Dolphins are incredibly intelligent animals. They are renowned for many things including their remarkable memory, ability to learn skills and follow commands. But it’s not just intelligence that stands out with these amazing water dwellers.
Baby dolphins have some amazing evolutionary traits and features to help get them started in life. These amazing sea mammals are from the order of mammals known as Cetaceans. Believe it or not, they evolved from land mammals millions of years ago, only to grow a tail and fins and make their way back into the water from where we once all emerged!
In this post we explore some fascinating baby dolphin facts and answer some frequently asked questions about these incredibly intelligent sea mammals.
6 Fascinating Baby Dolphin Facts
Baby Dolphins Are Called Calves
Baby dolphins, both male and female are called ‘calves‘. As they grow, male dolphins are called ‘bulls‘ and female whales are called ‘cows‘.
Similarly to whales, most dolphins are uniparous, meaning that they only give birth to one baby from a pregnancy. Depending on the species, they may have a baby every 1 to six years.
Some species are capable of delivering twins, but it is very rare, estimated to be less than 1% of pregnancies.
As dolphins are usually born as individual offspring, there isn’t a separate collective noun for a group of baby dolphins. They share the same collective noun as for any group of dolphins which is a ‘pod‘ of dolphins . A pod can consist of a family of dolphins with mothers and their offspring, or larger pods for travelling or hunting.
While they are sometimes called a ‘school‘ of dolphins, this is not correct. School is a collective noun for fish and dolphins are mammals. so like whales and porpoise, a group of dolphins is actually called a pod.
Baby Dolphin Calves Learn To Swim Before They Are Even Born
One amazing fact about baby dolphins, is that there is evidence to suggest that they learn to swim before they have even left the womb. Scientists have observed them swimming around in the womb from as early as a few weeks into a pregnancy.
They need this skill so that they can surface quickly once they are born. Just because they have started to learn the skill in the womb, that doesn’t make them experts at first. It takes time for them to learn how to move skilfully in the water.
One very clever technique that dolphin calves learn, is to follow their mothers slipstream when swimming in the water, so that they can keep up with her.
Baby Dolphins Need To Surface To Breathe
For a baby dolphin to take its first breath it has to surface to the top of the ocean just like its mother. Luckily, a baby dolphin has already started developing their swimming skills in the womb. They are birthed in shallow water and as soon as they are born, the mother will help them to the surface to breathe.
As they grow, dolphins can hold their breath for up to 10 minutes underwater before needing to surface again for air.
Baby Dolphins Have Several Adaptions To Help Then Through The Early Stages
Skin Shedding – While skin shedding is something you might mostly associate with baby snakes or reptiles, baby dolphin calves do this too. As calves mature, they shed their outermost layer of skin every two hours. This helps them keep an aerodynamic finish to their skin.
Whiskers – When a dolphin calf is first born, it’s eyesight is very poor. To help it find it’s mother and her teat for feeding, they are born with tiny hair and whiskers around their snout. Once they have found their bearings and can easily find their mother, these hairs fall off. This is usually after a few days.
Rolling Tongue – You can probably imagine that trying to feed milk underwater, with no hands and a snout comes with a range of challenges. Pushing one liquid into another liquid of different viscosities, uncontained is never going to make it easy. But again, baby dolphins have developed tools to overcome. They are able to roll their tongue up like a straw to draw milk from their mothers teat without wasting large quantities of milk into the sea.
Baby Dolphins Usually Arrive Tail First
Dolphins almost never have twins, and babies are usually born tail first. Like whale, manatee or narwhal babies, they can be delivered head first, but there is more risk of drowning when this happens. Head first births tend to take longer, and leave the dolphin vulnerable to suffocation before they take their first breath.
Baby Dolphins Blowhole Is Not Just For Breathing
The blowhole is a versatile and critical part of a dolphins anatomy. Not only does it allow them to breathe, but they also use it to communicate a variety of vocalizations to their mum and to their pod. They will produce a range of sounds including whistles, clicks, squeaks and grunts.
They learn other communication skills as they grow, particularly with their tail, flippers and of course echolocation. But it is the early vocalizations that help them as calves. In fact every infant develops their own unique squeak shortly after birth. This sound is used for identification, much like humans use names.
Baby Dolphin FAQs
What Is The Lifecycle Of A Baby Dolphin?
Baby dolphins are born after a gestation period of around 11-12 months.
Some species take longer to develop than others. Infant bottlenose dolphin calves for example, will suckle for a period up to 18 months, but may stay with their mother up to 4 years.
For the common dolphin, the calving period is between 1 and 3 years. Common dolphins become sexually mature at 5 years and their life span varies between 20 to 25 years.
For all species, they continue to grow until they reach maturity, typically around five to ten years of age for females, or eight to twelve years for males.
The average lifespan of a baby dolphin is around 25 years, but some can live as long as 50 years.
How Big Do Baby Dolphins Grow?
Newborn dolphins weigh around 25-45 pounds on average and measure around three to four feet in length depending on the species.
Adult dolphins can weigh anywhere from 200 to 1,500 pounds and measure up to 8.5 feet in length. There are exceptions to this rule at either end of the scale though.
Hectors dolphins are the smallest in the world. At birth, they weigh about 9 kilograms and grow to about 40 to 60 kilograms in adulthood. At about 1.4 metres in length.
Despite their name, the largest species of dolphin is actually the Orca killer whale. Yes, the killer whale is actually a dolphin!
Orca calves are around 180 kg (400 lb) and are about 2.4 m (7.9 ft) long at birth. Adult orca males range from 6 to 8 metres (20 to 26 ft) long and weigh more than 6 tonnes. Females are smaller, around 5 to 7 m (16 to 23 ft) long and weigh about 3 to 4 tonnes.
What Do Baby Dolphins Eat?
Baby dolphin calves will drink their mothers milk around every 20 minutes or so around the clock – over a full 24 hour day.
Some will start to introduce small fish after a few months when their teeth start to erupt in their mouth.
Where Do Baby Dolphins Live?
Dolphins are present in many different parts of the world’s oceans. The majority live in shallow salt water, near the continental shelves in warm, tropical and temperate waters. There are also some, such as the amazon river dolphin that inhabit rivers in South America, India and Asia.
Baby dolphins live in family pods with their mother and siblings, and often travel and hunt in pods too, with many other dolphins. Members may come and go from a pod.
Some pods of travelling dolphins can be gigantic, called mega pods. One such example was sighted in 2013 off the coast of San Diego USA, which was estimated to be over 5 miles wide and contain over 100,000 dolphins!
What Are The Predators Of Baby Dolphins?
Predators of baby dolphins vary from region to region, and across the different species. Some dolphins don’t have any natural predators, but others are not so lucky. Baby dolphins are a much easier target than adult dolphins, and can be picked off from a pod by some types of shark.
Amazon river dolphins on the other hand, might find their calves taken by opportunistic caiman, jaguars or even anacondas. It’s rare, but it does happen.
Where Does The Name Dolphin Come from?
The word dolphin can trace its roots back to the ancient Greek words of δελφίς (delphís), and δελφύς (delphus), which roughly translates a ‘fish with a womb’. This was later translated into the Latin ‘dolfinus‘, and from there into the Old French ‘daulphin‘. From here it translates into English as ‘dolphin‘.
What Is The Closest Relative To The Dolphin?
You might think, that given the fins and the shape, and the aquatic environment, that the dolphin would be closely related to other sea dwellers. But believe it or not, the closest relative to the order of Cetaceans of which dolphins are a member, is the hippopotamus.