These speedy swimmers don’t just have fins to thank for their swiftness; their rubbery skin also plays a big part.
Hilton Head is famous for its year-round population of dolphin. While most groups of these mammals migrate seasonally, Lowcountry dolphins enjoy the mild water temperatures here all 12 months. Rapidly warming waters between the local islands in June bring these magnificent creatures closer to shore to hunt, which makes June one of the best months of the year to go on Hilton Head kayak excursions and watch dolphins.
Research on dolphins and their behaviors took off in the middle of the last century. The further scientists, like Jacques Cousteau, explored the biology and sociology of these animals, the more incredible findings were revealed. Dolphins were found to have unusually large brains, a complicated social structure, highly intelligent hunting techniques and a very interesting skin.
The rubbery skin of the dolphin is extremely sensitive. The area around their head, blowhole and beak has a really high concentration of nerve endings. This helps them perceive nearby prey in waters with low visibility. Their sensitive skin also factors into their social lives, which is why people often see related dolphins rubbing against one another. In rare cases, dolphin will also rub their bodies on rubber boats for a similar effect.
Dolphin skin is distinct from other mammals because it does not contain any sweat glands and is totally hairless. Beneath the thin outer surface of skin cells is a thick layer of blubber, which contributes to their buoyancy and keeps them warm in deeper cold water. Dolphins spend the majority of the day hunting fatty fish, which keep this blubber layer stocked.
Dolphins are renowned as incredibly fast swimmers, reaching recorded speeds of over 50 knots. For the most part, this is due to the large and powerful muscles that run the full length of their body. But their skin also contributes to this hydrodynamic performance, as it is covered in folds that direct water to flow seamlessly over their bodies. The thin outer layer of skin is constantly flaking off and being replaced by new cells. In fact, dolphins replace all of their outer skin cells every two hours. This skin regeneration keeps the dolphin epidermis soft and sleek.
The skin on dolphins is just one of the amazing aspects of their biology and sociology. Get Outside dolphin watching this June and learn more about these fascinating creatures.
Written by Jessie Renew of Outside Hilton Head, which, for more than 30 years, has provided personalized adventures for all ages, from kayak, fishing, nature and dolphin tours to kids’ camps, history excursions, family outings and stand-up paddle boarding. Don’t miss the guided full moon kayak tour, which explores the salt marsh. For more information, call (843) 686-6996 or go to outsidehiltonhead.com.