Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Taxon of the Day: Delphinidae

Dolphins are a group of species that get a lot of positive attention with some believing they will bring healing and physic power to us humans who interact with them. We don't like to go for the popularity vote on Taxon of the Day, but these mammals are currently newsworthy for being the main subject of the extraordinary winning shot in this year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition here in the UK. Like all 1.4+M species found in the Catalogue of Life, they are of course special.

The Catalogue of Life lists 37 species in the family Delphinidae, the taxon that holds all oceanic dolphins (fresh-water dolphins are found elsewhere). The common names of some species in this group can be misleading with a handful of them often referred to as whales, including the well-known Orca or Killer whale. However, although dolphins, porpoises, and whales all belong to the order Cetacea the Delphinidae are united by a number of shared characteristics including a single blowhole, streamlined bodies (ie wide in the middle and narrow at each end), and a beak-like nose.

The majority of species have been assessed by the Catalogue of Life's partner the IUCNRedlist for conservation status, with a few currently classified as Vulnerable or Near Threatened and the species Cephalorhynchus hectori listed as Endangered

Did you know that Dolphins, because of their excellent hearing, sonar capabilities and underwater vision, have been used by the US Navy for decades to locate things in the sea. Once they have undergone two years of training they are ready to embark on a mission such as mine-sweeping off the coast of Croatia.

The etymology of the name dolphin is interesting, having very little variation in most languages. To hear a in-depth, inspired and entertaining overview of its origins listen to this pod cast from the lively Dolphin Communication Project.

CoL Annual Checklist: Delphinidae
CoL contributor: ITIS Global
Image copyright: Public Domain

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