To put it simply, dolphins are fascinating, and these amazing dolphin facts are here to prove it. They’re highly intelligent, emotionally complex, and more closely related to some land mammals than their water-dwelling cohabitants. 

So let’s jump in and take a swim with these fascinating creatures!

The Top 10 Dolphin Facts and Stats

General Facts About Dolphins to Get You Started

Some of the most astonishing facts about dolphins are also some of the most basic. Let’s learn a bit about where dolphins live, their physiology, and what kinds of dolphins there are. 

1. Researchers have classified more than 40 distinct species of dolphins to date.

(Dolphin Project)

As biologists work to understand more about them, dolphin facts often omit just how many types of dolphins there are. 

Some dolphin species were discovered as recently as 2014, and there’s reason to believe many more remain unclassified. 

2. One of the most amazing facts about the dolphin is that it’s in the same superorder as even-toed ungulates. 

(Animal Diversity Web)

Dolphins and their close relatives are in a family of their own — Delphinidae. And you probably already know they’re mammals. 

But if you go up the classification a bit, one of the crazy dolphin facts reveal that you’ll find they’re in the same animal superorder as bison, camels, and giraffes!

Scientists believe dolphins and killer whales evolved from land-based mammals that returned to the sea, leading to this taxonomical quirk. 

3. Maui dolphin facts show there are only 63 individuals left of that species, making them the most endangered dolphin species.

(WWF)

Māui dolphins are currently the most endangered dolphin species, and there’s a severe risk we might lose them forever. 

They’re the smallest dolphin species found to date, and they inhabit an area near New Zealand. 

If human threats are reduced enough in the next decade, scientists estimate the species could still recover. 

4. Bottlenose dolphin facts reveal that they eat as much as 5% of their body weight per day. 

(Texas Aquarium)

An adult bottlenose dolphin weighs 400–500 pounds and eats up to 25 pounds of food every day. 

Dolphin diet facts reveal that the average human would have to eat seven to nine pounds a day to keep up with this type of dolphin. 

5. Among the most often-cited dolphins facts is that they hunt using echolocation. 

(NOAA)

Although dolphins have excellent eyesight, it’s not very effective underwater where light has trouble traveling. 

Instead, they use sounds to detect prey and other far-away objects, much like bats. Partly why dolphins tend to have such large foreheads is to make space for a unique organ that helps them echolocate. 

That melon-shaped organ is called, predictably, a melon. 

(BioExpedition) 

Many weird dolphin facts can be traced back to their unusual ancestry. Like cows and other hoofed ruminants, many dolphins have two stomachs. 

Since dolphins don’t chew food, one of the stomachs serves to digest food while the other is mainly for food storage. 

7. Fun facts about bottlenose dolphins reveal that they sleep with only half of their brain resting at a time. 

(Texas Aquarium)

Dolphins don’t have gills. Instead, they must consciously come up for air every five to seven minutes. 

So, they don’t have the luxury of falling asleep entirely. Instead, dolphins sleep with one brain hemisphere while the other one continues to control breathing and essential functions. 

Another reason that they must stay alert is to watch out for predators and other dangers.

8. Among the cool facts about dolphins is that some of the species can call each other by name.

(PNAS)

Researchers found that when bottlenose dolphins communicate, they use unique identity signals.

Dolphin communication facts reveal that they respond to their own unique signals with clicks when other dolphins copy them. Likewise, they ignore the distinctive calls that refer to other dolphins.

9. Dolphin brain facts reveal that a dolphin’s brain-to-body size ratio is second only to humans. 

(Whale and Dolphin Conservation)

When it comes to dolphin intelligence, facts show they’re among the most intelligent animals on earth. 

Although they don’t have the largest brains (that honor belongs to sperm whales), dolphins’ brain size compared to their body is close to our own. 

10. Dolphins have sex for pleasure (maybe), according to dolphin mating facts

(Quartz)

One of the most common dolphin facts you may have heard is that they’re one of the very few animals, aside from humans, that have sex for pleasure. 

While it’s true that they mate year-round, even when females are infertile, there are dolphin sexuality facts to prove the motive. 

Studies of dolphin anatomy add some credence to the theory. Still, until we can question a dolphin, the exact cause will remain a mystery. 

11. Baiji dolphin facts seem to indicate it was the first dolphin species that humans made extinct.

(Whale and Dolphin Conservation)

There have been no recorded sightings of the Baiji dolphin since at least 2006. 

Also known as the Chinese river dolphin, this species had a uniquely long nose. It was a freshwater dolphin common to the Yangtze River in China.

A six-week expedition in 2006 failed to find a single remaining individual, leading to its presumed extinction. 

12. Hourglass dolphins can live in freezing waters.

(Oceana)

Hourglass dolphin facts reveal their impressive range far into the waters near Antarctica. These dolphins seem to be comfortable in waters as cold as 31℉. 

Their name comes from the unique coloration across the length of their body that resembles an hourglass shape. 

