By Kelly Baughman
Whether you’re a local or a visitor here along the Gulf Coast, one thing is for sure….we ALL love dolphins. Whether you only get to see them on a dolphin cruise while on vacation or you spot them daily in your own backyard, here’s some interesting facts we ‘Betcha Didn’t Know’ about our favorite finned friends.
Dolphins can live up to 40 or 50 years. While most in the wild have an average life expectancy of 25-30 years, there have been many dolphins that have been documented far beyond those numbers.
The deepest ever recorded bottlenose dolphin dive was 300 meters. That’s a whopping 990 feet! This amazing task was performed by “Tuffy” a dolphin trained and working for the U.S. Navy. Tuffy was a part of the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program, and performed such tasks as ship and harbor protection, mine detection and clearance, and equipment recovery.
Dolphins can’t drink salt water. In fact, while they live in the water 100% of the time, dolphins actually function as a desert animal with no direct source of drinkable water. Instead, dolphins obtain most of their water from their food source which is mostly fish and squid. Their kidneys are adapted to retain as much water as possible and when they metabolize their fat, water is released into their bodies in the process.
Ever heard the term “sleep with one eye open”? Well that’s exactly what a dolphin has to do to get some “shut eye”. Because of the dangers in the water and the fact that dolphins must remain conscious enough to reach the surface in order to breathe, they undergo an unusual form of sleep called “unihemispheric slow-wave sleep.”
When ready to sleep, the dolphin will shut down one side of its brain while keeping the other fully alert. They even close one eye to sleep! For example, the left eye will be closed when the right half of the brain sleeps, and vice versa. During this time, the other half of the brain monitors what’s going in the environment and controls breathing functions. In a 24-hour period, dolphins will sleep an average of 8 hours, 4 on one side, and four on the other.
In addition to sleeping with one side of their brain at a time, scientist have discovered that dolphins, like humans, experience REM sleep and even dream! Hmmm….what do dolphins dream about?
The common bottlenose dolphin is thought to be one of the smartest animals on the planet, surpassing chimps and gorillas for the top spot. In fact, scientist believe that the intelligence of dolphins is equivalent to that of a human.
Much like a tree, you can tell the age of a dolphin by counting its rings. Dendrochronology is when you cut the stump of a tree to count the rings. Each ring represents one year of age. The same process can be used to determine the age of a bottlenose dolphin by counting each layer in their teeth.
And while we all love them, clearly dolphins are more than meets the eye. So the next time you see one of these amazing, smiling creatures soaking up the sea and sun, take the time to appreciate one of the most unique beings on the planet for all the things we ‘Betcha Didn’t Know’.