Whales and dolphins are very special!
Some undertake long migrations crossing whole oceans, while others live in one area year round. Some are playful and curious while others are shy and secretive. Some are acrobatic and others make long and deep dives, some are singers and others communicate using unique languages, many have cultures. Whales and dolphins are all awesome and we still have so much to learn about them; it is not surprising that they have fascinated people for thousands of years.
- Here's a great video by Lori Marino, one of the world's leading experts on this subject, explaining how dolphin intelligence evolved.
- Dolphins come in a range of colours and have a variety of markings. Amazon River dolphins are often bright pink, Commerson’s dolphins are black and white, bottlenose dolphins are bluey-grey, common dolphins have yellow flashes and spotted dolphins are spotty.
- The largest member of the dolphin family is the orca (killer whale). Orcas have beautiful black and white markings, they can grow up to 10 metres in length and swim at 35mph. They live in closely bonded pods.
- There are four species of river dolphins. They are specially adapted to living in freshwater, rivers of South America and Asia such as the Amazon and Ganges. Sadly, all river dolphins are endangered.
- The spinner dolphin is renowned for its acrobatic spinning displays. As the name suggests, a spinner dolphin spins underwater and through the air.
- The only species of dolphin to go extinct in recent times is the baiji, a river dolphin that lived only in the Yangtze River in China.
- Bottlenose dolphins use body language to communicate with one another, often stroking one another with their flippers and, holding flippers or slapping the water loudly to get each other's attention.
- In some parts of the world, dolphins work alongside fishermen to help drive fish into their nets. The fishermen then reward the dolphins with some of their catch. Teamwork pays off.
- Dolphins love to play, whether it’s throwing around plants or prey, bowriding on the pressure waves of passing boats, somersaulting and leaping, or joining surfers riding waves along the shore, they are social, clever and agile.
- Blue whales are the largest creature ever to have lived on Earth. They are enormous and can reach over 30m long (100ft). Fin whales are the second biggest. Both blues and fins are much bigger than all the dinosaurs.
- Sperm whales have the largest brain of all living things. They also make the noisiest sounds, louder than a jet plane.
- Fin whales have been given the nickname “greyhounds of the sea” as they are streamlined and fast swimmers.
- Amazingly, in 2021, scientists discovered a completely new species of whale living in the Gulf of Mexico.
- Cuvier’s beaked whale holds the record for the deepest dive. They can dive into the dark depths at 3000 metres and stay underwater for more than three hours hunting squids.
- Humpback whales have enormous pectoral flippers (arms) that can be 6m in length and help them manoeuvre through the water.
- If you see a whale around the UK, it’s most likely to be a minke whale, the smallest of the baleen whales.
- Over a three-year period, scientists recorded bowhead whales, which live in cold arctic waters, singing over 180 different songs! Bowheads are also the longest lived whales, some are believed to be 200 years old.
How much do you know about whales and dolphins? Print off this fun quiz sheet and have a go!
Whales, dolphins and porpoises are a group of mammals who live in water; scientists call them cetaceans (sounds like set-ay-shuns). They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.
There are around 90 types (species) of whales, dolphins and porpoises that we have discovered so far. They can be simply split into two groups.
Most (76) of whales have teeth and belong to the toothed whale group. Toothed whales include the mighty sperm whale, several smaller whales, plus all dolphins and porpoises.
Toothed whales have teeth and hunt mainly larger fish and squids. They use their teeth to grab and hold on tightly to their slippery prey before swallowing it whole.
Then there is a smaller group (15) of mainly very big whales which have baleen instead of teeth –the baleen whale group.
Baleen whales have bendy baleen flaps in their mouths which they use to sieve out small sea creatures such as krill and little schooling fish from seawater. Baleen is made of keratin, the same as our fingernails.
Whale & Dolphin Species Guide
Learn amazing facts about the 90 different species of whale and dolphins.