Sea Life

What Does a Dolphin Eat?

what does a dolphin eat

Dolphins are some of the most admired and well-known marine mammals. With their cute smiles, likeness towards humans, and incredible acrobatic skills, they have caught the attention of humans for ages. These Toothed whales are classified under the order Cetaceans also known as odontoceti. These species have blowholes at the top of their heads and have 80 to 100 teeth.

There are 40 known species of Dolphins; some live in temperate and tropical oceans while others prefer colder oceans or rivers. Among all the species of dolphins, the bottlenose Dolphin is the most common and recognizable. Depending on the species they can vary in their physical characteristics and behavior. The Orca or Killer Whale is the largest known species of dolphin that can be 30 feet, 10 times longer than the smallest Dolphins (Hector’s Dolphin)

These highly social creatures use a range of vocalizations to communicate with one another or find their prey under the water. No matter where they are, they are always on a hunt to find their favorite food using the specific hunting mechanism known as echolocation. They consume a variety of foods from the smallest shrimp to the biggest sharks, to give themselves enough energy to survive and reproduce in their habitat. 

Quick Outline

What Does a Dolphin Eat?

Dolphins eat a variety of diets depending on the place they live and the depths they explore. These species usually eat one prey at a time. Dolphins have been seen hunting and feeding on other marine creatures in groups. Dolphins are the top predators of oceans and the diet of the numerous species of Dolphins is very similar. The fish is the favorite food of dolphins in each habitat. However, they prefer different food depending on the habitat they are living in and the availability of food. The Dolphins are divided into the following main families based on their living preferences:

  • River Dolphin
  • Oceanic Dolphin

1: River Dolphin

The River Dolphins are smaller in size and prefer freshwater and brackish water habitats of Asia and South America. There are only six species of River Dolphins left in the world and one species is the Amazon River Dolphin. The main types of food River Dolphins consume are:

  • Emphases usually known as krill
  • Fish such as catfish, tetras and piranhas
  • Turtles
  • Crustaceans.
  • Aquatic frogs

2: Oceanic Dolphin

Oceanic Dolphins are found in all the oceans and seas of the world. The majority of Dolphins live in warm and tropical waters, only Orca prefer to live in colder waters such as Antarctica. Oceanic Dolphins such as Bottlenose Dolphins and Indo-Pacific Dolphins are active predators and feed on various prey:

  • Depending on their location, various types of small or big fish like sharks or tuna
  • Cephalopods like squids and octopuses
  • Shrimps
  • Seals
  • Sea birds

Unlike the majority of Dolphins, killer whales have specialized bodies and teeth to hunt bigger marine mammals as well as Penguins. In some cases, they also feed on the other smaller Dolphins.

How Do Dolphins Hunt Their Food?

Dolphins are carnivorous species that eat the meat of other marine creatures. They hunt in an old-fashioned way- one fish at a time. The Dolphins have adopted a different technique to find and attack the prey. 

Below we have listed the techniques used by Dolphins to hunt their prey:

1: Herding

The Dolphins often hunt in groups known as pods. The most common method to hunt prey is herding as it allows the Dolphins to eat efficiently. They encircle the school of fish, herd them tighter into the group, and take turns rushing to the school of fish to eat them/

2: Echo-localization

Communication is a key to finding prey in the underwater world. Dolphins make clicking sounds to find and navigate their prey. Dolphins have a special mechanism of echolocation. It is a technique that allows the Dolphins to see with the help of sounds and find the prey over long distances. These species know where they are near objects and animals by emitting a series of high-pitched clicks. Based on these echoes they predict the size, shape, and exact location of nearby objects.

3: Stunning

Dolphins also use the pectoral fins to stun their prey and then consume it. This method is used to confuse the prey and is useful while hunting the largest prey such as sharks.

4: Corralling

This technique is used by Dolphins while feeding the prey individually. If they are hunting near the shore, these species push the fish against the shore where it cannot escape and it is easy to catch and consume the fish.

When Do Dolphins Eat Food?

Dolphins can be nocturnal or diurnal; they can also show variations between nocturnal and diurnal.

This behavior depends on the type of species of Dolphins. They do not have a strict sleep-wake cycle, they sleep and are awake 24 hours. They are more active during the day and prefer to hunt for food in the early morning.

How Do Dolphins Eat Their Food?

Dolphins are odontocetes; they have large heads, smaller lower jaw, and functional teeth in the lower jaw. Would it be a surprise for you to learn the fact that Dolphins don’t chew their food? Dolphins have rounded teeth but they do not use their chompers to eat. Instead, they use these teeth to grab or attack their prey. These species either shake the prey into the water to tear it apart into smaller pieces or swallow the whole prey. Since these species do not chew the meat, digestion occurs in their stomach. They have compartmentalized stomachs; one is for digestion while the other stores the undigested food.

How Much Does a Dolphin Eat in a Day?

Typically the amount of food consumption depends on the type of the food. They need to eat enough quantity to sustain their appetite and fuel their energies. Depending on the size and type of species, they consume up to several pounds to 500 pounds of food per day. On average, the adult dolphin needs to eat 4% to 6% of its total body weight. The per day food requirement of the nurse mother dolphin is  8% of its total weight. This means the average-sized Dolphin with a weight of 385 pounds consumes 20 pounds of fish, shrimps, or squids. On the other hand, the similar-sized mother nursing dolphin needs to eat up to 30 pounds each day.

Final Thoughts

Dolphins are the smartest known mammals that live in pods. These active hunters are carnivore species that feed on a wide variety of food such as squids, shrimps, fish, and crustaceans. Larger dolphins may feed on sharks and seals. On average, a healthy dolphin requires 4% to 6% of the food per day of its total body weight, and the food of a nursing mother consists of 8% of its total weight.

Dolphins are social species, they hunt their food in groups. On average the species of Dolphins have 80 to 100 teeth but they do not use their teeth to chew the food, instead, swallow it whole. They use echolocation to evade predators, communicate with each other, and catch the prey. Despite their dependence on numerous food, they do not stay at the same place for a long period, if they do they quickly run out of food. That’s why they migrate to other zones in search of food.

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