Dolphins are easily one of the most beloved animals to ever exist. Their playful nature and perpetual smile have made them one of the most popular animals in the world and the dream of touching their shiny smooth skin has definitely been at the top of most bucket lists.
However, it is that extra sparkling skin that makes it easy to forget that dolphins are mammals after all, and you and I have both learned in school that one characteristic that is unique to mammals is the presence of hair. That leaves us with one important question: Do dolphins have hair?
The short answer is yes, dolphins have hair at some point in their lives but not in the same way most mammals do.
Today you will embark on an adventure to understanding the ins and outs of dolphin hair and the differences between their hair and the fur present in other mammals.
Let’s get right to it!
Do Dolphins Actually Have Hair?
Yes, dolphins have hair while in the womb and when they are born but it is limited to just the top of their rostrum and falls out soon after birth. To be more precise, a baby dolphin has around 12 hairs, approximately 6 on each side of the rostrum.
These hairs are not easily noticeable from a distance and are more like whiskers that will naturally fall off after about one week or so.
Vibrissae is the correct term for these “whiskers” and instead of resembling the fuzzy, soft hair you might be used to when it comes to mammals they are stiff, not exclusive to dolphins, and normally carry out some type of sensory function.
Something else to keep in mind is that where there is hair you will also find hair follicles and dolphins are no exception.
All follicles are surrounded by a large venous sinus called the follicle sinus complex which is a specialized touch organ rich in nerve endings that grants the muscles in the area the capacity to have neural reactions to stress, tension, excitement, etc.
Since most dolphins only have this organ in the postnatal period, but the hair follicles remain throughout their lives, is it unknown whether this organ mutates in a way that is still useful as an adult as a sensor of movement, action, and location.
Why Are Dolphins Born With Hair?
Remember I told you that the vibrissae are meant to serve sensory functions? This is not different when it comes to dolphins and the “whiskers” on newborns are believed to help the calves locate and sense their mother, especially the nipple area to be able to nurse.
However, there are some who believe that these hairs are nothing but a remnant from their life on land some 50 million years ago.
Let’s not forget the ancestors of our beloved dolphins were ungulates! The same animal group that houses cows, horses, giraffes, pigs, and all hoofed mammals.
The theory that the hair present in baby dolphins is there to fulfill sensory functions is the most widely accepted and backed up theory among scientists.
When Does A Dolphin’s Hair Fall Out?
It can take anywhere from a few hours to about a week for the hair on a dolphin calf to fall out, usually due to water pressure as it swims alongside its mom. There is however a particular dolphin species that has hairs throughout its life!
The “botos” also known as Amazon river dolphins or pink dolphins conserve their vibrissae well into adulthood.
The reason for this is that they live in very murky water so relying on their eyesight can only get them so far.
In fact, they have extremely poor vision as it really is of no use while navigating the dark waters of the Amazon river.
Pink dolphins are believed to take full advantage of their tactile organ and use it in combination with their echolocation to hunt for food and travel through the river.
The hairs on this species are more visible on calves.
More On Dolphin Hair
There are 3 facts that I find particularly interesting when it comes to dolphin hair:
- Even though the hair falls out very early in the dolphin’s life the hair follicles not only remain for the length of their life but in many instances are visible to the naked eye; a humbling reminder that these beautiful creatures used to live on land.
- After the vibrissae fall out dolphins never grow a single hair anywhere on their body! There is really no need as they can keep themselves warm thanks to the fat and blubber laying right beneath their skin and a coat of fur would only slow them down while they gleefully swim our seas.
- Do you know how every day when brushing your hair you end up with a bunch of hair strands in your brush? And the only reason you don’t panic is that you know that it is a normal process just like you shed skin cells all the time in order to remain healthy.
Dolphins may not have hair but they still shed, about 12 times PER DAY actually!
The rate at which dolphins shed the outermost layer of their skin is about 9 times faster than that of humans giving them that smooth, exfoliated look permanently.
Dolphins have such a magical appearance with their beautiful glistening skin, noble face, and fish-like body that it is extremely easy to forget that, as mammals, humans are in the same animal group as them.
The fact that the main reason for these hairs to exist is so that a baby dolphin can find its mother’s breast for that first drink of milk is really a beautiful example of how we are so similar in the most significant ways.
It’s amazing that something as small as a few hairs can remind us how much we resemble these beautiful creatures that swim our oceans.
Hopefully, such a humbling experience will serve as a reminder to be mindful of how every action you and I take has an impact on the wildlife we share this beautiful planet with.
Thank you for joining me once again in uncovering everything there is to know about the mysterious lifestyles of the animals living right below the surface of our beautiful blue oceans.
Until next time!
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I am a lover of everything nature and animal related with over 15 years of experience in the field of wildlife rescue and education. Currently living in Colombia working with wild and domestic animals and spending all my free time writing about them 🙂