dolphin, aquatic mammal, any of the small toothed whales of the family Delphinidae, numbering more than 50 species. These include the true, or beaked, dolphins, the killer whale, the pilot whale, and the freshwater species found in rivers of South America and S and E Asia. Most species are highly gregarious. The name dolphin, meaning “beaked,” is also applied to a species of fish (see dolphin, fish). In the United States dolphins are often mistakenly called porpoises, a name correctly applied to small, blunt-nosed whales of another family. Until recently dolphins formed the basis of a widespread fishing industry; only the Japanese continue to hunt them for food on a large scale. They are accidentally caught and killed in large numbers in tuna seining operations.
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