Brains And Beauty: The Bottlenose Dolphin

The relationship between dolphins and humans has always been a special one. In many cases, some wild species appear to seek out human interaction. Close encounters are not uncommon and there are even some fascinating stories about dolphins coming to the aid of humans.

The desire to get up close to these beautiful creatures has seen dolphin watching cruises become a very sought-after wildlife travel experience. Few places in the world offer a more cetacean-rich habitat than Mexico's Baja California and the Sea of Cortez. One of the world's longest peninsulas, the region sits on the convergence of three oceanic currents and provides the perfect marine ecosystem to support the most commonly encountered cetacean species, the Bottlenose Dolphin.

Brains and Beauty: Fast Facts

·         The Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncates)is renowned for its extremely high intelligence and very playful nature. Often observed surfing the waves in the open ocean, scientists have been unable to find any particular reason for this activity, aside from sheer pleasure.

·         They are marine mammals, nursing their calves with milk excreted from their mammary glands.

·         They are very social animals, working in teams to hunt for food and also sharing the responsibility of raising the calves. Using a sophisticated method of communication, they're able to recognise individuals in the pod through their signature whistle.

·         Their brain is larger than a human's, weighing in at 1500-1600 grams. While that alone is not irrefutable proof of super intelligence, the capacity means there is certainly the potential for a higher level.

·         They're excellent swimmers and begin practising in their mother's womb.

·         They navigate and hunt for food using a technique called "echolocation". This involves the emission of ultrasounds as they travel through the ocean, which then bounce back to them to be decoded by an organ in their brain called a "melon".

A Deeper Knowledge

Seeing these magnificent animals in their wild habitat on a dolphin watching cruise is both a pleasure and a privilege. But as well-loved and familiar as they are, we still have much to learn about this gentle, intelligent species. In the acclaimed BBC nature documentary series Blue Planet II, Sir David Attenborough said: "To properly appreciate their character, you have to travel with them, into their world." Which is exactly what he did.

In the Blue Planet II episode "One Ocean", Attenborough's team followed a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins beneath the surface of the Red Sea. Using revolutionary digital camera technology, they were able to quite literally enter the fascinating under-sea world of the cetacean to capture film of never-before-seen behaviours.


The footage included adults "teaching" the young calves to rub their undersides up and down a particular coral found in the region, which is covered with mucus containing anti-inflammatory properties. Scientists believe the adults perform the action to stave off infection, and that the older animals are passing on this knowledge to their young by example. The discovery of the usefulness of this and other corals has our scientists looking to the oceans for alternative medicines.

Experience the Magic ofDolphin Watching Cruises

While we can't all go beneath the waves like Sir David Attenborough to explore the world of this curious marine mammal, expert-led dolphin watching cruises to Baja California and the Sea of Cortez afford the opportunity for multiple sightings on the surface of the ocean. The experience is magical, memorable and, very often, life changing.

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Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in whale and dolphin watching. As a passionate lover of marine wildlife, Marissa chooses the expert-led dolphin watching cruises organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.

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