Dolphins are warm blooded mammals like man.  Unlike fish, they give birth to one baby calf at a time.  At birth a bottlenose dolphin calf is about 90-130cms long and will grow to approx. 4m, living up to 40 years. They are highly sociable animals, living in groups called pods, with dolphins from other pods interacting with each other occasionally.  The dolphin is beautifully adapted for their life in the ocean


Dolphins use their powerful tail flukes in an up and down motion to move through the water. They also use their tails when hunting, hitting a flinging fish up into the air with their tail, stunning it, then scooping the fish up when it falls back into the water. A dolphin slapping its tail on the water in the wild may be a sign of annoyance, or a warning to other dolphins of danger.  Their tail  muscles are extremely powerful powerful allowing them to stand upright on their tail fin and propel themselves forward - walk on water. 


Their pectoral flippers are used to steer them through the water, and they also use them to stroke one another, increasing the social bond between them. Dolphin "friends" may swim along face to face touching flippers. Dolphins that appear to be closely bonded may swim in synchrony, twisting, turning and swimming in perfect harmony together.  Their teeth are interlocking rows of conical pegs, suitable for holding slippery fish. They eat their fish whole, head first.  In the wild an open mouth is a sign of aggression, as is head nodding. A sign of greater aggression is violent jaw clapping.

Dolphins breathe through their blowhole located at the top of their head. A dolphin may empty and refill its lungs in less than a fifth of a second. As the dolphin breathes the air leaves the blowhole at speeds of over 100mph. Complex nerve endings around the blowhole sense pressure changes so the dolphin knows exactly when the blowhole is in or nearing the air and can be opened. Water in a dolphin's blowhole will actually drown it so powerful muscles close the blowhole as it dives under the water again.

The dolphin's eyes produce a special slippery secretion which protects the eyes from foreign objects and water friction. To sleep, a dolphin must shut down only half of its brain, as its breathing is under voluntary control. Dolphins take short cat-naps, floating just below the surface, then slowly rising to breathe. Often dolphins are very active during night time, for some this is their main feeding time.

The dolphin's skin is completely smooth allowing the dolphin to move easily through the water, and also reduce heat loss. Their skin may bear rake marks from other dolphins teeth during play or mating, and can easily become badly sun-burnt if they get stranded.  Their bodies are very streamlined so they may swim at high speeds through the water, and an example of this is their ears. Dolphin's ears are barely noticeable marked only by a small hole just behind the eye. In a bottlenose dolphin the ear is about 5-6 cms behind the eye and only 2-3 mm in diameter.

Dolphins are able to dive to great depths, and also leap to great heights. They may leap to avoid predators or to show how powerful they are to females at mating time. Noisy splashing jumps may also be used to herd fish. Bottlenose dolphins can dive to depths of over 1,640 ft (500m).





Dolphins carry their young longer than humans, for about 12 months.  The newborn emerges tail first and may suckle for up to 4 years.  The baby will however stay with its mother for between 3-6 years, during which time it learns all about feeding techniques, social interaction and group foraging. Females are likely to stay within the family pod with their mother and sisters, though males will leave and form associations with other males. Dolphins have defined home ranges, an area in which they will roam and feed. 


Though dolphins live in small groups called pods, these pods can be quite fluid and dolphins can be seen interacting with dolphins from other pods from time to time. If another dolphin is drowning, other dolphins will come to it's aid, supporting it with their bodies so it's blowhole is above the water allowing it to breathe. Dolphins main predators are sharks and unfortunately man, through direct killing for food,netting, pollution, and fishing. 


Dolphins spend a large part of their day looking for food, or actually feeding. They may either hunt alone, or together as a pod. They use their echolocation (sonar system) to locate fish by sending out a stream of pulses and clicks. Dolphins communicate with eachother by whistling or body language. When a baby is first born, some dolphin research suggests a mother dolphin will whistle to it constantly, imprinting her sound on the baby so it will recognize her, and the baby learns to develop its own signature whistle. It is thought that each dolphin has its own individual signature whistle, just like a name.  






In Australia and several other countries it is now illegal to catch or import any more dolphins for captivity, and standards of care and housing are high. One day we hope no dolphins anywhere around the world will ever have to live in very small barren concrete tanks without proper care again. There are also many opportunities to view dolphins in the wild now, in the ocean, without keeping the dolphins in small concrete tanks. Many people look to a future of coastal marine reserves rather than concrete tanks. Here, the dolphins could be free to come and go as they pleased, choosing whether they wanted to make contact with humans or not. Instead of performances for food, the dolphins would not need to perform. Humans could observe the dolphins in their natural environment, carrying out natural behaviors, not under cue of a human. Regulations would ensure the dolphins were not harmed or stressed by humans.  






