Dolphins are marine mammals that are closely related to whales and porpoises. There are almost forty species of dolphin in seventeen genera. They vary in size from 1.2 metres (4 ft) and 40 kilograms (88 lb) (Maui’s Dolphin), up to 9.5 m (30 ft) and ten tonnes (the Orca or Killer Whale). They are found worldwide, mostly in the shallower seas of the continental shelves, and are carnivores, mostly eating fish and squid. The family Delphinidae is the largest in the Cetacea, and relatively recent: dolphins evolved about ten million years ago, during the Miocene. Dolphins are considered to be amongst the most intelligent of animals and their often friendly appearance and seemingly playful attitude have made them popular in human culture
Origin of the name
The name is originally from Ancient Greek δελφίς (delphís; “dolphin”), which was related to the Greek δελφύς (delphys; “womb”). The animal’s name can therefore be interpreted as meaning “a ‘fish’ with a womb”. The name was transmitted via the Latin delphinus, Middle Latin dolfinus and the Old French daulphin, which reintroduced the ph into the word. The word is used in a few different ways. It can mean: Any member of the family Delphinidae (oceanic dolphins),
- Any member of the families Delphinidae and Platanistoidea (oceanic and river dolphins),
- Any member of the suborder Odontoceti (toothed whales; these include the above families and some others),
- Used casually as a synonym for Bottlenose Dolphin, the most common and familiar species of dolphin.
In this article, the second definition is used. Porpoises (suborder Odontoceti, family Phocoenidae) are thus not dolphins in this sense. Orcas and some closely related species belong to the Delphinidae family and therefore qualify as dolphins, even though they are called whales in common language. A group of dolphins can be called a “school” or a “pod”. Male dolphins are called “bulls”, females “cows” and young dolphins are called “calves”.
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