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Category Archives: Aqua Park

Welcome to a world of fascinating sea creatures.

dolphin cartoon

Dolphins are marine mammals that are closely related to whales and porpoises. There are almost forty species of dolphin in seventeen genera. They vary in size from 1.2 m (4 ft) and 40 kg (90 lb) (Maui’s Dolphin), up to 9.5 m (30 ft) and 10 tonnes (9.8 LT; 11 ST) (the Orca or Killer Whale). They are found worldwide, mostly in the shallower seas of the continental shelves, and are carnivores, mostly eating fish and squid. The family Delphinidae is the largest in the Cetacea, and relatively recent: dolphins evolved about ten million years ago, during the Miocene. Dolphins are considered to be amongst the most intelligent of animals and their often friendly appearance and seemingly playful attitude have made them popular in human culture.

Contents

// Origin of the name

The usual dolphin

The name is originally from Ancient Greek δελφίς (delphís; “dolphin”), which was related to the Greek δελφύς (delphys; “womb”). The animal’s name can therefore be interpreted as meaning “a ‘fish’ with a womb”.[1] The name was transmitted via the Latin delphinus, Middle Latin dolfinus and the Old French daulphin, which reintroduced the ph into the word.

The word is used in a few different ways. It can mean:

The River Dolphin:

river dolphin

  • Any member of the family Delphinidae (oceanic dolphins),
  • Any member of the families Delphinidae and Platanistoidea (oceanic and river dolphins),
  • Any member of the suborder Odontoceti (toothed whales; these include the above families and some others),
  • Used casually as a synonym for Bottlenose Dolphin, the most common and familiar species of dolphin.

The Killer Whale:

killer whale

A group of dolphins can be called a “school” or a “pod”. Male dolphins are called “bulls”, females “cows” and young dolphins are called “calves”.[2]

dolph school

Hybrid dolphins

The best known hybrid however is the Wolphin, a False Killer Whale-Bottlenose Dolphin hybrid. The Wolphin is a fertile hybrid, and two such Wolphins currently live at the Sea Life Park in Hawaii, the first having been born in 1985 from a male False Killer Whale and a female Bottlenose. Wolphins have also been observed in the wild.[7]

Evolution

Dolphins, along with whales and porpoises, are descendants of terrestrial mammals, most likely of the Artiodactyl order. The ancestors of the modern day dolphins entered the water roughly fifty million years ago, in the Eocene epoch.

Anatomy

Though it varies per species, basic colouration patterns are shades of grey usually with a lighter underside. It is often combined with lines and patches of different hue and contrast.

.The dolphin brain is large and highly complex and is different in structure from that of most land mammals.

Senses

Most dolphins have acute eyesight, both in and out of the water, and their perception of sound extends ten times or more above the upper limit of adult human hearing.[11] 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 seems to be an ability all dolphins have. It is believed that their teeth are arranged in a way that works as an array or antenna to receive the incoming sound and make it easier for them to pinpoint the exact location of an object.[12] The dolphin’s sense of touch is also well-developed, with free nerve endings being densely packed in the skin, especially around the snout, pectoral fins and genital area. However, dolphins lack an olfactory nerve and lobes and thus are believed to have no sense of smell,[13] but they can taste and do show preferences for certain kinds of fish. Since dolphins spend most of their time below the surface normally, just tasting the water could act in a manner analogous to a sense of smell.

Though most dolphins do not have any hair, they do still have hair follicles and it is believed these might still perform some sensory function, though it is unclear what exactly this may be.[14] The small hairs on the rostrum of the Boto river dolphin are believed to function as a tactile sense however, possibly to compensate for the Boto’s poor eyesight.[15]

