The dolphin's intelligence, agility and playful behaviour continue to endear them to nature lovers the world over. Dolphin tours are among the most popular and sought after of all nature travel experiences, with the intriguing cetacean quite often appearing to be as curious about humans as we are of them. |
Certain places around the world have become particularly popular for professional dolphin tours, and the almost 40 oceanic species can be found in shallow, temperate and tropical oceans around destinations as diverse as the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Madeira and Baja California.
These beautiful aquatic mammals have some fascinating characteristics and behaviours, many of which are not commonly known.
They're sociable: Because they live in pods they lead a very social life, travelling, hunting and playing together. Pods can comprise more than 1,000 members, with the largest group ever recorded spotted off the coast of California, measuring an astounding seven miles wide.
They love to surf: When Sir David Attenborough's Blue Planet 2 documentary series captured the astounding vision of a huge pod of surfing dolphins with state-of-the-art camera equipment, the intimate footage became more than simply entertainment. It's been used as part of wider studies to support evidence that they surf to develop social skills, strengthen friendships and simply for the sheer, unadulterated fun of it.
Sophisticated communicators: These highly intelligent creatures hunt and navigate using a technique called echolocation, sometimes called sonar. They have the ability to interpret the echoes of sound waves as they bounce off objects, effectively enabling them to determine their size, shape and distance.
Motherly bond: The gestation period is between 9-17 months and, when a calf is born (tail first), the mother immediately takes it to the surface of the water for its first breath. Calves nurse for up to two years and, even when weaned, will stay with their mother for up to eight years.
Acute senses: While they have a very well developed sense of touch, and their aural and ocular abilities are acute both in and out of the water, they do not possess a sense of smell. Their eyes are able to move independently of each other and provide them with an incredible 360-degree vision.
Self-repairing skin: In order to reduce parasitic invasions, increase their aerodynamics and assist in wound healing, the thin outer skin cell layer is shed and replaced every couple of hours. They often rub against the ocean floor or slam themselves against the surface of the water to speed up the process.
They have no jaw muscles: Because of this they're unable to chew, so they swallow their prey whole, and the bones are broken down inside the stomach by highly effective stomach enzymes.
Separate gender roles: Males and females may look the same and they all hunt, but when it comes to their roles and responsibilities there is a distinct divide. Females are focused on protecting and caring for the young, while males take on the role of protectors.
They once had legs: Around 50 million years ago dolphins walked the earth. While they evolved into the more familiar form we see today by losing hair and developing tails to assist them swim and hunt in the ocean, they still retain two mini pelvic bones on each side of their body – a relic of their four legs.
Dolphin Tours Support Conservation
These beautiful cetaceans have few natural enemies and, in fact, the primary threat to their survival comes down to human activities like hunting, fishing and pollution – particularly the alarming encroachment of our plastic waste in the ocean. Supporting responsible eco tourism through dedicated dolphin tours is one way of raising awareness of the issues our marine wildlife faces, while enjoying one of the most memorable nature travel experiences available.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in whale and dolphin watching. As a passionate lover ofmarine wildlife, Marissa chooses the expert-led dolphin tours organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
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