/dol"fin, dawl"-/, n.
1. any of several chiefly marine, cetacean mammals of the family Delphinidae, having a fishlike body, numerous teeth, and the front of the head elongated into a beaklike projection.
2. Also called dolphinfish, mahimahi. either of two large, slender fishes, Coryphaena hippurus or C. equisetis, of warm and temperate seas.
3. Naut.
a. a pile, cluster of piles, or buoy to which a vessel may be moored in open water.
b. a cluster of piles used as a fender, as at the entrance to a dock.
c. a pudding fender at the nose of a tugboat or on the side of a vessel.
4. (cap.) Astron. the constellation Delphinus.
[1300-50; ME dolphyn < OF daulphin < OPr dalfin < VL *dalfinus, L delphinus < Gk delphín]

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One of a large group of small, gregarious, streamlined whales or one of two species of oceanic sport and food fishes.

Mammalian dolphins are small toothed whales, usually with a well-defined, beaklike snout. (They are sometimes called porpoises, but that name is properly reserved for a blunt-snouted whale family.) The common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) and the bottlenose dolphin, both of the family Delphinidae, are found widely in warm temperate seas, though some inhabit tropical rivers. Most of the 32 delphinid species are marine; gray, blackish or brown above and pale below; and about 3–13 ft (1–4 m) long. River dolphins (family Platanistidae; five species) live mainly in fresh water in South America and Asia. One of the two fish species, Coryphaena hippuras (family Coryphaenidae), also called mahimahi and dorado, is a popular fish of tropical and temperate waters worldwide. The pompano dolphin (C. equiselis) is similar. See also killer whale.

Bottle-nosed dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)

By courtesy of the Miami Seaquarium

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      either species of fish belonging to the genus Coryphaena. The food and game fish called the common dolphin (C. hippuras) is known in Hawaiian as mahimahi and sometimes in Spanish as the dorado. Reaching a length of about 1.5 metres (5 feet) and a weight of about 30 kg (66 pounds), the common dolphin has a blunt head, a tapered body, and a slender, forked tail. The colourful body is bright blue and green with irregular, gold-tinted patches on the sides. When the fish is caught and brought out of the water, these vivid colours are initially very bright; upon the fish's death, however, the colours fade. Found in tropical and warm temperate waters, the common dolphin is carnivorous and lives alone or in schools, feeding on smaller fish and invertebrates. The other member of the family is the smaller pompano dolphin (C. equiselis).

  any of the toothed whales (toothed whale) belonging to the families Delphinidae (oceanic dolphins) or Platanistidae (river dolphins (river dolphin)). Of the 32 species of dolphins in the Delphinidae, 6 are commonly called whales, including the killer whale and the pilot whales (pilot whale).

 Most dolphins are small, measuring less than 3 metres (10 feet) in length, and have spindle-shaped bodies, beaklike snouts (rostrums), and simple needlelike teeth. Some of these cetaceans (cetacean) are occasionally called porpoises (porpoise), but scientists prefer to use this term as the common name for the six species in the family Phocoenidae, all of which differ from dolphins in having blunt snouts and spadelike teeth.

  Dolphins are popularly noted for their grace, intelligence, playfulness, and friendliness to humans. The most widely recognized species are the common and bottlenose dolphins (Delphinus delphis and Tursiops truncatus). The bottlenose, characterized by a “built-in smile” formed by the curvature of its mouth, has become a familiar performer in oceanariums. It has also become the subject of scientific studies because of its intelligence and ability to communicate by using a range of sounds and ultrasonic pulses. It adapts to captivity better than the common dolphin, which is timid.

Natural history
 Dolphins are capable of living in either fresh or salt water. Distributed worldwide in all oceans and seas except the Caspian and Aral seas, they range from equatorial to subpolar waters and also can be found in many major river systems. The common and bottlenose dolphins are widely distributed in warm and temperate seas. They are swift swimmers; the bottlenose can attain speeds of nearly 30 km/hr (18.5 mph) in short bursts, and common dolphins are even faster. A number of species are attracted by moving ships and often accompany them, leaping alongside and sometimes riding the waves created by the ships' bows. Some coastal species of oceanic dolphins spend considerable amounts of time in fresh water. Most river dolphins live in fresh water that may be several thousand kilometres from the sea, although some spend their lives in coastal waters. Dolphins are social, gathering in schools from five to several thousand. All are carnivorous, feeding on fish, squid, and other invertebrates.

Paleontology and classification
      Dolphins first appear as fossils from the Early Miocene Epoch (23.8 million to 16.4 million years ago)—a time when the cetacean fauna was more diverse. All of today's dolphin groups were present in the Miocene, as were at least three extinct families whose members would be called dolphins (Eurhinodelphidae, Hemisyntrachelidae, and Acrodelphidae).

Family Delphinidae (oceanic, or marine, dolphins)
 32 species in 17 genera found worldwide, some of which occasionally venture into fresh water.
      Genus Lagenorhynchus (white-sided and white-beaked dolphins)
 6 species found in subpolar to temperate waters of the Northern Hemisphere and polar to temperate waters of the Southern Hemisphere.

      Genus Stenella (spinner, spotted, and striped dolphins)
 5 species found worldwide in tropical to warm temperate waters.

      Genus Cephalorynchus (piebald dolphins)
 4 species found in coastal waters of South America, southern Africa, and New Zealand.

      Genus Globicephala (pilot whales)
 2 species found worldwide in subpolar to tropical waters.

      Genus Lissodelphis (right whale dolphins)
 2 species found in cooler temperate waters, 1 of the Northern Hemisphere and 1 of the Southern Hemisphere.

      Genus Sousa (humpbacked dolphins)
 2 coastal species, 1 of eastern Africa, India, and the western Pacific Ocean and 1 of western Africa.

      Genus Delphinus (common, or short-beaked saddleback, dolphin)
 1 species found worldwide in tropical to temperate waters.

      Genus Feresa (pygmy killer whale)
 1 species found worldwide in tropical and subtropical waters.

      Genus Grampus ( grampus, or Risso's dolphin (grampus))
 1 species found worldwide in tropical to warm temperate regions.

      Genus Lagenodelphis (Fraser's dolphin)
 1 species found in tropical and subtropical waters.

      Genus Orcaella (Irrawaddy dolphin)
 1 coastal species of eastern India, Southeast Asia, and northern Australia.

      Genus Orcinus ( killer whale, or orca)
 1 species found worldwide.

      Genus Peponocephala (melon-headed whale)
 1 offshore species found worldwide in tropical and subtropical waters.

      Genus Pseudorca (false killer whale)
 1 species found worldwide in tropical to warm temperate waters.

      Genus Sotalia (tucuxi, or gray dolphin)
 1 species of the rivers and coasts of tropical and subtropical eastern South America.

      Genus Steno (rough-toothed dolphin)
 1 deepwater species found worldwide in tropical to warm temperate waters.

      Genus Tursiops (bottlenose dolphin)
 1 species found worldwide in tropical to cold temperate waters.

Family Platanistidae (river dolphins (river dolphin))
 5 species in 4 genera inhabiting rivers and coasts of eastern South America and China and the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna rivers.

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Universalium. 2010.

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