13. Striped dolphin facts often refer to their unique propensity for “roto-tailing.”

(NOAA) 

Striped dolphins have a vast territory range that encompasses most of the world’s saltwater area. And they’re easily recognized by their distinctive coloration. 

But what sets them apart is their impressive acrobatic skills. It’s the only species so far to have been observed roto-tailing. This means leaping out of the water and spinning their tail while in the air. 

14. Dolphin sex facts show that they sometimes engage in homosexual behavior.

(Newsweek, Aquatic Mammals)

One of the more interesting dolphin behavior facts reveal that researchers have observed them in what can only be described as homosexual behavior. 

In one instance in the wild, dolphins formed large groups and engaged in mounting and genital contact. 

In captivity, male Amazon river dolphins displayed apparent homosexual behavior that extended throughout the year. 

15. Dolphin rape stats and facts reveal they sometimes coerce females into sex.

(ProQuest, Slate, Politifact, The Atlantic)

Dolphins have complex mating strategies. For some species, that involves coercive behavior to force females into mating, and there are even cases of infanticide. 

Researchers have written broadly on the topic of dolphin rape, one of the more creepy dolphin facts that not everyone knows about. 

While the term isn’t adequate to describe animal behavior, their cute and cuddly public image can be quite deceiving.

16. Hector’s dolphin facts show that it is one of the most critically endangered species, with about 7,000 of them remaining. 

(WWF)

Hector’s dolphins are among the smallest types of dolphin, and the Maui dolphin is actually a subspecies of this group. 

Interestingly, their fin is shaped like a teardrop and sometimes referred to as a “Mickey-Mouse-ear fin.” 

17. Pink river dolphin facts reveal that they can turn their heads by up to 90 degrees.

(Aqua Expeditions)

Pink dolphin facts are definitely some of the most interesting ones. This Amazonian species is even considered a mythical creature in some South American cultures.

In contrast to other dolphins, they have unfused vertebrae in their necks. This adaptation allows them to navigate the waters of the Amazon more effectively. 

Orca Facts to Make You Rethink These Gentle Giants

Killer whales, orca, blackfish, murder pandas — whatever you want to call these marine mammals, you’ll be surprised to know that they’re dolphins!

Here are some other cool things you didn’t know about them. 

18. There haven’t been any human fatalities resulting from an orca attack in the wild.

(Whale Facts, Inherently Wild)

Maybe the most interesting fact about killer whales is that they’re not really killers. To be more precise — they don’t kill humans. At least not in the wild.

One of the very few instances of an orca attack in the wild happened in 1972 when a surfer, Hans Kretschmer, was attacked in the waters of Point Sur.

It’s a different story when talking about captive killer whales. In captivity, orcas can become highly aggressive. So far, there have been four fatal interactions with humans.

19. Fun facts about the orca tell us that a full-grown orca can weigh up to 12,000 lbs!

(National Geographic)

You may have guessed by now that orcas are the largest dolphin type. They genuinely do justice to the name “whale,” since they can grow up to be almost as long as a school bus. 

Another fun fact about killer whales is their long life span. They can live for as long as humans, and their average lifespan in the wild is up to 80 years.

20. Dorsal fin collapse is a common problem for orcas in captivity, but it also happens in the wild.

(ThoughtCo)

A killer whale in captivity, as the facts show, is likely to develop a condition called dorsal fin collapse. The condition is prevalent in captive males and involves their dorsal fin folding to one side. 

A common misconception is that the condition is restricted to captive animals. It does happen in the wild, albeit very infrequently, and it is usually a sign of illness. 

Marine biologists don’t know the exact cause. Still, inadequate swimming space and lack of activity in concrete fish tanks is a likely culprit of this issue.

21. Facts about orcas tell us they’re highly social and can travel in pods of up to 50 animals.

(Animal Diversity Web)

Most dolphin species live in complex societies, and orcas are no different.

Although they may form temporary alliances of 100 individuals or more, these usually don’t last long. Orcas in a pod will share prey and use pack hunting tactics. 

They rarely leave their pod for more than a few hours at a time. 

22. One of the more impressive orca intelligence facts is that they can spend more than 30 min weakening their prey when hunting.

(Newsweek)

Many people think an interesting fact about orcas is that they often have to weaken their prey before killing it. 

Marine biologists prefer to think of the behavior as a precaution against potential harm. Sea lions and other animals that orcas hunt are far from defenseless and can cause a great deal of damage.

So, orcas use their tails, fins, and bodies to weaken, stun, and kill their prey. 

23. Although they’re all the same species, there are several orca ecotypes.

(Orca Spirit, CBC)

When talking about orca whales, facts show that scientists still haven’t conclusively decided whether all orcas should be in the same species.

What is relatively undisputed is that there are at least two broad ecotypes — transient and resident killer whales. They mainly vary in their diet and range.

Interestingly, dolphins will sometimes hang around resident killer whales, which eat primarily fish, to avoid transient killer whales, which eat mainly mammals.

However, the two populations don’t mate with one another, and genetic analysis reveals their unique heritage.

