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Dolphins are a diverse group of aquatic mammals. Neither a species nor even a genus, they are, rather, an informal grouping within the order Cetacea. The dolphins comprise the extant families Delphinidae (the oceanic dolphins), Platanistidae (the Indian river dolphins), Iniidae (the new world river dolphins), and Pontoporiidae (the brackish dolphins). Also included is the extinct Lipotidae (baiji or Chinese river dolphin).
These animals range in size from the 1.7 m (5.6 ft) long and 50 kg (110 lb) Maui’s dolphin to the 9.5 m (31 ft) and 10 t (11 short tons) killer whale. They have streamlined bodies and two limbs that are modified into flippers. Some dolphins can travel at 55.5 km/h (34.5 mph).
Dolphins use their conical teeth to capture fast-moving prey. They also have well-developed hearing, which allows them to hear in both air and water. In fact, their hearing is so good that some can survive even if they are blind. To communicate, dolphins produce a variety of vocalizations, usually in the form of clicks and whistles.
Although dolphins are widespread, most species prefer the warmer waters of tropic zones. These animals feed largely on fish and squid. However, a few, like the killer whale, feed on large mammals, like pinnipeds.
Male dolphins typically mate with multiple females every year. However, females only mate every two to three years. Calves are typically born in the spring and summer months and females bear all the responsibility for raising them.
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