Dolphins in North Carolina

Often called the most beautiful and majestic creatures of the sea, dolphins are one of the 128 species of mammals that live underwater. There are almost 40 different species of dolphin living in every ocean in the world, along with many major rivers, making them a common and very important part of our marine ecosystems. Dolphins are very common in the waters of North Carolina, where it is not a rare sight to see a dolphin jumping out of the water while you are walking on the beach.

Size

Most people typically think of dolphins to be about 6 to 8 feet long and maybe 300 pounds, but in actuality, dolphins have extremely varying sizes. Their sizes can range from as small as 4 feet long and 90 pounds for the Maui's dolphin to as large as 30 feet long and almost 10 tons for the orca whale, (which is actually a species of dolphin rather than whale.)

Lifestyle

Dolphins live in pods of anywhere from 10 to 500 dolphins, where they will form very close bonds with each other. Dolphins have been observed helping sick members of their pods, which is common as dolphins will sometimes form relationships with each other that will last their entire lives. Nevertheless, dolphins can also be brutal to their fellow pod members and have been seen abusing unpopular members of the pod.

In addition to living together, a dolphin also hunts with members of its pod. Through communication of clicking, squeaking, and the use of their remarkable eyesight, they can capture fish, shrimp, and squid, which they will catch with their teeth. Strangely enough, a dolphin does not chew its food and prefers to just swallow it whole once it has been caught. The average dolphin eats about 14 pounds of food a day, but some dolphins have been known to eat up to 30 pounds in a single day. A dolphin has two stomachs that serve different purposes: food is stored in one stomach and digested in the other.

Specifics

When a dolphin becomes pregnant, it has a gestation period of about a year. Once the baby dolphin is born, the calf stays with its mother for about 3 years, a significant fraction of its total average life which is about 20 years. A dolphin learns to breathe and swim within minutes of being born.

Dolphins have a rubbery, hairless skin. This provides them with little resistance and extra speed while swimming through the water. Dolphins, not unlike humans, have very sensitive skin that can become bruised easily by brushing up against rough surfaces.

Interesting Dolphin Facts

There are many very interesting and unique facts about dolphins. For one, they cannot fully fall asleep, because they need to be conscious to breath. To solve this problem, they only rest one half of their brain at a time, altogether totaling about 8 hours of sleep a day. Dolphins can swim in any of three different ways, including resting at the surface with their blowholes above the water, resting on the floor of shallow water and rising to the surface occasionally, or swimming very slowly and occasionally surfacing to breathe.

The life expectancy of a dolphin varies between the regions that the dolphin lives in. The dolphins in the Banana River in Florida live between 10 and 14 years on average, while dolphins that live in Florida's Sarasota Bay live about 25 years on average.

While dolphins can dive almost 1,000 feet deep, most dolphins do not spend much time diving very deep. The majority of dolphins live in fairly shallow water, and they spend the bulk of their time in waters less than seven feet deep.

Dolphins vs. Porpoises

To the untrained eye, trying to figure out the differences between a dolphin and a porpoise is like trying to figure out the difference between the sand of one beach and the sand of another. However, there are actually many differences that can help you to distinguish between the two.

One of the most obvious ways to figure out if you're looking at a dolphin or a porpoise is the length. A dolphin is almost always longer than a porpoise, as porpoises are shorter and stouter than your average dolphin. If you're close enough to the two animals to see their teeth, then you have a sure-fire way to tell the difference, as a porpoise's teeth are shaped like spades with blunt tips as opposed to a dolphin's longer sharp tooth. Finally, while a dolphin has a very clearly defined beak, a porpoise's jaw is set into its head, meaning that it doesn't have a protruding beak.

Porpoises and dolphins may look similar enough to be confused but in actuality, the two species are very different. While dolphins are very social and outgoing creatures, porpoises are very shy and withdrawn, rarely seen in large pods and often observed traveling by themselves. Even when the porpoises are in a pod, it's not because of any relationship or bond that the porpoises share, but just a group of porpoises traveling together. Finally, they use echolocation for communication only when necessary, not having idle chat like dolphins have been known to do.

More Information:

Terms: Dolphins in North Carolina, North Carolina Dolphins, Outer Banks Dokphins

Information on Dolphins of the Outer Banks, and coastal North Carolina.

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