Like all mammals, dolphins are warm blooded, breathe air, give birth to live babies, feed their new born milk, and are born with hair. Being warm, blooded, or homeothermic, dolphins maintain a constant body temperature regardless of the surrounding water temperature. Unlike terrestrial mammals, including humans, dolphins are conscious breathers, meaning they must be aware of their breathing to avoid involuntarily taking a breath while underwater. Bottlenose dolphins can dive for as long as 20 minutes but typically hold their breath for only 30 seconds to 3 or 4 minutes between breaths. Bottlenose dolphins may live for 50 years or more, with females generally living longer than males. They live in social communities, sometimes called pods. Group size in near-shore populations is typically 30 or less while offshore groups may comprise several hundred individuals.
Even though they appear to live in relatively open societies, they exhibit strong social bonds that help provide protection against predators, assist in locating and catching food, and aid in the rearing of their offspring. Like in other social animals, play is an important part of learning. Behaviors such as fish toss, bow riding and seaweed-keep-away are considered play but also help dolphins develop social bonds as well as useful hunting techniques. They use multiple feeding strategies, including “fish whacking,” where they strike a fish with their flukes and knock it out of the water, and driving schools of fish into shallow areas or onto mudflats. Bottlenose dolphins use high frequency echolocation to locate and capture prey, and high-pitched ‘whistles’ to communicate with one another.