5 Ridiculous dolphin facts

July 29, 2017 10:38 am Last Updated: July 29, 2017 10:38 am

Despite (or, due to) looking like all they do is muck around in the water, having a good time, dolphins are known to be highly intelligent. There are over 40 species, the smallest dolphins being only 3–4 feet long and the largest ones about 30 feet.

Here are five facts about the strange/majestic creature.

1. The Killer Whale is actually a dolphin.

(VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s called a Killer Whale (or Orca) because it kills whales, not because it’s a whale that kills. It’s actually the largest dolphin, and highly social (but definitely still a killer. It hunts everything from baleen whales to rays to walruses).

2. Dolphins were employed by the US Navy.

Sgt. Andrew Garrett watches a bottle nose dolphin named K-Dog, from Commander Task Unit, jump out of the water March 18, 2003 at sea in the Arabian Gulf near the USS Gunston Hall. Commander Task Unit is comprised of special mine clearing teams from The United Kingdom, Australia, and the U.S. (Brien Aho/U.S. Navy/Getty Images)

Since the 1960s, the US Navy has employed dolphins (mostly Bottlenose) for a range of tasks including mine detection and clearance, equipment recovery, and ship and harbor protection. Special units were deployed in combat zones during the Vietnam and Iraq Wars. The programs were declassified in the 1990s and, due to animal welfare concerns, reportedly to shut down starting 2017.

3. Dolphins can’t dream.

A bottlenose dolphin swims near a heart-shaped ice block at Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise on February 14, 2009 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images)

Dolphins need to be conscious in order to breathe, which means they never fall into the sort of deep sleep that allows for dreaming. Instead, they let one half of their brain sleep at a time (which scientists have determined via EEG tests), and do so for 8 hours a day.

Bonus:  Breathing is quite an ordeal for these sea creatures. When humans take in breath, they only replace 15 percent of the air with fresh air. Dolphins replace 90 percent of the air in their lung with fresh air. Baby dolphins are born tail-first to prevent suffocation and need to learn to hold their breath while nursing.

4. Dolphins form social structures, but aren’t exactly married to them.

Joker, the resident terrier dog at the Dolphin Reef center, frolics with the attraction’s bottlenose dolphins during his daily swim April 27, 2005 in the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat. (David Silverman/Getty Images)

Dolphins are known for being social creatures, but it really depends on the species. Some form pods with social hierarchies, while others only loosely have some structure.

Dolphins are curious, and many demonstrate empathetic or cooperative behavior toward each other, humans, or even other animals.  They name themselves and can converse easily even over the phone. Play is an essential part of dolphin life. Which means sometimes, they do ridiculous things that experts can’t quite explain. Like riding on the backs of whales.

Dolphins play on the sea between Wangi-Wangi to Runduma in the Wakatobi district on April 26, 2009. (ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images)

5. They would probably take selfies if they could.

Dolphins, unlike many other animals, can recognize themselves in reflective surfaces. Not only that, they enjoy it and like admiring themselves in the mirror. They also do things like showing off by doing tricks for other fish.

White Belugas whales wear Christmas hats during a show at Hakkeijima Sea Paradise Aquarium on November 18, 2006 in Yokohama, Japan. (Junko Kimura/Getty Images)