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.
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.
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.
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.
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 dorsal fins move up and down, lower and higher through the surface.
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.
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.
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.
Small groups are united in touch. Fins stroke fins. Fins stroke bodies, feathery brushes across another’s throat, chest, belly, and genitals.
Fins hold hands as dolphins glide side by side, half asleep, eyes closed.
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.
(All of the dolphin images used in this article are available for purchase. Contact Roberta for details.)
All images Copyright (c) Roberta Goodman. All Rights Reserved.