What Eats a Dolphin?

what eats a dolphin

Dolphins are one of the smartest known species after humans in the world. They are placed within the order Cetaceans and suborder Toothed Whale. These small tooth species can easily be recognized from their attractive curved smile. There are dozens of known Dolphin species, and each is known for its unique appearance and behavior. These joyful, skilled, agile, and playful creatures are famous for their friendliness with humans.

Dolphins prefer ocean and brackish water along the coastlines. They attack and feed on fish and squids using the process of echolocation, a technique that allows the dolphins to see with sound similar to sonar in a submarine. Dolphins are one of the apex predators in the ocean environment and only a few predators eat them; you can say that animals are unable to eat these species because of their intelligence and large size. 

Quick Outline

Dolphins in the Food Chain: Where Are They?

Dolphins are carnivorous species as they eat only meat. They are active predators meaning they eat fish, octopuses, and squids. They are also tertiary consumers meaning they eat secondary consumers like Tuna. Almost all Dolphins are close to being at the top of the food chain except the Orca Whale or Killer Whale as it is already at the top. They play a vital role in bringing the environment into balance. 

Below we have mentioned the marine food chain of Dolphins:

Planktons: They feed on dead animals

Krill: They eat planktons

Small fish and Squids: These species feed on krill

Large Fish and Squids: They eat smaller fish and squid

Dolphins: These marine creatures eat large smaller fish, octopuses, and squids

Killer Whales and Sharks: They eat dolphins, squids and large fish

Killer Whale: They kill and eat sharks

What Eats a Dolphin?

Dolphins contain a high fat content making themselves a favorite source of nutrients to the other sea creatures. However, attacking and consuming them is more trouble than using them as a source. The fully grown adult Dolphins are the apex predators; the apex predators are ranked at the top of the food chain and since they are at the top they do not have natural predators. Most animals including sharks feed on small or injured Dolphins and avoid attacking the fully grown Dolphins because of their ability to defend themselves. The predators of Dolphins are:

  • Whales: Orca Whales
  • Sharks: Great white shark, Dusky shark, Bull shark, Tiger shark
  • Humans

Once these species hunt Dolphins, the uneaten part of the flesh of Dolphins sinks into the ocean and is eaten by crabs, lobsters, and other carnivorous fish.

1: Whales

The Whales feed on small species and they do not eat dolphins. However, the Orca Whale-Orcinus orca also known as Killer Whale; the predator of all predators, occasionally eats the Dolphins if their desired food is not available. They are as smart and cooperative as Dolphins and three times bigger than them. The Orca Whales are the only natural and the most dangerous predators of the Dolphins because of their size and physical characteristics.

Orca Whales are also known as the Wolves of the Sea; they are oceanic Dolphins and the largest member of the Dolphin family with an average measured size of 30 feet. They dwell in all oceans of the world and can be distinguished by their black-and-white patterned colored bodies. They feed on fish, mollusks, rays, sea birds, and sea lions. These species are also known to attack the massive Baleen Whales and if they find other Dolphins they do not hesitate to consume them. Like other Dolphins, they identify the meat time using the process of echolocation.

The Orca Whales are the apex predators and consume a diverse variety of meat. These species use various hunting strategies and their brain to attack their prey. The Orca Whales mostly attack injured or young dolphins instead of fully grown dolphins. While attacking the Dolphins, they toss them into the air and tear off the chunks of their flesh. 

2: Sharks

Sharks are the apex predators of oceans and feed on small prey and occasionally hunt Dolphins. They attack young or injured Dolphins instead of fully developed species. In a few places, sharks are the most vulnerable predators of the Dolphins such as the east coast of the US. For sharks, the Bottlenose Dolphin is the favorite Dolphin species to eat. The following are the species of sharks that feed Dolphins:

  • Great White Sharks
  • Dusky Sharks
  • Bull Sharks
  • Tiger Sharks

i: Great White Sharks-Carcharodon carcharias

The Great white sharks are a type of Mackerel shark, belonging to the Lamendae family. They are the most powerful and largest predatory fish with a size of 4.6m long in the oceans of the world. These carnivorous species mostly prefer sharks, fish, and sea birds to eat. They are one of the shark species with Dolphins on their menu. 