Social behaviour

Friendly Dolphins:

friendly dolph

Dolphins are social, living in pods (also called “schools”) of up to a dozen individuals. In places with a high abundance of food, pods can join temporarily, forming an aggregation called a superpod; such groupings may exceed a thousand dolphins. The individuals communicate using a variety of clicks, whistles and other vocalizations. They also use ultrasonic sounds for echolocation. Membership in pods is not rigid; interchange is common. However, the cetaceans can establish strong bonds between each other. This leads to them staying with injured or ill individuals, even actively helping them to breathe by bringing them to the surface if needed.[16] This altruistic behaviour does not appear to be limited to their own species however. A dolphin in New Zealand that goes by the name of Moko has been observed to seemingly help guide a female Pygmy Sperm Whale together with her calf out of shallow water where they had stranded several times.[17] They have also been known to seemingly protect swimmers from sharks by swimming circles around the swimmers[18][19] or charging the sharks to make them go away.[citation needed]

Dolphins also show cultural behaviour, something long believed to be a quality unique to humans (or to humans and some other primate species). In May 2005, a discovery was made in Australia which shows this cultural aspect of dolphin behaviour: Some dolphins, such as the Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) teach their young to use tools. The dolphins break sponges off and cover their snouts with them thus protecting their snouts while foraging. This knowledge of how to use a tool is mostly transferred from mothers to daughters, unlike simian primates, where the knowledge is generally passed on to both sexes. The technology to use sponges as mouth protection is not genetically inherited but a taught behaviour.[20] Another such behaviour was discovered amongst river dolphins in Brazil, where some male dolphins apparently use objects such as weeds and sticks as part of a sexual display.[21]

Dolphins are known to engage in acts of aggression towards each other. The older a male dolphin is, the more likely his body is covered with scars ranging in depth from teeth marks made by other dolphins. It is suggested that male dolphins engage in such acts of aggression for the same reasons as humans: disputes between companions or even competition for other females. Acts of aggression can become so intense that targeted dolphins are known to go into exile, leaving their communities as a result of losing a fight with other dolphins.

Male Bottlenose Dolphins have been known to engage in infanticide. Dolphins have also been known to kill porpoises for reasons which are not fully understood, as porpoises generally do not share the same fish diet as dolphins and are therefore not competitors for food supplies.[22]

Feeding

Various methods of feeding exist, not just between species but also within a species. Various methods may be employed, some techniques being used by only a single dolphin population. Fish and squid are the main source of food for most dolphin species, but the False Killer Whale and the Killer Whale also feed on other marine mammals.

One feeding method employed by many species is herding, where a pod will control a school of fish while individual members take turns plowing through the school, feeding. The tightly packed school of fish is commonly known as a bait ball. Coralling is a method where fish are chased to shallow water where they are more easily captured. In South Carolina, the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin takes this one step further with what has become known as strand feeding, where the fish are driven onto mud banks and retrieved from there.[26] In some places, Orcas will also come up to the beach to capture sea lions. Some species also whack fish with their fluke, stunning them and sometimes sending fish clear out of the water.

Reports of cooperative human-dolphin fisheries date back to the ancient Roman author and natural philosopher Pliny the Elder.[27] A modern human-dolphin fishery still takes place in Laguna, Santa Catarina, Brazil. Here, dolphins drive fish towards fishermen waiting along the shore and give them a signal when they can cast their nets. The dolphins then feed off the fish that manage to escape the nets.[28][29]

Vocalizations

Dolphins are capable of making a broad range of sounds using nasal airsacs located just below the blowhole. Roughly three categories of sounds can be identified however; frequency modulated sounds which are usually just called whistles; burst-pulsed sounds and clicks. Whistles are used by dolphins to communicate, though the nature and extent of their ability to communicate in this way is not known. Research has shown however that at least some dolphin species are capable of sending identity information to each other using a signature whistle; a whistle that refers specifically to the identity of a certain dolphin. The burst-pulsed sounds are also used for communication, but again the nature and extent of communication possible this way is not known.[30] The clicks are directional and used by dolphins for echolocation and are often in a short series called a click train, the rate increasing when approaching an object of interest. Dolphin echolocation clicks are amongst the loudest sounds made by animals in the sea.[31]

Jumping and playing

Dolphins occasionally leap above the water surface, sometimes performing acrobatic figures (e.g. the Spinner Dolphin). Scientists are not always quite certain about the purpose of this behaviour and the reason for it may vary; it could be to locate schools of fish by looking at above-water signs like feeding birds, they could be communicating to other dolphins to join a hunt, attempting to dislodge parasites, or simply doing it for fun.

