Taking dolphin tours can be a life-affirming experience, as well as an educational one. We know almost as little about the underwater world as we do about outer space, and spending time watching, swimming with, or learning about dolphins is an opportunity to discover more about a hidden world. Read on for some dolphin facts to whet your appetite.
Though they are mammals like us, and need air to breathe, dolphins can hold their breath for an average 15 minutes; some species can reach an astonishing 30 minutes. Despite this, they usually stay close to the ocean surface so they can leap and dive, meaning that they never stay hidden from those embarking on dolphin tours for too long. They can, however, swim deep if they need to, reaching up to 260 metres beneath the surface.
Social groups and bonds are as important to dolphins as they are to us. Dolphins live in close-knit groups called pods, and take care of their sick or injured. They form friendships with each other, and females will form strong bonds with their calves - which means you will often see young dolphins with their mothers on dolphin tours. They are also strong communicators, using whistles and clicks almost in the way we use spoken language - individual dolphins even have unique series' of whistles which can be used to identify them, the way humans use names.
Quick and clever
The creatures you see on dolphin tours are deeply intelligent as well as beautiful. Dolphins' brains are proportionally larger, in relation to their bodies, to those of chimpanzees and gorillas, which suggests they are intelligent - and their behaviour proves it. Bottlenose dolphins have been observed using ingenious hunting techniques, such as covering their snouts with sea-sponges, which allows them to forage in the sand without being stung by any poisonous species that might be lurking there. They are also very quick learners, both in captivity where they have been known to devise their own tricks, realising that they will be rewarded, and in the wild, where calves rapidly learn how to interact and hunt by copying their mothers.
Dolphins are able to use sound in order to locate objects, by emitting high-frequency clicks and listening for the echoes that bounce back. This technique, similar to radar and known as echolocation, means that they can judge the size, type, and position of objects even if they can't see them, which is particularly helpful for hunting and navigation. Dolphins have a specially-developed organ for this, called the 'melon', located in their heads.
These are just a few of the many fascinating things we know about dolphins, and much more is still undiscovered. The best way to learn is from experience, so be sure to approach dolphin tours with an open mind.