Dolphins have a streamlined fusiform body, adapted for fast swimming. The tail fin, called the fluke, is used for propulsion while the pectoral fins, together with the entire tail section, provide directional control. The dorsal fin, in those species that have one, provides stability while swimming. Though varying by species, basic coloration patterns are shades of grey, usually with a lighter underside and often with lines and patches of different hue and contrast. Unlike most mammals, dolphins do not have hair, except for a few hairs around the tip of their rostrum (beak) which they lose shortly before or after birth. The only exception to this is the Boto river dolphin, which has persistent small hairs on the rostrum.
Most dolphins have acute eyesight, both in and out of the water, and they can hear frequencies ten times or more above the upper limit of adult human hearing. Though they have a small ear opening on each side of their head, it is believed hearing underwater is also, if not exclusively, done with the lower jaw, which conducts sound to the middle ear via a fat-filled cavity in the lower jaw bone. Hearing is also used for echolocation, which all dolphins have. Dolphin teeth are believed to function as antennae to receive incoming sound and to pinpoint the exact location of an object. Beyond locating an object, echolocation also provides the animal with an idea on the object’s shape and size, though how exactly this works is not yet understood. The Indus Dolphin is effectively blind. This may be because not much light penetrates the waters of the Indus river (due to suspended sediments), making the need for vision unnecessary.
The dolphin’s sense of touch is also well-developed, with free nerve endings densely packed in the skin, especially around the snout, pectoral fins and genital area. However, dolphins lack an olfactory nerve and lobes, and thus are believed to have no sense of smell. They do have a sense of taste and show preferences for certain kinds of fish. Since dolphins spend most of their time below the surface, tasting the water could function like smelling, in that substances in the water can signal the presence of objects that are not in the dolphin’s mouth.
A group of dolphins is called a « school » or a « pod ». Male dolphins are called « bulls », females « cows » and young dolphins are called « calves ».