Play is a fairly important part of dolphins’ lives, and they can be observed playing with seaweed or play-fighting with other dolphins. At times they also harass other local creatures, like seabirds and turtles. Dolphins also seem to enjoy riding waves and frequently ‘surf’ coastal swells and the bow waves of boats. Occasionally, they’re also willing to playfully interact with human swimmers.

Sleeping

Because dolphins need to come up to the surface to breathe and have to be alert for possible predators, they do not sleep in the same way land mammals do. Generally, dolphins sleep with only one brain hemisphere in slow-wave sleep at a time, thus maintaining some amount of consciousness required to breathe and keeping one eye open to keep a watch out for possible threats. The earlier stages of sleep can be observed in both hemispheres of the brain, however.[32][33][34]

However, in captivity, dolphins have been observed to seemingly enter a fully asleep state where both eyes are closed and the animal does not respond to mild external stimuli, respiration being automatic with a tail kick reflex keeping the blowhole above the water. If not needed to keep the blowhole above the water, the tail kick reflex may subside. Dolphins kept unconscious using anesthetics initially show a similar tail kick reflex.[35] Though a similar state has been observed with wild Sperm Whales, it is not known if this state is ever reached in the wild amongst any dolphin species.[36]

Threats

Natural threats

Except for humans (discussed below), dolphins have few natural enemies, some species or specific populations having none at all making them apex predators. For most smaller species of dolphins, only a few larger species of shark such as the bull shark, dusky shark, tiger shark and great white shark are a potential risk, especially for calves. Some of the larger dolphin species such as Orcas may also prey on some of the smaller dolphin species, but this seems rare. Dolphins may also suffer from a wide variety of diseases and parasites.

Human threats

Some dolphin species face an uncertain future, especially some of the river dolphin species such as the Amazon River Dolphin, and the Ganges and Yangtze River Dolphin, all of which are critically or seriously endangered. A 2006 survey found no individuals of the Yangtze River Dolphin, leading to the conclusion that the species is now functionally extinct.[37]

Contamination of environment – the oceans, seas, and rivers – is an issue of concern, especially pesticides, heavy metals, plastics, and other industrial and agricultural pollutants which do not disintegrate rapidly in the environment are reducing dolphin populations, and resulting in dolphins building up unusually high levels of contaminants. Injuries or deaths due to collisions with boats, especially their propellers, are also common.

Various fishing methods, most notably purse Seine fishing for tuna and the use of drift and gill nets, results in a large amounts of dolphins being killed inadvertently.[38] Accidental by-catch in gillnets and incidental captures in antipredator nets used in marine fish farms are common and poses a risk for mainly local dolphin populations.[39][40] Dolphin safe labels have been introduced to reassure consumers that the fish sold has been caught in a dolphin friendly way. In some parts of the world such as Taiji in Japan and the Faroe Islands, dolphins are traditionally considered as food, and killed in harpoon or drive hunts.

It is believed that loud underwater noises, for example resulting from naval sonar use, live firing exercises or certain offshore construction projects such as the construction of offshore wind farms may be harmful to dolphins, distressing the animals, damaging their hearing and possibly forcing them to the surface quicker resulting in decompression sickness.[41][42]

Human–dolphin relationships

Dolphins have long played a role in human culture. Dolphins are common in Greek mythology and there are many coins from the time which feature a man or boy riding on the back of a dolphin. The Ancient Greeks treated them with welcome; a ship spotting dolphins riding in their wake was considered a good omen for a smooth voyage. In Hindu mythology, the Ganges River Dolphin is associated with Ganga, the deity of the Ganges river.

Popular culture

In more recent times, the 1963 Flipper movie and the subsequent popular Flipper television series, contributed to the popularity of dolphins in Western society. The series, created by Ivan Tors, portrayed a dolphin in a friendly relationship with two boys, Sandy and Bud; a kind of seagoing Lassie. Flipper, a Bottlenose Dolphin, understood English commands unusually well and was a marked hero. A second Flipper movie was made in 1996, which was based on the story of the original movie. A Bottlenose Dolphin also played a prominent role in the 1990s science fiction television series seaQuest DSV in which the animal, named Darwin, could communicate with English speakers using a vocoder, a fictional invention which translated the clicks and whistles to English and back.

