Animal Awareness Series


Eighty-six different types of dolphin species exist in our waters today, all unique individuals with character and personality. They use their senses of sight, taste, and touch, in addition to echolocation, to navigate through the seas. Dolphins are very social animals who live and travel in pods. Within these pods, dolphins sustain social relationships with one another to thrive as a community within their environment. They are commonly seen playing games and interacting with one another. Growing up in this nature, dolphins teach their young behavioural habits which will pass through many generations of the pod. These mammals mature as they are exposed to different life experiences and can live into their fifties.

Dolphins use echolocation, a form of communication through sound, to communicate with each other. Scientists have found through many years of research that different sounds can resemble different forms of conversation and behaviour. Not only can dolphins hear sounds ten times over that of humans but they can also feel sound waves as they travel underwater. Check out Could we speak the language of dolphins?” with Denise Herzig to learn more about the communication, behavioural , and interactive habits of dolphins and how her and her team are continuing research in this field.

It has been identified that dolphins can distinguish the two elements of human language: symbols and syntax. They are able to recognize themselves in a reflection which indicates that dolphins have an internal understanding of their own body and thoughts. These empathetic animals are very in-tune with their surroundings and have been seen to develop different behavioural habits to best adjust within their environment. One example of this is their intelligent use of tools. For example, the bottlenose dolphin off the Australia Coast have adapted the use of tools for self protection. By pushing a sea sponge with their rostrum (beak) through sharp corals they eliminate the risk of injury. This knowledge is past down within generations of the pod and is unique to this region of dolphin. All of this and more can be discovered in this Ted-Ed addition of “How Smart Are Dolphins?” by Lori Marino.

An example of this unique behavioural strategies in feeding can be seen when comparing the bottlenose dolphins in the Bahamas to those in Florida. The bottlenose dolphins that reside in the Bahamas perform a feeding strategy that scientists have identified as crater feeding. By listening closely to the movement of fish in the sand, these problem solving mammals then dig into the surface creating a crater and are able to catch their prey. The bottlenose dolphins in Florida strategize and work as a team when feeding. One of the dolphins splashes around the muddy water making it murky and hard for the fish to see, resorting in the need for the fish to jump out of the waters. This required action of the fish is intentional by the dolphins as the others in the pod work together to collect and catch the jumping fish in their mouths. Feeding is a social activity and a key component to survival and these mammals have intelligently created unique strategies to best perform in different competitive environments. To learn more on this research I invite you to watch National Geographic’s talk titled “Dolphins: Even Smarter Than You Thought”.

Dolphins are amazingly intelligent mammals and the research scientists are continuing to learn more. As humans, we can relate to dolphins in many ways and understand some of their patterns and character based on observation and study. Although we have many answers on this species, there are still many questions. What an amazing time to be exploring the life of dolphins!