How to Draw Dolphins –
Facts About Dolphins & Their Behavior

by Roberta Goodman

Dolphin Facts Continued . . .

Read Part 1 here


Dolphin Facts 12


The flexible dolphin easily bends to the side, but their neck is an extension of the rest of the spine, and the head doesn’t have independent mobility. If you float directly above a rising dolphin, the dolphin turns slightly sideways to see you. Pectoral fins tilt to steer and balance the dolphin and spread out flat to reach for other dolphins on either side.

Dolphin Facts 13


Dolphins appear quite similar to one another until you look closely at scars on the skin and nicks on the fins.


Dolphin Facts 14


Patterns in their bands of color differentiate dolphins too. Dolphins have dark stripes on their faces that I call eye makeup. Some dolphins have a bit more makeup than others.


Dolphin Facts 15


In profile, mature males have a bit of a bump in their genital region.


Dolphin Facts 16


Females have a streamlined ventral profile. Dolphins have genital slits, one for the genitals and one for the anus.


Dolphin Facts 16


Females have two puckers that are nipple slits, one on either side of their genital slit. This is where you will see a baby nursing, turning sideways and briefly placing the end of his beak against the pucker.


Dolphin Facts 17


The baby’s tongue curls and the mom squirts very rich milk into its mouth.

But even full-sized dolphins will be seen with one’s beak pressed against the other’s genital region.


Dolphin Facts 18


Dolphins mate belly to belly. They swim belly to belly quite often, and use the surface to add the pressure of weight to the dolphin on top.

Moms may steer their babies by pushing them to the side or even lifting them out of the water. A mom may hold a baby underwater to increase his interval of breathing, extending his capacity to hold his breath.


Dolphin Facts 19


Dolphins slap the surface in communication. A dolphin may turn upside down and smack the surface with his tail repeatedly. As a dolphin dives, it may give a light tap on the surface with its tail. They may warn with a sideways swipe of the tail or abruptly smack the surface.

Dolphins also head slap the surface, or breach and land sideways.


Dolphin Facts 20


These communications have many meanings and must be looked at in context. After resting, by swimming in lazy circles in a shallow bay, Spinner dolphins may begin breaching as the pod wakes up. The pod is alerted and prepares to move out to sea. No one is left behind.


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Spinner dolphins spin – they leap free of the water and twist and turn unpredictably.


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Spotted dolphins may jump 20 feet clear of the water. Dolphins porpoise as they travel quickly.


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They jump off the top of waves and surf its face. You may see a whole line of dolphins surfing a wave while traveling across the ocean. Waves roll along at 35 knots and dolphins add speed with very little effort by riding the waves.

Small fish may swim near dolphins. Schools of bait fish part at their approach. Some dolphins may have a remora, a sucker fish, attached to their body. The remoras move around the dolphin’s body, eating skin parasites, and sometimes leaving scars. A dolphin may breach repeatedly, almost crazily, trying to dislodge a remora.


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Manta rays, with wing spans of 10 to 16 feet, are comfortable in the presence of a swirling band of active young dolphins.

Sharks can occasionally slide by, neither bothering the other, but the dolphins remain absolutely alert to its presence.

Dolphins are gregarious. How many dolphins you might see together depends on the species and location, but super-groups of perhaps thousands of any kind or even a mixture of species can occasionally be sighted. In Hawaii, Bottlenose generally travel in small groups of 2-10. Spinners are rarely seen in such small numbers and are more often in groups of 50-600. Spotted dolphins can be in small pods or in pods of 300 or so. Uncountable, dolphin numbers can only be estimated in pods this large. The large pod splits off into sub-pods. Twenty-five may swoop by in formation and continue to rise to breathe and fall to rest together.


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Sometimes the species mix. A few Spotteds may enter a pod of Spinners. When the Humpback whales come to the islands in the winter, Spinner dolphins can play around them for hours. Bottlenose dolphins are often seen with the Humpbacks. I have filmed four Bottlenose dolphins riding a Humpback’s bow wave on its snout! They looked like whiskers, so small in close comparison to the giant.

(All of the dolphin images used in this article are available for purchase. Contact Roberta for details.)


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All images Copyright (c) Roberta Goodman. All Rights Reserved.

How to Draw Dolphins –
Facts About Dolphins & Their Behavior

by Roberta Goodman

How do you draw dolphins so it seems as though you are swimming beside them observing their lives?