The Great white shark is named for their white-colored underbellies and gray or brown upper side. It has 2.5-inch long 300 serrated triangular teeth. These species mostly dwell in temperate and tropical waters near the coast worldwide. These deadliest predators have a powerful sense of smell and they can detect the seals from two miles away. These species are highly curious about their surroundings and swim towards the bright objects to take a bite.

ii: Dusky Sharks-Carcharhinus obscurus

The Dusky sharks, also known as shovelnose sharks are the requiem sharks. They dwell from a depth of 13000 feet of temperate to tropical waters. They are known for the seasonal migrations from the poles in summer to the equators in the winter. They have an average length of 4m and a weight of 400 lbs. They have gray bodies with the dusky margins on their fins.

The Dusky sharks eat varied diets such as cephalopods, rays, bony fish, and sharks. They occasionally prey on Dolphins and garbage. 

iii: Bull Sharks-Carcharhinus leucas

Bull sharks are large active predators that live in tropical areas of the world. The Bull sharks are the most dangerous in the world as they hunt in the water where people often swim. They are also known as the Lake Nicaragua shark as it is the only known shark that can live in both types of water i.e. salt and freshwater. Their kidney and special glands near the tails help keep the salt in their bodies and thrive in freshwater.

Bull sharks have an average length of 7 feet female and 11 feet male with a weight of 200 to 500 pounds. Bull sharks are known for their stocky appearance, black snout, and aggressive nature. They are also known to attack humans, which usually occurs when sharks mistake humans for their favorite food sea. They have a bite force of 1350 Psi and are ranked among the animals with the strongest bite force on the planet. The Bull sharks eat almost anything including birds, small sharks, and sea turtles. They are also known to eat Dolphins.

iv: Tiger Sharks

Tiger Sharks are a species of ground sharks. They are the largest predatory sharks that live in the warm, saltier water around the world, specifically around the central Pacific Island. They are the second-largest predatory and fourth-largest sharks; they have the ability to grow up to a length of 18 feet. They are named for their dark vertical stripes on the juveniles and as they mature the lines fade or almost disappear.

These nocturnal hunters are also known as garbage eaters as they eat anything that they find or can catch. They mostly feed on crustaceans, seals, birds, squids, and Dolphins. They have a bite force of 325 Psi making them the one of the sharks with the strongest bite force.

3: Humans

Humans are the largest predators of Dolphins as they eat them as a special delicacy. 10,000 dolphins are killed annually and the majority are eaten as food and the remaining are used as bait. The meat of Dolphins is highly popular in Malaysia, South Korea, Nigeria, India, and Japan. It is consumed in Japan and Peru and is called Sea pork or Chancho marino. The fins of Dolphins are popular in Japan for soup and noodles. 

The other reason humans predate Dolphins is because of competition. The Dolphins are opportunistic hunters who feed on other marine species such as squids, crustaceans, and small fish. Fishermen whose livelihood depends on catching and selling fish, hunt Dolphins to minimize the competition.

How Do Dolphins Escape From Predators?

Few marine species feed on Dolphins or get other benefits from them. They have various defense mechanisms to escape from predators. These species are some of the fastest swimmers that use their speed to escape from predators. These species show aggression and the most powerful defense mechanism of Dolphins is the pods (the group of dolphin species that live and swim with each other). The healthy species circles around the injured species and makes the sharks avoid approaching them. 

What are Other Threats to Dolphins?

Various human activities are affecting the population of Dolphins and we have listed them below:

1: Hunting

Besides they contain a high concentration of mercury, and their meat is consumed in several areas of the world. The places with the highest number of dolphin killings are Asia, Africa, and Japan. 

2: Bycatch

The main risk to these species is accidentally caught in commercial fishing nets as numerous Dolphin species are caught by a man during large-scale fishing operations. The Tuna swims in high numbers beneath the Dolphins, so they are unintentionally caught by humans while catching the fish using the gillnets and trawl nets.

3: Reduction of habitat

Dam fragmentation and habitat degradation are one of the major factors affecting the population of Dolphins.

4: Pollution

Daily, millions of gallons of polluted water, metal, plastics, and other hazardous substances are released into the water. The habitat of Dolphins becomes contaminated causing the illness and death of these species.


Dolphins are the smartest marine mammals and agile swimmers known for their playful tactics and friendliness towards humans. The Dolphins mostly feed on small fish, octopuses, and squids. They are near being the apex predators in the water. There are only a few animals that eat Dolphins such as Orca whales, Tiger sharks, Bull sharks, Great white sharks, Dusky sharks, and Humans. People have also hunted Dolphins for their meat for centuries. The major risk to the population of Dolphins comes from pollution, habitat degradation, and bycatch.

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