Dolphins are highly intelligent, warm-blooded mammals that live and thrive in various locations across the world, from the cold northern and southern waters to the tropical equator. Most dolphins are oceanic, but a few live in rivers. The most well-known dolphin is the bottlenose dolphin, which has appeared in various media outlets. Other species of dolphins include the killer whale, the Chinese white dolphin and the Atlantic spotted dolphin.
Dolphins have long, streamlined bodies designed to travel quickly and efficiently underwater. The average dolphin measures at eight or nine feet and weighs between 419 and 575 lbs., though dolphins can be bigger or smaller depending on species. Most dolphins have a fin on their back, two fins that resemble arms and a tail split down the middle. Dolphins usually have gray, brown or blue skin, though some have black stripes or spots, like the killer whale. Over 30 different species of dolphin exist, and the appearance of each differs in these characteristics.
Dolphins have rubbery, slippery, hairless skin. The animals are insulated by a layer of blubber -- a type of fat -- under their skin to keep them warm in cold water. Some people who have swum with dolphins report that their skin feels just like rubber, while other think the texture more closely resembles the inner part of a hard-boiled egg or even wet leather.
Dolphins do not have skin glands, which means they do not sweat. In fact, dolphins are almost completely odorless. Any scent they carry with them was likely transferred from the water they live in. For example, dolphins that live in saltwater may smell somewhat salty; however, this scent is due to their environment, not their body.
If you want to experience for yourself what a dolphin looks, feels and smells like, try swimming with them. There are numerous opportunities worldwide to swim and interact with dolphins. For example, SeaWorld’s San Antonio and Orlando parks offer opportunities for you to interact with dolphins. Many locations outside of the U.S. provide opportunities to swim with wild dolphins as well, including the Bahamas and Mexico.
- National Geographic Readers: Dolphins; Melissa Stewart; 2010
- Dolphins-World.com: What Do Dolphins Look Like?
- Scholastic Teachers: Interview with Research Biologist Daniel K. Odell