Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dolphin Skin

Chubby, a dolphin at the MarineLand Dolphin Conservation Center

I am often asked what a dolphin feels like, and the typical answer I give is "like a killer whale". However, killer whales are dolphins, and, like all of the different species of dolphins that I have been fortunate enough to touch, feel the same. I've heard many descriptions on what a dolphin feels like; a few are listed below:
  • Wet, peeled, hard-boiled egg
  • Vinyl disc
  • Wet rubber beach ball
  • An opened wet rain umbrella
  • A wet white-water raft
  • Wet rubber
Cetaceans have extremely smooth skin, which aids in their hydrodynamic locomotion. Unlike our skin, which is covered with extremely fine hair, whales and dolphins are virtually hairless (with a few exceptions, especially in mysticetes, aka baleen whales). When cetaceans are born, they have a few hairs along the upper "lip" of their rostrum, which fall off shortly after birth. If you've watched competitive swimming in humans, you may have noticed that most of the males shave their heads, arms, legs, etc. This is because hair creates drag, which slows them down in the water. Hence why cetaceans have virtually no hair.

To keep their skin extremely smooth, cetaceans undergo something called "sloughing". This is when the skin naturally sheds off of the body, to be replaced by a new skin layer. Oftentimes, cetaceans can be seen rubbing up against each other and/or their environment to aid in the sloughing process (a good example of this is the rock lagoons that some of the British Columbia orcas use for rubbing). The sloughing rate of cetaceans is about nine times faster than that of humans.

A sperm whale sloughing skin. Photo courtesy fotosearch.com (http://www.fotosearch.com/UNS022/u15855695/)

For me personally, being around cetacean is extremely therapeutic. I enjoy being around such an intelligent creature, who seems to "get" what I'm conveying to them. Cetacean blows are one of my favoruite sounds to hear; I love resting by a dolphin enclosure at night when the cetaceans are logging and just hearing their blows. I can't get enough of cetaceans, and I love talking about them. My main goal is to become a vet for cetaceans.

On a side note, I am rather irked at my anthropology book. It denotes cetaceans as being less intelligent than great apes; it also states that there is only one instance of cetacean tool use. Cetaceans are just as intelligent as the great apes, if not even moreso.


  1. Oops, sorry to misspell your name… it's Sara, I know!

  2. :P It's okay, everybody gets it wrong. I'm getting used to it, little by little! :) Thanks for the input!