How to Draw Dolphins –
Facts About Dolphins & Their Behavior
by Roberta Goodman
Dolphin Facts Continued . . .
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.
Dolphins appear quite similar to one another until you look closely at scars on the skin and nicks on the fins.
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.
In profile, mature males have a bit of a bump in their genital region.
Females have a streamlined ventral profile. Dolphins have genital slits, one for the genitals and one for the anus.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Spinner dolphins spin – they leap free of the water and twist and turn unpredictably.
Spotted dolphins may jump 20 feet clear of the water. Dolphins porpoise as they travel quickly.
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.
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.
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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