24. Pygmy killer whale facts reveal that they’re not a type of orca. 

(NOAA)

Despite their name, pygmy killer whales have little resemblance to typical killer whales. They’re more closely related to oceanic dolphins, with whom they share a similar size and weight. 

Interesting Facts About Other Subspecies and Porpoises

At this point, it should be evident that “dolphin” is a pretty broad term. Below, you’ll find some curious facts about marine mammals as a whole and where dolphins fit into that group.

25. Vaquitas are the rarest marine mammal, with fewer than ten individuals remaining.

(WWF)

Aside from all the fun facts about dolphins and porpoises, there is also the sad truth that many species are endangered or threatened. 

For instance, Vaquitas are a type of porpoise that lives off the coast of Mexico. They were only discovered in 1958 and are already facing likely extinction, mainly due to human activity. 

26. All marine mammals are protected in US waters.

(NOAA)

The Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits the harassment, hunting, capturing, collecting, and killing of all marine mammals except in rare cases. 

Facts about dolphins and other marine mammals show how vulnerable they are to human threats.

Animal abuse laws in the US also include the Endangered Species Act. It protects the habitat of endangered species and prevents them from being sold, owned, or illegally transported, among other things.

27. Japan’s quota for the 2020–21 dolphin hunting season includes 1,749 animals from nine species.

(Earth Island Institute)

The 2010 documentary, The Cove, focused on Taiji, Japan, and dolphin slaughter facts about the event shocked the world. 

Hunters capture many dolphins to sell to dolphinariums every year, a popular attraction where dolphins perform for their audience.

Unfortunately, abuse in such facilities is rampant, and 33% of WAZA partners allow visitors to walk or swim with captive animals.

Despite the public outcry, Japan continues the practice of herding cetaceans in Taiji for slaughter and capture.

28. The Cambodian government scrapped plans to build a dam, in part to help save Irrawaddy dolphins.

(WWF)

Irrawaddy dolphin facts reveal there are probably fewer than 100 remaining individuals.

This unique river dolphin has a barely perceptible beak and forms a crucial part of the Mekong river ecosystem. In an effort to preserve the biodiversity of the area, the government put a 10-year moratorium on damming river waters.

29. Dolphins and porpoises are entirely different species.

(NOAA)

This is one of the dolphin facts that confuses people the most. They both belong to the same order of animals, and they have similar diets. 

Physical differences between the two are minimal. Porpoises tend to have shorter beaks — or no beaks at all — and are typically more stocky, while dolphins are leaner and longer.

FAQ

30. Are orcas dolphins?

Yes, orcas are a member of the Delphinidae family of animals.

They’re commonly referred to as killer whales, which perpetuates the idea that they’re a type of whale. But rest assured that no matter how big they get, they’re still dolphins.

(National Geographic)

31. Why are porpoises endangered?

While not all porpoises are endangered, many are, and the vaquita porpoise is currently the most endangered marine mammal. 

Most porpoise species have been affected heavily by habitat loss and fishing activities.  Approximately 100,000 porpoises, dolphins, and small whales are killed yearly.

Water pollution, underwater blasting, dredging, and damming are also contributing factors.

(Science Direct)

32. What’s the difference between a dolphin and a porpoise?

While part of the same animal order, dolphins and porpoises display several differences that set them apart. 

Dolphins tend to have longer beaks and bigger mouths. But this is not always the case, and Irrawaddy dolphin facts tell us they can have no beak at all.

Porpoises are also shorter than dolphins and tend to have rounder bodies. Moreover, dolphins have conical teeth, while porpoise teeth are spade-shaped. 

Lastly, dolphin dorsal fins are usually more curved than those of porpoises.

(NOAA, Whale and Dolphin Conservation)

33. What are baby dolphins called?

Baby dolphins are called calves due to dolphins’ common ancestry with cloven-hoofed mammals, like bison and deer.

Want some more cool baby dolphin facts?

  • Dolphins produce milk, like all other mammals, and they nurse their young for 18–24 months.
  • A dolphin calf weighs 22–44 pounds at birth.
  • The gestation period of a bottlenose dolphin is about 12 months, a bit longer than that of humans.

(SeaWorld)

34. What is the lifespan of a dolphin?

Bottlenose dolphins have been known to live past the age of 60. However, lifespans vary from one species to the next.

(Whale and Dolphin Conservation)

35. Do dolphins kill porpoises?

(Newsweek)

Yes, there have been documented cases of dolphins killing porpoises for no apparent reason. Dolphins don’t eat porpoises, nor do they directly compete for resources, making the cause of the attacks a mystery at this stage.

Conclusion

Now you have more dolphin facts than you can shake a stick at, and certainly enough to impress your friends!

But if you take away anything from these dolphin facts for adults, kids, and everyone in between, we hope it’s a sense of awe. 

Dolphins and other marine mammals are particularly vulnerable to human activity. You, too, can become an advocate for our seabound friends and contribute to their continued survival.

Sources:

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