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Life Cycle of Dolphins: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Leila Brollosy Pullum

Leila has taught a variety of elementary school grade levels over the last four years and has her master's degree in educational studies.

This lesson will explore the life cycle of dolphins. Key topics include mating, activities young dolphins engage in and special skills unique to dolphins. The lesson also briefly discusses the affect of captivity on a dolphin's life span.

Finding a Mate

You may have seen dolphins on TV or even in person, but did you know that they're some of the most intelligent animals on earth, or that baby dolphins are called calves? This lesson will explore the fascinating life cycle of dolphins. The life cycle begins by finding a mate.

Dolphins sometimes find a mate by swimming and socializing with each other. To say a dolphin socializes might sound funny, but dolphins are actually known to be very friendly and social creatures. In this way, dolphins are very similar to humans. They live in communities called pods and tend to protect and care for each other like friends and neighbors.

A large pod of dolphins in Kaikoura, New Zealand
pod

Between five and ten years old a female dolphin becomes fertile and she's able to reproduce. To be fertile means your body is ready to have a baby. Dolphins typically have babies every one to three years. After mating, the male dolphin sometimes swims in fancy patterns and makes noises from his blowhole to let other male dolphins know he has mated with a female dolphin in the area.

A Calf Is Born

Dolphin babies are known as calves. They're born tail-first, then brought to the surface of the water to breathe. Fairly quickly after birth, the calf is able to breathe and swim on its own. Similar to all mammals, the calf stays close to the mother dolphin until it's learned important survival skills.

A mother and calf swim together
calf

Just like humans - and all mammals - dolphins produce milk for their babies. Their milk is very nutritious, and the dolphin calf feeds on its mother's milk for six months to two years, depending on the type of dolphin. Another way in which dolphin calves are similar to human babies is that they start to eat food other than milk at about six months old. For dolphins, that means fish and crustaceans. Crustaceans are little sea creatures that have several legs, a body made of sections, and a hard shell, like lobsters and shrimp.

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