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DOLPHIN FACT SHEET

STATUS:
The Chinese River dolphin and Indus
River dolphin are classified as
endangered under the Endangered
Species Act.
DESCRIPTION:
Dolphins belong to the same
zoological order as whales. They are
part of the family of toothed whales
that also includes killer and pilot
whales. They are mammals and
breathe through a blowhole on the top
of their head. Most dolphins have acute eyesight, both in and out of the water, and their sense of hearing is superior to
that of humans. Though they have a small ear opening on each side of their head, it is believed that hearing underwater is
also, if not exclusively, done with the lower jaw which conducts the sound vibrations to the middle ear via a fat filled cavity
in the lower jaw bone. Hearing is also used for echolocation, which is an ability all dolphins have. The dolphin's sense of
touch is also well developed.
SIZE:
The tucuxi is the smallest of the dolphin species. It is about five feet in length and weighs about 100 pounds. The largest
dolphin species is the orca. Male orcas are about 18 feet in length and weigh about 19,000 pounds.
LIFESPAN:
Most species have a long lifespan. Some individuals may have lived for more than 100 years.
RANGE:
Most species live in tropical and temperate oceans throughout the world. Five species live in rivers.
HABITAT:
All but five of the 34 dolphin species live in tropical and temperate oceans. Five species live in rivers: baiji (Chinese River
dolphin), boto (Amazon River dolphin), franciscana (La Plata River dolphin), Ganges River dolphin and Indus River
dolphin.
FOOD:
Using echolocation to find prey, dolphins eat a variety of food including fish, squid and crustaceans. Dolphins often hunt
together, surrounding a school of fish, trapping the fish, and taking turns swimming through the school and catching fish.
Dolphins will also follow seabirds, other whales and fishing boats to feed opportunistically on the fish they scare up or
discard.
BEHAVIOR:
Dolphins are well known for their agility and playful behavior, making them a favorite of wildlife watchers. Many species
will leap out of the water, spy-hop (rise vertically out of the water to view their surroundings) and follow ships, often
synchronizing their movements with one another. Scientists believe that by swimming alongside ships, a practice known
as bow-riding, dolphins conserve energy. Dolphins live in social groups of five to several hundred.

OFFSPRING:
Following a 9.5 to 17 month gestation, a single calf is born.
INTELLIGENCE:
Dolphins are widely believed to be amongst the most intelligent of all animals. Dolphins often leap above the water
surface, sometimes performing acrobatic figures. Scientists aren't quite certain about the purpose of this behavior, but it
may be to locate schools of fish by looking at above water signs, like feeding birds. They could also be communicating to
other dolphins to join a hunt, attempting to dislodge parasites, or simply doing it for fun. Play is a very important part of
dolphins' lives and they can often be observed playing with seaweed or playfighting with other dolphins. They have even
been seen harassing other creatures, like seabirds and turtles. Dolphins also seem to enjoy riding waves and are
frequently seen 'surfing' coastal swells and the bow waves of boats. They are also famous for their willingness to
occasionally approach humans and playfully interact with them in the water. There are many stories of dolphins protecting
shipwrecked sailors against sharks by swimming circles around the swimmers. A school of dolphins is also said to have
pushed a fishing boat that was returning back out to sea after sensing the underwater disturbances generated by the 2004
Asian Tsunami.
Dolphins are social animals, living in pods (also called "schools") of up to a dozen animals. In places with a high
abundance of food, schools can join temporarily, forming an aggregation called a superpod; such groupings may exceed
1000 dolphins. The individuals communicate using a variety of clicks, whistles and other vocalizations. They also use
ultrasonic sounds for echolocation. Membership in schools is not rigid; interchange is common. However, the animals can
establish strong bonds between each other. This leads to them staying with injured or ill fellows for support.
Some dolphins teach their offspring to use tools. The animals break off sponges and put them onto their mouths,
protecting the delicate body part during their hunt for fish on the seabed. This knowledge of how to use a tool is mostly
transferred from mothers to daughters in dolphins, unlike simian primates, where the knowledge is generally passed onto
all the offspring, irrespective of sex. The technology to use sponges as mouth protection is not genetically inherited, but a
taught cultural behavior.
THREATS:
Marine pollution, habitat degradation, harvesting, low frequency sonar, entrapment in fishing gear.
CAPTIVITY:
More than 500 orcas, dolphins, and other members of the dolphin family are held in captivity in the United States. Before
the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) was passed in 1972, some 1,133 dolphins were captured in U.S. waters.
Since 1961, 134 orcas have been captured worldwide for aquariums; of those only 28 are still alive, when a normal
lifespan in the wild is 50 years. While the MMPA made it more difficult to capture marine mammals from the wild,
aquariums can still apply for permits or import animals caught in other countries. Whether wild caught or captive born,
orcas and dolphins in captivity are sentenced to a life of confinement deprived of normal social and environmental
interaction. The following are some of the myths surrounding captive marine mammals. Dolphins are extremely social,
intelligent, and active animals. In the wild they are perpetually mentally and physically challenged by their life in the ocean
and are almost always on the move. Dolphins in aquariums do not have a constantly changing aquatic environment to
challenge them and their small tanks are comparable in size to human prison cells. In the wild, dolphin populations are
comprised of females and calves. Adult and sub-adult male dolphins form separate groups and form strong bonds in pairs
or trios lasting up to ten years. In captivity these social organizations are restricted or nonexistent, as family members are
traded and sold to other aquariums. In some cases calves have been removed from their mothers when they were only 6
months of age. When calves are separated from their mothers, it ensures that the normal social structure will never be
developed. Captive marine mammals live in small, sterile enclosures and are deprived of their natural activity level, social
groups, and interactions with their natural environment. Many captive marine mammals develop stereotypic behavior
and/or aggression not known to occur in the wild. The principal education component at these parks comes from the
"shows" where the animals perform tricks and stunts much like circus clowns. The education offered is often inaccurate,
incomplete, and misleading. Marine mammals cannot behave normally in a situation that deprives them of their natural
habitat and social structure. Patrons witness and learn about abnormal animal behavior. The real message conveyed is
not one of respect but rather that it's all right to abuse nature.
PROTECTION:
Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Chinese River dolphin and Indus River dolphin are protected by the Endangered
Species Act.