The lives of dolphins in the wild have different perspectives than the lives of Bottlenose dolphins under human care. Although a very popular postcard picture, generally only captive dolphins bring their heads out of the water with their mouths open, and make noises in air. These dolphins are begging for fish or otherwise communicating with their human handlers. Wild dolphins acclimated to being given fish from boats may lift their head with their mouth open, but feeding wild dolphins is illegal and changes their natural behavior.

To learn about dolphins in the wild, you must find out what they are doing under the water.

Dolphins are very social, interactive and playful. Their moods and activities vary during the day. Most of the life of a dolphin, besides hunting, is spent within 60 feet of the surface. As all mammals do, they must breathe air. Dolphins generally come up to breathe every 2 to 5 minutes. In clear water, the sunlight shoots rays right down through this surface layer.


Dolphin Facts 1

If you are floating on the ocean, rays of light converge below you in a wavering point far down in the deep blue. Sunlight shatters on a dolphin’s body into brilliant patterns of sweeping intersecting lines, sparkling glints flitting on the dolphin’s skin. The dark cape on a dolphin’s back is etched in diamonds and stripes, flowing with the waves rolling across the ocean overhead. As dolphins dive deeper, the bands of light disappear and the water darkens. Reds and yellows are lost to the blues and greens of the sea. Dolphins depend on their sonar to see in the gloom, even in pitch blackness, and into distances beyond their eyesight.


Dolphin Facts 2


Dolphins have very good eyesight in air. When boats are near, they often raise their body when breathing so that their eyes lift out of the water.


Dolphin Facts 3


Their ears, almost undetectable pinholes, are then exposed to sounds in air, sounds which are muffled under the water. Sound doesn’t travel far crossing the air-water interface. But underwater, sound travels further and faster than in air. Sound travels so quickly underwater, that it reaches both of our human ears at virtually the same time, making it difficult for us to precisely localize dolphin whistles. Sometimes the dolphin will release a bubble stream while whistling.

We could recognize the sound source better if our ears were separated by 5 feet! Dolphins have a different physiology of hearing which is much more precise at listening to and locating underwater sounds.

There are pelagic dolphin species and pods and nearshore dolphins. Nearshore dolphins can travel, rest, and play in shallow water, gliding above multicolored coral or white sand. A sandy bottom turns the water a gorgeous turquoise.

Dolphin Facts 4I

Dolphin Facts 5


Dolphins in 20 feet of clear water over a sandy bottom are suspended in translucent blues and aqua.

The ocean’s surface, looking up from below, is reflective. Double dolphins appear in a distorted mirror image as they rise to breathe. The dorsal fin slices the mirror’s clarity, leaving a thin wake.


Dolphin Facts 7

Dolphin dorsal fins move up and down, lower and higher through the surface.

Dolphin Facts 8


Shark fins generally move snakelike across their path when relaxing at the surface.

The dolphin’s back breaks into air and the blowhole expels air. You may not see the puff of water and air, or the dolphin may release air in a bubble that throws water aside before the inhalation.

Dolphin Facts 9


TEPUHI – “dolphin” in some Polynesian languages –
TEPU – exhale – HAY – inhale, the dolphin’s breath.
Say it while exhaling and inhaling explosively. This is one dolphin name. Tepuhi, said with the breath.
After three or so breaths, the dolphin rolls into a dive, submerging again.

Dolphin Facts 9


Underwater, dolphins are seen diving together, in slightly staggered unison. Synchronicity is common in dolphin pods. Dolphins rise together and dive together. They swim in zigzags together.

Dolphin Facts 10


Small groups are united in touch. Fins stroke fins. Fins stroke bodies, feathery brushes across another’s throat, chest, belly, and genitals.

Dolphin Facts 11


Fins hold hands as dolphins glide side by side, half asleep, eyes closed.


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Dolphins see in stereo just a short ways in front of them and below their chests. You can hide behind a dolphin’s tail and the dolphin must arch one way and then the other to peer at you from either eye as you follow right behind him. This is a fun dolphin game.

Click this link to continue learning facts about dolphins, their behavior, and more.



(All of the dolphin images used in this article are available for purchase. Contact Roberta for details.)

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All images Copyright (c) Roberta Goodman. All Rights Reserved.

