educational interactive experience you can only enjoy at SeaWorld Yas Island, Abu Dhabi.

Did you enjoy reading this story?

If you did, please enter your email below to sign up for our newsletter and get alerts every time we release a new story!