More well known from this time period is probably the movie Free Willy however, which made famous the Orca playing Willy, Keiko. The 1977 horror movie Orca paints a less friendly picture of the animal. Here, a male Orca takes revenge on fishermen after the killing of his mate. In the 1973 movie The Day of the Dolphin trained dolphins are kidnapped and made to perform a naval military assassination using explosives.

Dolphinariums

dolphinariou

See also: Dolphinarium

The renewed popularity of dolphins in the 1960s resulted in the appearance of many dolphinariums around the world, which have made dolphins accessible to the public. Though criticism and more strict animal welfare laws have forced many dolphinariums to close their doors, hundreds still exist around the world attracting a large amount of visitors. In the United States, best known are the SeaWorld marine mammal parks, and their common Orca stage name Shamu, which they have trademarked, has become well known. Southwest Airlines, an American airline, has painted three of their Boeing 737 aircraft in Shamu colours as an advertisement for the parks and have been flying with such a livery on various aircraft since 1988.

Therapy

Dolphins are an increasingly popular choice of animal-assisted therapy for psychological problems and developmental disabilities. For example, a 2005 study with 30 participants found it was an effective treatment for mild to moderate depression.[43] However, this study was criticized on several grounds; for example, it is not known whether dolphins are more effective than common pets.[44] Reviews of this and other published dolphin-assisted therapy (DAT) studies have found important methodological flaws and have concluded that there is no compelling scientific evidence that DAT is a legitimate therapy or that it affords any more than fleeting improvements in mood.[45]

Military

A number of militaries have employed dolphins for various purposes from finding mines to rescuing lost or trapped humans. Such military dolphins, however, drew scrutiny during the Vietnam War when rumors circulated that dolphins were being trained by the United States Navy to kill Vietnamese divers.[46] However, no evidence to support these rumors ever surfaced, and the United States Navy denies that at any point Dolphins were trained to do harm. Dolphins are still being trained by the United States Navy as part of the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program. The Russian military is believed to have closed its marine mammal program in the early 1990s. In 2000 the press reported that dolphins trained to kill by the Soviet Navy had been sold to Iran.[47]

Literature

Dolphins are also common in contemporary literature, especially science fiction novels. A military role for dolphins is found in William Gibson‘s short story Johnny Mnemonic, in which cyborg dolphins are used in war-time by the military to find submarines and, after the war, by a group of revolutionaries to decode encrypted information. Dolphins play a role as sentient patrollers of the sea enhanced with a deeper empathy toward humans in Anne McCaffrey‘s The Dragonriders of Pern series. In the Known Space universe of author Larry Niven, dolphins also play a significant role as fully-recognised “legal entities”. More humorous is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which dolphins are the second most intelligent creatures on Earth (after mice, and followed by humans) and tried in vain to warn humans of the impending destruction of the planet. However, their behaviour was misinterpreted as playful acrobatics. Their story is told in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. Much more serious is their major role (along with chimpanzees) in David Brin‘s Uplift series. A talking Dolphin called “Howard” helps Hagbard Celine and his submarine crew fight the evil Illuminati in Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson‘s Illuminatus Trilogy.

Dolphins also appear frequently in non-science fiction literature however. In the book The Music of Dolphins by author Karen Hesse, a girl is raised by dolphins from the age of four until she is discovered by the coast guard. Fantasy author Ken Grimwood wrote dolphins into his 1995 novel Into the Deep about a marine biologist struggling to crack the code of dolphin intelligence, including entire chapters written from the viewpoint of his dolphin characters. In this book, humans and dolphins are capable of communicating via telepathy.

Art

Greek Art:

greek art dolph

Dolphins are a popular artistic motif, dating back to ancient times. Examples include the Triton Fountain by Bernini and depictions of dolphins in the ruined Minoan palace at Knossos and on Minoan pottery.

sunset dolphs