Welcome 2007, the Year of the Dolphin
The UN Convention on Migratory Species has declared 2007 the Year of the Dolphin.
Here are some key facts about dolphins:
* Dolphins are acquatic mammals believed to have evolved more than 10 million years ago. The 40 species vary in size from 1.2 metres (4 ft) to 9.5 metres (30 ft) and weigh from 40 kg to 10 tonnes. They are carnivores, eating mainly fish and squid.
* Found worldwide in the shallow seas of the continental shelves, dolphins are highly social and move in groups, called schools or pods, of about 20 to several hundred.
* Breeding appears to have seasonal peaks in spring and autumn. Gestation lasts 10 to 11 months and newborns are about one metre long. They reach sexual maturity at three years old.
* Dolphins are considered to be among the most intelligent of animals. Greek and Hindu mythologies portray them as being friendly to humans.
* Dolphins are reported to have been used for military purposes ranging from finding undersea mines to rescuing trapped divers.
* Major threats to their survival include entanglement in fishing nets, marine pollution, prey depletion and hunting.
* Scientists have developed an artificial insemination technique and ways of freezing and transporting sperm for captive dolphins.
* The Year of the Dolphin will be part of the UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development. A campaign under Prince Albert II of Monaco, involving non-governmental organisations and the private sector, has been launched to protect them.
Sources: Reuters; Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (www.wdcs.org)