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Delphinidae

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Title: Delphinidae  
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Subject: Cetacea, Dolphin, Killer whale, Ungulate, Marine mammal, Animal echolocation, HMS Grampus, Bottlenose dolphin, White-beaked dolphin, Sperm whale
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Delphinidae

Oceanic dolphin
Temporal range: Late Oligocene–Recent
Pacific white-sided dolphins
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Cetacea
Suborder: Odontoceti
Superfamily: Delphinoidea
Family: Delphinidae
Gray, 1821
Genera

See text.

Oceanic dolphins are members of the cetacean family Delphinidae. These marine mammals are related to whales and porpoises. They are found worldwide, mostly in the shallower seas of the continental shelves. As the name implies, these dolphins tend to be found in the open seas, unlike the river dolphins, although a few species such as the Irrawaddy dolphin are coastal or riverine.

Six of the larger species in the Delphinidae, the killer whale (orca), pilot (long-finned and short-finned), melon-headed, pygmy killer and false killer whales, are commonly called whales, rather than dolphins; they are also sometimes collectively known as "blackfish".

Characteristics

The Delphinidae are the most diverse of the cetacean families, with numerous variations between species. They range in size from 1.2 metres (3.9 ft) and 40 kilograms (88 lb) (Haviside's dolphin), to 9 metres (30 ft) and 10 tonnes (orca). Most species weigh between approximately 50 and 200 kilograms (110 and 440 lb). They typically have curved dorsal fins, clear 'beaks' at the front of their heads, and forehead melons, although exceptions to all of these rules are found. They have a wide range of colors and patterns.[1]

Most delphinids primarily eat fish, along with a smaller number of squid and small crustaceans, but some species specialise in eating squid, or, in the case of the orca, also eat marine mammals and birds. All, however, are purely carnivorous. They typically have between 100 and 200 teeth, although a few species have considerably fewer.

Delphinids travel in large pods, which may number a thousand individuals in some species. Each pod forages over a range of a few dozen to a few hundred square miles. Some pods have a loose social structure, with individuals frequently joining or leaving, but others seem to be more permanent, perhaps dominated by a male and a 'harem' of females.[1] Individuals communicate by sound, producing low-frequency whistles, and also produce high-frequency broadband clicks of 80-220 kHz, which are primarily used for echolocation. Gestation lasts from 10 to 12 months, and results in the birth of a single calf.

Taxonomy

Recent molecular analyses indicate that several delphinid genera (especially Stenella and Lagenorhynchus) are not monophyletic as currently recognized. Thus, significant taxonomic revisions within the family are likely.

References

  • May-Collado, L., Agnarsson, I. (2006). Cytochrome b and Bayesian inference of whale phylogeny. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 38, 344-354.
  • Site sur les differents orques et leur mode de reproduction évitant la consanguinité. (French)
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