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Natural History  Learn about the range, behavior, and life span of bottlenose dolphins as well as other members of the delphinid family.

Communication  Explore dolphins' varied modes of communication from sounds to body language and even touch.

Acoustics  Discover how and why dolphins make sounds like whistles, clicks, and burst pulses. This page also includes a diagram of sound production and echolocation.


Anatomy  See labeled body parts of a dolphin inside and out on a detailed diagram.


Physiology  Find out how dolphins have adapted their bodies to the harsh ocean. Descriptions of dolphin organs and biological systems.


Sea Lion Fact Sheet
Everything you wanted to know about California sea lions, including those here at Dolphin Research Center


Manatee Fact Sheet
Get many facts on the biology and lifestyle of the Florida manatee.


Manatee Conservation
Help save the endangered Florida manatee by learning about what threatens manatees and how to help them.



Endangered Species Survey a sample of endangered whale species and efforts being made to help them


Threats to Whales and Dolphins  Humans have created many dangers for marine mammals including pollution, whaling, and some fishing methods. Study some of the biggest threats.


Personal Solutions  Become a marine mammal conservationist and learn how to protect the environment we all share


Dolphin Assisted Therapy


At Dolphin Research Center  Investigate the therapy programs and special needs sessions offered at Dolphin Research Center. This page includes past case studies.




At Dolphin Research Center  Research is our middle name. Look into the various projects we have studied throughout our history in addition to ongoing projects.


Current Research  Study the current research projects happening at Dolphin Research Center

Research Careers  Pursue a career in research with these helpful hints.



At Dolphin Research Center  Discover how and why we train dolphins and sea lions at Dolphin Research Center, including details of our methods.


Training Careers  Become a marine mammal trainer by learning how to follow the training career path.


Career Information


Careers at Dolphin Research Center


Facilities and Organizations


Research Careers


Schools and Universities


Training Careers


Marine Mammal Law


Enforcement Agencies

Learn what agencies in the government enforce laws surrounding marine mammals with this handy flow chart.


Relevant Legislation
Explore some of the laws that purtain to marine mammals both in human care and in the wild. Understand more about controversial topics like swimming with wild dolphins and releasing dolphins from human care facilities.




Dolphin Research Center's Stranding Experience
Learn about stranded marine mammals through some of our stranding stories.
Morbillivirus  Learn about this deadly virus for marine mammals.




Dolphin saying hello to humans




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More Web Links

Here are a few more of the thousands of websites that we think you'll find interesting.


For more information about marine mammals:
The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums is an international association of 37 marine life parks, aquariums, zoos, research facilities, and professional organizations dedicated to the conservation of marine mammals and their environments through public display, education, and research. The home page of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums provides information about the International Year of The Ocean and marine mammals in general. It also provides links to member institutions.


For more information about Marine Conservation:

National Marine Fisheries Service

Visit this site to learn more about threats to wild dolphins from human interaction

Sea Web

This site offers links to every imaginable marine conservation related web site.

Year of The Ocean (NOAA)

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrationís site dedicated to the Year of The Ocean. Excellent source of information on the importance of our marine resources.

Marine Mammal Commission

Home page of the governmental watchdog organization responsible for monitoring the status of marine mammals.

Center for Marine Conservation

CMC is an excellent source of factual, relevant information on all aspects of marine conservation.

Natural Resources Defense Council

Their web site is a fantastic resource on everything from fisheries and marine life to household toxins.

World Wildlife Fund

Dedicated to international wildlife conservation, WWF is a great resource for wildlife issues.


This is an intergovernmental organization monitoring the management of worldwide marine resources.

IUCN - World Conservation Union

This organization is involved in great projects in all aspects of conservation. They have an excellent working group for small cetaceans.

Environmental Defense Fund

Another excellent source of factual information.

The Bridge

The Bridge is a resource for marine science education, it covers everything from workshops and classes to educational materials.

Save the Manatee Club

A great resource for information about Florida's endangered manatee.


Florida Keys:
Newfound Harbor Marine Institute/Seacamp

Located on Big Pine Key in the Florida Keys this institution offers a variety of marine education opportunities.

National Ocean Service

This office offers educational programs as well as printed materials on the Florida National Ocean Service.

Visit historic Pigeon Key.
Set at the 'bend' of the old Seven-Mile-Bridge, Pigeon Key is where you can find many of the buildings from the work-camp of the original Flagler Florida East Coast Railway, the railroad 'that went to sea'.

Gameznet's Free Animated Dolphin GIFs
Breaching dolphins animated .GIF image on this site courtesy of Gameznet.







The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man. -- George Bernard Shaw



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