It was ecstatic moments with an autistic boy, fins rising around us, which fully opened a new door for me.

I wanted a miracle.

A teacher of children with autism introduced me to a six-year-old pre-verbal boy. He seemed nearly impossible to work with, often yelling loudly in protest and was difficult for me to understand. His mom had never heard him say a clear word and his teacher had once heard him say “turn on” in reference to the TV in the classroom. Otherwise, sessions to elicit speech were not going well.

I brought swim masks to class one day and some of the kids tried them on. Nate allowed a mask to be placed on his face, but quickly pulled it off, protesting with yells.

Another day, Nate’s program assistant, John, met me, along with Nate and his mom, at a protected tidal pool. I brought a large innertube with a cloth floor on it to this shallow lagoon where Nate enjoyed playing. He climbed in the inner tube and let me swing him around before rolling out to wade and splash in the water. In this way, he would be familiar with one element of our dolphin trip—the innertube would be used on the ocean as well.

Nate seemed the least likely subject for a movie, crying out and grimacing at any interruption in his desires or new requests. Children with autism tend to prefer the known, repetition of familiar schedules and activities. How would Nate respond to a totally new environment? His teacher and mom agreed to meet me at the harbor in Kona. We would go out on a four-hour boat trip to find and be with dolphins.

Nate enjoys rides in the car. His mom followed me over Saddle Road early the morning of our boat excursion. At the marina, Nate pulled away from his mom and the teacher who would attend him during the trip. We decided his mom should stay on shore to allow him the opportunity to more fully experience the unusual day without the possibility of clinging to familiarity. Nate screamed and balked during the boat orientation time. I asked his mom what she expected from the day with dolphins. “A miracle,” she replied. “I believe the dolphins can bring about a miracle and Nate will begin to talk.” Wow! Her high expectations overwhelmed me! While I held the same high intention, I admired her utter conviction. Having heard about dolphins helping to teach children with special needs, she was convinced the dolphins had a power to heal and could help her child overcome his lack of speech.

A miracle. We set sail for the life change of a miracle.

We launched the big, yellow inflatable boat from the trailer into the marina and Nate was allowed on. From the time Nate stepped aboard, to the time he left, he enjoyed himself. Squealing in delight, with delicious intent, Nate ran from side to side, leaning over the edges. He jumped up and down in the bow on the waves. Nate dragged a flotation “noodle” in the water alongside the boat, never releasing it to the wake. He was content, excited, and discovering new sensations. Nate was completely out of his routine, in a new situation, faced with experiences and choices he had never encountered. Yet he was totally “in his element”!

The captain found dolphins milling in a bay. The dolphins looped around the boat, resting and playing, as we drifted in neutral. Because the dolphins had already spread out and relaxed in the bay, they didn’t ride the bow or jump around the boat as they often do when we find them traveling the coastline. Nate had no time to get a good look at them up close. Perched in the middle of the bay, everyone else got into the water and swam off with dolphins.

Nate was now anxious to get into the water. I brought out the familiar inner tube and Nate let himself be dropped over the side, about 3 feet, and into the tube. He happily sat in the big blue and green innertube as I pulled him away from the boat.

“There are dolphins,” I said and pointed. Nate was enjoying the water. He was happy as I swung him around.

“There they are,” I said and pointed as fins popped up. Nate wanted to get into the water and slid over the side of the tube and into my arms in the deep, blue ocean. He had a small life vest on and I used a noodle between my arms for extra floatation. I let go of the tube and it floated nearby. We were buoyant enough to keep our heads in the air very easily. I had my fins and mask on but my mask stayed on top of my head the entire time. Nate and I hugged each other, his legs wrapped around me, and played in circles, bobbing on the small swells. Once in awhile, he pinched my arms in an anxious excitement. When he would get nervous, I would hold him tight and go in around in circles. He got very excited, seemingly overjoyed, in short bursts. The whole dolphin pod swept through us. Masses of fins emerged alongside us.

“Here are the dolphins,” I said quietly. “They’re all around us. See them?” I ask, turning us so he can look at the fins go by. He tucked his head between us, and tightened up, squeezing me. The dolphins were below and around us.

