Fun and Fascinating Facts About Dolphins

Dolphins are endlessly fascinating to us, perhaps because so much of their lives is spent underwater, where it’s hard for us to see what they’re doing! For more than 50 years, our research has been focused on uncovering their mysterious lives. We want to learn everything we can about them — where they live, what they do, who they associate with, what they eat, and more. But our work isn’t just about satisfying a simple curiosity. We need to answer these questions to the best of our ability in order to protect wild dolphin populations and the places where they call home.

Here are some fun facts about dolphins!

Dolphin Physiology

Do dolphins sleep?

Sort of.

Bottlenose dolphins are conscious breathers. That means unlike humans who can sleep and breathe at the same time, dolphins have to be awake to surface to breathe. When dolphins sleep, one hemisphere of their brain shuts down, while the other stays awake.

Dolphin Identities

Do dolphins recognize each other?


Bottlenose dolphins recognize signature whistles as “names” and are able to recognize themselves and others of their species as individuals with separate identities. The ability to assign abstract labels to individuals, as is done by humans, is rare in the animal kingdom. You can listen to dolphin signature whistles in the “Meet the Dolphins”  section of this site.

Dolphin Physiology

Do dolphins blush?

Yes. But they're not embarrassed!

Dolphins actually DO blush (their bellies turn pink). But it’s not because they’re embarrassed. Instead, it’s a way that dolphins dump excess heat when they’re active, especially during summer months in Florida. This is called vasodilation and it permits more blood to flow within the peripheral arteries and diffuse heat into the cooler environment.

Dolphin Relationships

Did you know dolphins have bromances?

Male Pair Bonds

We’ve found that adult male bottlenose dolphins in Sarasota Bay develop male alliances, and these bonded male pairs spend much of their adult lives together, helping each other do things like mate and feed. We were the first to describe these long-term relationships.

Dolphin Diets

How do dolphins swallow prey?

Head First

When dolphins catch fish, they typically turn the fish so it’s positioned head first in their mouths, then swallow it whole! Sometimes, if a fish is big, the dolphins will break them up into bite-sized bits by rubbing the fish on the seafloor. Yum!

Dolphin Predators

Do dolphins have predators?

Yep! Sharks.

We’ve found that bull sharks are one of the primary local shark species reported to have dolphin remains in their stomachs. About 36% of Sarasota Bay dolphins have at least one shark bite, making sharks their greatest source of natural injuries!

Dolphin Births

How are dolphin calves born?

Tail first.

Dolphin calves are usually born tail first, which minimizes their risk of drowning. A newborn often has stripes along its body, called fetal or neonate folds. These come from being folded in the womb. As the calf grows, these stripes fade.

Boats and Dolphins

Do boats affect dolphins?


We’ve found that a boat passes by a Sarasota Bay dolphin every 6 minutes and that 1 in 20 dolphins in Sarasota Bay has a scar from a boat collision. Most dolphin injuries and deaths from boat strikes in the Sarasota population occurs in the weeks surrounding the July Fourth holiday. Learn how to be a dolphin-safe boater.

Tracking Dolphins

How do you track dolphins over time?

We Use their fins!

We’re able to follow bottlenose dolphin individuals over time and space using the nicks, notches and sometimes scars on their dorsal fins. Each dolphin’s fin is unique — similar to humans’ unique fingerprints.

Dolphin Diets

How do dolphins find prey?

By listening!

Dolphins often find prey fish simply by listening. Many of the dolphins’ main prey species make noise — some by grinding their teeth (pinfish and pigfish), others by contracting their swim bladders (spot) and even by making frequent leaps with audible splashes (mullet).

Dolphin Relationships

Do dolphin parents raise their young?

Just the moms.

Successful calves typically remain with mom for three to six years, until the mom’s next calf is born. The fathers are not involved in raising the young, nor do males and females mate for life.

Dolphin Movement

How do dolphins swim?

With their fins!

Dolphins’ tails make up about 42 percent of their overall body length. They use up and down strokes of their horizontal tail flukes to propel themselves through the water. Pectoral fins (side fins) help them steer and their dorsal fins (on their backs) help to stabilize them.

Dolphin Diets

What do dolphin calves eat?

Mother's milk.

Female dolphins have mammary slits that are located on the sides of their genital and anal slits. The calf inserts its rostrum into a mammary slit and curls its specially designed tongue around its mother’s nipple to feed. Feeding happens underwater and on the move 2-3 times every hour around the clock.

Dolphin Relationships

Do dolphins live in pods?


Bottlenose dolphins (tursiops truncatus) do not live in pods. They live in a fission-fusion society where group composition changes frequently (unlike peas in a pod that are stuck with the same peas forever).

Dolphin Diets

What is fishwhacking?

A way to catch prey.

Fishwhacking, which we first documented in the 1980s, is when dolphins use their tail flukes to hit a fleeing fish, often throwing it high in the air. We’ve seen fish launched 20 feet or more! Once the stunned fish comes back down, the dolphin responsible has its meal.

Dolphin Weight

How much do dolphins weigh?

Depends on the species.

Mature male dolphins in Sarasota Bay are, on average, about 26% heavier than adult females. The average male dolphin weighs about 260 kg (~573 pounds) compared to the average female, which weighs about 190 kg (~419 pounds). Of course, different species have different weights and there are even differences within bottlenose dolphin species based on where they live — particularly whether they live offshore or nearshore like the dolphins we study in Sarasota Bay.

Dolphin Hitchhikers

What's that fish stuck on the dolphin?

A remora.

Dolphins sometimes pickup hitchhikers, called remoras or suckerfish, that attach using a specialized dorsal fin. While attached, they mainly have a symbiotic relationship with the dolphin, using it for safety, transportation and capturing food particles. In return, the remora can help remove parasites from the dolphin. If a remora attaches to a spot the dolphin doesn’t like, the dolphin may try to remove it by rubbing along the bottom or leaping.

Dolphin Physiology

How do dolphins steer?

They use their pectoral fins!

Did you know that dolphins use the fins on their sides — their pectoral fins, or flippers — to help them steer as they’re swimming? These fins also serve as brakes to help them stop. Pectoral flippers average 30 to 50 cm (11 to 19½ inches) long. Dolphins also rub one another with their pectoral fins when they’re socializing!

Dolphin Calves

When are dolphins born?

May and June

These are the most common months for Sarasota dolphins to give birth.

Dolphin Lives

How long to dolphins live?

The Oldest was 67

The oldest documented dolphin in the world was Sarasota Bay’s Nicklo, a female who lived to age 67. Males have been documented into their 50s.

Home Range

Where do dolphins live?

Dolphin Communities

We were the first to document that some coastal dolphins spend nearly all of their lives in a single home range. Today, we follow the 170-or-so dolphins that live in and around Sarasota Bay.

Dolphin Diets

What do dolphins eat?

Fish, of Course!

Mullet are among the top ten species of fish commonly eaten by Sarasota Bay dolphins. Other popular prey items include pinfish, pigfish, spot, toadfish, ladyfish & sea trout.


How often do dolphins breathe?

About 2X Per Minute

Sarasota Bay dolphins surface to breathe through a blowhole about twice a minute. In deeper habitats, where we’ve studied them off Bermuda, bottlenose dolphins may stay underwater for more than 13 minutes!

Dolphin Behavior

Can you tell whether a dolphin is annoyed?

Yep. It's Called a Chuff!

When we get upset, we can YELL to express displeasure. Dolphins express annoyance at a disturbance through a “chuff” — a forceful exhale, often repeated several times in succession. This image shows the resulting plume of a chuff.