What Are the Characteristics of Dolphins?

By Suzanna Hulmes; Updated April 25, 2017
The bottlenose dolphin is capable of jumping 16 feet above the surface of the water.

The dolphin is a mammal that is also part of the cetacean family. There are a variety of different types of dolphin, which can be found inhabiting warm ocean waters and rivers around the world. All dolphins can be identified by several physical characteristics. The dolphin also has a number of behavioral characteristics, which help it to survive in its environment.

Physical Appearance

The dolphin can be identified by its round head and elongated snout. Its body tapers to its tail or fluke to create a streamline body shape. This along with its powerful fluke enable the dolphin to propel itself through the water at speeds of up to eight miles per hour. The dolphin also has a pair of pectoral flippers that enable the animal to change direction and stop moving forward. The dorsal fin is located in the center of the dolphins back and is used to expel heat according to Sea World.


Dolphins are extremely social animals that live together in groups of between two and 12. A group of dolphins is also referred to as a pod. Dolphins in these groups will form strong bonds with one another, and should one dolphin become injured, the others will help it to reach the surface of the water, according to National Geographic. Dolphins have also been known to interact with different species, including whales and humans.


Although the dolphin's playful side is what makes it a big attraction in captivity, Sea World reports that this behavior also has an important purpose for dolphins in the wild. Dolphins will often chase one another and throw objects, such as seaweed from one to the other. These natural behaviors allow the dolphin to practice its hunting skills. Play is also a way for dolphins to bond with one another.


The dolphin is known to be an intelligent mammal, and this can be observed by watching dolphins in captivity who are able to learn a wide variety of tricks. The dolphin also uses intelligence to find food by realizing that following fishing boats will lead it to fish. In the 1960s, scientists claimed that the animal was so intelligent that its brain capacity was second only to that of humans as it was able to make decisions quickly and efficiently when problem-solving, according to Dolphin-World.com. The dolphin has also been used by the U.S. Navy to find and retrieve mines from the ocean.