10 Rare Facts About Dolphins

dolphin on water during daytime
Photo by Fabrizio Frigeni on Unsplash

Dolphins are brilliant creatures with brains that develop similarly to ours. They have their own language, can recognize themselves in a mirror, and even show empathy. It’s incredible—they mourn their dead, too. Dolphins are universally adored for good reason. They’re cute, playful, and whenever they pop up, they always attract a crowd. Here are the rare facts about dolphins!

Dolphins are carnivores, preferring seafood

Adorable Dolphins on Surface of Water
Photo by HAMID ELBAZ on Pexels

Dolphins have quite a diverse palate—they munch on fish, squid, octopus, crustaceans, and other tasty marine treats. The smaller dolphins usually snack on fish and other small critters, while the big ones—like killer whales (fun fact: they’re actually dolphins!)—go for larger prey, such as sea lions, seabirds, sharks, and penguins. To catch their meals, dolphins often team up, surrounding and circling their prey to prevent it from slipping away.

Dolphins sleep with just half their brain

white and black penguin in water
Photo by Guido Hofmann on Unsplash

Dolphins have a unique sleeping style called “unihemispheric slow-wave sleep.” This means they sleep with only half of their brain at a time. When a dolphin nods off, it shuts down one side of its brain and closes the opposite eye. This way, the dolphin can stay alert to its surroundings and control its breathing while catching some sleep. Each side of a dolphin’s brain gets about four hours of sleep throughout the day.

Some whales are part of the dolphin family

black killer whale on top of water
Photo by Tim Cole on Unsplash

Orcas, known for their striking black-and-white appearance, might seem like whales, but they’re actually members of the dolphin family. They’re often called killer whales, the largest dolphins in oceans worldwide. Just like dolphins, they’re smart and great communicators. But why the name “killer whale” if they’re dolphins? Ancient sailors gave them that name after watching them hunt and prey on other whale species.

Dolphins are hairless creatures

Swimming dolphins near coral reef
Photo by Daniel Torobekov on Pexels

Dolphins have a few tiny hair follicles, but any hair they’re born with falls out soon after or shortly after birth. Plus, they don’t have sweat glands. Their skin is typically gray to dark gray, smooth, and feels like rubber. The outer layer – the epidermis – is super thick and sheds constantly, like how our skin flakes off. This thick skin quickly sheds and gets replaced, keeping their bodies sleek and helping them swim with ease.

Dolphins gather in social pods

Two Dolphins Underwater
Photo by Aaron Burden on Pexels

Dolphins are social creatures that hang out in groups called pods. The size of these pods can range from just 2 to up to 15 dolphins. Sometimes, several pods come together for a little gathering in the open ocean. Moms and their babies, known as calves, stick together for 3 to 6 years. And get this—sometimes, those grown-up calves might even come back to their moms to raise their own babies!

There are around 43 dolphin species

dolphin with head sticking out of water during daytime
Photo by Damian Patkowski on Unsplash

Dolphins aren’t just gray. In reality, there are 43 different species of dolphins, and six live in freshwater. These dolphins come in a variety of cool colors like black, white, blueish, and sometimes even pink! Their color depends on what they eat and where they live. The most famous saltwater dolphin is the bottlenose dolphin—the simple gray one you see in Dolphin Tale.

Dolphins team up to hunt

Drone view of dolphins swimming together in blue clear water of transparent sea
Photo by Kammeran Gonzalez-Keola on Pexels

Big dolphins have huge appetites—they can devour hundreds of pounds of fish daily! And because they never really sleep, they need many calories to keep them going. To ensure they fill their bellies, they team up and swim together in a pod. They herd schools of fish into tight groups, making it easy for them to swoop in and chow down. They’ve got some smart hunting tactics, too!

Dolphins forge strong social bonds

bottlenosed dolphin on top of water
Photo by darin ashby on Unsplash

Dolphins usually have just one calf and stick together for the first seven years of the calf’s life. This long-term family bond is pretty rare in the animal kingdom. Dolphins are social creatures—they love swimming in big groups, sometimes with up to a thousand dolphins in one pod! This kind of organization is unusual, but dolphins make it work by being super social and helpful with each other.

Dolphin brains surpass human brains

dolphin in body of wate
Photo by NOAA on Unsplash

When we learn about dolphins, it’s natural to wonder if they’re as smart as humans. Their brains weigh about 1600 grams compared to our 1300 grams. But it’s not just their size that’s impressive—their brains are also super complex. Dolphins have a neocortex, which is the part of the brain that lets you be self-aware and solve problems. Plus, researchers have found gangly neurons in dolphin brains, which are responsible for emotions.

Dolphins live in the Amazon

three shark underwater
Photo by Talia Cohen on Unsplash

Have you ever heard of the Amazon River dolphin, also called the “Boto”? These dolphins are famous for their pink skin, which can also be gray. They are pretty big, too—about nine feet long and weighing around four hundred pounds when fully grown, making them one of the largest dolphin species. And get this—they can live up to thirty years in the wild, making for one impressive aquatic life!