Dolphins and porpoises are part of a large group of animals called cetaceans.

Yep, we know – right?

Did you know that cetaceans include whales and that dolphins are small toothed whales? Or that there are about 86 species of cetacean at last count?

Many of us may only ever see or hear about a few – blue whales (the largest of all), orcas (largest of all dolphins), bottle-nose dolphins, and probably a few others.

The history of the word dolphin is interesting, the word seems to have come from Greek – they called them delphis/delphinos – which is related to delphys, which means womb – possibly because (as mammals) dolphins give live birth.

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Social structure

Like their larger cousins, dolphins are generally gregarious, and gather in family-centered units. Often, groups consist of several females and their young, while males congregate in bachelor groups.

All dolphins are very athletic, and streamlined for speed and agility – and some put on breathtaking displays by leaping out of the water, or riding the bow wake from boats. One, the dusky dolphin (lagenorhynchus obscurus) can travel in groups of up to 2,000 at certain times of year. Their leaping displays are something to behold! They are so well coordinated that they look almost like dancers.

In myth

According to Greek myths, Delphi took its name from Apollo, who arrived at Delphi aboard a dolphin. He traveled from Crete, and upon arriving killed a local monster. He took over the place and set up an oracle – as the god of telling the future, it made sense.

The oracle was called Pythia, and she was his high-priestess. Pythia would chew on laurel leaves, and enter a trance, during which she would give prophecies to people who came to ask. Of course, the words of the prophecies were a jumble, so priests had to rearrange them for the seekers.

Delphi became very wealthy, and had several treasuries to guard the wealth over the centuries. If you noticed that Pythia sounds an awful lot like python, you’re right. I’ll get into that another day.