I felt a sense of joy raise and raise, heightening inside me, bursting in ecstasy! Nate squeezed harder, grimacing intently. I felt we were both in a state of pure joy, reveling in the presence of a hundred dolphins swinging around us. Without a mask on, I had little visual contact with the dolphins, no cues as to what they were doing, no way to respond in body language to their presence and whistling. Instead, I was completely caught up in sensation at the center of a vortex, in an ecstatic state with another person while surrounded by dolphins. In this newness, I had only my intuition, feelings, trust, and a “meta-viewpoint” to act on. I let go of any behavior and just was. I joined with Nate and we seemed to become a small tight ball of joy in the middle of the ocean, in a visual circle of bright yellow, orange, blue, and green. We were all there was and yet we were in an extraordinary setting with extraordinary inputs and responses. We were one and we were everything in which we were immersed and we were one.

I had a moment of absolute harmony with the work I was allowing to happen. Allowing Nate to experience whatever he did, granted me the opportunity to join him in his high level of excitement. Just an experience with the dolphins was nowhere near as exciting. I was thrown out through the top of my head! Dolphins often lead to euphoria, but a joint ecstasy was a different state than I previously experienced with another person with the dolphins. Energy streamed through our bodies and up and out of us.

As the dolphins moved on past us, we settled down again and found ourselves, floating alone, not far from the tube and 100 yards or so from the boat. As I kicked us towards the boat, Nate wanted back into the tube. I was too exhausted to do much to push him in and the large tube was unbalanced without anyone holding down the other side. Fortunately, someone jumped in and grabbed the other side of the tube so Nate could slide in. From there he was lifted back onto the boat.

I took some time alone in the water, stretching out and floating relaxed on the surface. I was exhausted, but not extinguished! I passed through a doorway and a light had come on. In the moments of ecstasy, I thought, “This is what I should do. This has meaning. There’s something happening here that I didn’t foresee or create. I allowed. I experienced, jointly, the joy of another who was bouncing off my own joy. The joy rose, bouncing between us. We stimulated each other, completely allowing, with ease, the joy to build.

I am used to joy in the presence of dolphins. I appreciate new feelings, experiences, and responses with dolphins in a free flow of interactions. I was used to a lack of self-consciousness in the immense privacy of the ocean. I surrendered and allowed, in trust and acceptance and gratitude and happiness, the joy to build. Now I felt as if I fulfilled my mission as a naturalist, a facilitator in wild dolphin therapy for a preverbal boy with autism. I felt right in that position, capable where there was no training, appropriate without instruction. I had entered naпve and curious and excited with incredible yet unexpected success. We did what we came to do, although we hadn’t a plan.

The boat ride home continued the fun and adventure. Nate loved the boat! On the return trip, he loved going fast and jumping up and down. As we glided through the marina, Nate’s mom called from the shore. Nate looked up into his mom’s eyes, recognizing her from a distance. His mom knew right then that something had changed. Nate was making eye contact. He saw far beyond his immediate site. He had experienced many new activities, not knowing what would happen next. Familiarity and schedule were replaced by an entirely new day with few touchstones he knew.

At home that night, after the trip, passing by his personal assistant’s home, he repeated clearly to his mom “John. John.” For the first time, clearly and in context, his mom heard him speak. Later, to his uncle, he said “Hi Dan.” His mom said it was the first time he really addressed someone. He brought his mom his swimsuit before bedtime, indicating he would like to get in the water again.

The world changed a little for Nate and his mom. The boy burst through a doorway. Nature. The boat. The ocean. The dolphins. The ecstasy. The therapist’s initiation. The mother’s hope. Our vision and intent. An amazing change. A miracle.

Nate spoke every week after that day. His mom heard him clear and true. Just two days later at a session on the beach, with dolphins in the distance, I heard Nate too. “Way. Way,” he said quietly and clearly, looking at the two paths leading to the water. “Which way do you want to go? Either way is good,” I had said. “Way. Way.”

My 21-year old daughter, Harmony, was with us as a swim assistant. Pulling Nate in the inner tube across the bay with dolphins, I pointed to the Spinner dolphins jumping and said, “Tell me if you see the dolphins. Say, ‘I see them!’” “Seez ‘em. Seez ‘em,” he enunciated with his head down in the tube. Harmony and I looked at each other from either side of the tube, grinning with wonder in our eyes as we listened to the dolphin’s whistle.

To read about the euphoria of a wild dolphin encounter click here

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