There’s nothing like the sight of dolphins swimming around and jumping out of the water. It can be a joyous experience to view in person, although my favorite is being able to feed them.
While looking at dolphins you’ll notice they are very alert and seem to be looking right back. I had always wondered if the dolphin could actually see or if the picture in their head was widely different than with humans.
Here’s everything you might need to know about a dolphin’s vision and how they actually see the world around them!
Are Dolphins Blind?
Dolphins are not blind and actually have great eyesight in and outside of the water. Their two eyeballs are slightly flat and allow them to view a clear image because of the large amount of light that passes through the eye. Most dolphin species are missing short pigments that give them reduced ability to view colors.
Regardless of the quality of dolphin’s eyesight, their vision becomes less important in deep, dark areas where shapes and light begin to dim and look the same.
But dolphins have another great characteristic that lets them move smoothly in great depths, that is, echolocation. Echolocation helps dolphins to see shapes, objects, and light at great depths.
Echolocation helps dolphins to track down food, stay out of dangerous situations, and find other dolphins around them.
They use it by sending out a rapid series of clicks, which are in charge of emitting sound waves that come into contact with different objects in dolphin surroundings.
With the two combined forces, dolphins have no problem seeing in any condition. Whether they’re in deep and dark water or with their head above the surface, the vision of dolphins is clear enough to move around safely no matter the environment.
The dolphin eyesight quality, in general, depends on the dolphin species. Some dolphin species have an outstanding vision and can see objects at very far distances, where others have very limited or poor eyesight. This means they can see at a short distance or can only view the objects in their near surroundings.
An example of a dolphin with no vision is the Ganges River Dolphin, which has eyes without lenses. These river dolphins inhabit areas with very muddy waters which is why they’ve developed small eyes that don’t have any function for sight. They can only make a small distinction of shapes and light variations that are within a couple of feet in front of them.
Echolocation also allows these marine mammals to see their entire environment even in the deepest and darkest areas and provides them with the amazing ability to see shapes, light, direction, density, speed, size, and location of various objects down there. In summary, it makes it easier for them to live, find food, and maintain awareness of possible threats.
Can Dolphins See Color?
Although dolphins have a clear vision of objects, they are not able to see them in color. Without at least two different kinds of cones in their eyes, it is very unlikely that dolphins can view or even distinguish between colors as other mammals can.
There are only a few mammals that are limited to only having one type of cone for vision. Dolphins and whales are two examples of mammals that are colorblind because they only have L-cones which are sensitive to long-wavelength light.
Receptor cells, rods, and cones are in charge of providing animals with the things they need in order to see and detect color.
The majority of mammals like humans have multiple cones that work with different sensitivities. Combining the different wavelengths of the three types of cones gives great color vision in most conditions. Without them, it results in limited color perception for the animal.
How Do Dolphins See Humans?
Dolphins see humans through the process of echolocation that allows them to view the sound waves that bounce off objects. With this sonar ability, dolphins can interpret the waves and construct an image of the object in their view, such as humans.
But what’s even more important is that these sound waves are bouncing off of the surrounding objects and then return to the dolphin at a particular frequency, vibration, angle, and speed that gives them clear information about the environment.
There’s no accurate way at this time to get an image of what dolphins actually see when looking at humans, so the best we can do is imagine. With the number of pigments in their eyes we do know they can clearly see objects in their line of sight, but most likely not the colors.
Dolphin Eye Color
Dolphin’s eyes are black in the center due to the type of cone cells that provide them with their vision. There are some dolphin species that have a slight amount of blue surrounding the center of the eye as well. With limited pigments, dolphins are color-blind and but may be able to view colors in the blue spectrum.
The eyes of a dolphin are located on the side of the head, right around the corners of the mouth. One cool fact about their eyes is that they have control to move independently which can give them a larger area of vision at one time.
There is also an oily substance that is created from their glands that helps to lubricate the dolphin’s eyes. It can also clear out any debris caught in the eye and protect them from further harm.
Dolphins are definitely relying on their eyesight to avoid water predators and find food, which is, as you know, essential for their survival.
Echolocation, combined with their excellent eyesight, gives them a great advantage compared to other marine life that relies strictly on sight only. Whether it is a shark that’s chasing a dolphin or just a small fish, echolocation plays a great role in their survival.
So, all in all, dolphins have an extremely developed sense of vision, especially when it comes to seeing underwater.