Dolphins are among the most loved, watched, and studied of all marine life. Those who have had the privilege of watching them in their natural habitat will agree that there is nothing quite like the sight of a dolphin leaping from the sea.
Because they are so popular, you probably know that they are not fish, but rather mammals. They are part of the whale family and have numerous teeth which you may have seen being used to catch fish. The dolphin's diet, however, is not restricted to just fish and can vary considerably by species.
While there are some common prey on the list, fish, squid, shrimp, and jellyfish, a dolphin's diet depends greatly on where they live and what shares their habitat.
Typically, dolphins that live near the coast eat fish and bottom-dwelling marine creatures. Species that live offshore eat fish and sometimes squid.
What Kind Of Fish Do Dolphins Eat?
Dolphins are opportunistic eaters, which means they tend to eat whatever is conveniently nearby. Species that live in tropical areas may eat tropical varieties of fish while others in more temperate climates may eat such species as mackerel, cod, and herring.
Some dolphins found in offshore areas have been seen with deep-sea fish in their stomachs, demonstrating that they can dive fairly deep for their food. Amazon river dolphins, interestingly, have been known to eat more than 40 different species of freshwater fish.
What Do Dolphins Eat Besides Fish?
Offshore dolphins often eat octopus, squid, jellyfish, krill, and other invertebrates. Coastal dolphins are known to eat crab, shrimp, and other bottom-dwellers. Many of these creatures, however, don't have the fat content that fish does so a dolphin needs to eat more of them to equal the energy they would get from eating fish.
Large dolphins, like the orca, can eat other marine mammals like seals or sea lions and sometimes turtles. This behavior is rare and restricted to a small number of species.
What Do Bottlenose Dolphins Eat?
Like all dolphins, the bottlenose diet is dependent on where the specific animal lives. Because they are found all over the world in temperate and tropical waters, their diet can vary. Many eat mullet, mackerel, and catfish. Some change their preference depending on what is available at a given time of year. The bottlenose dolphins that live near Moray Firth, Scotland eat salmon in the spring and summer but, in the winter, eat herring and mackerel.
How Do Dolphins Eat?
Dolphins use a variety of techniques to gather and catch their prey. Some employ herding which involves several dolphins surrounding a school of fish with each one taking a turn swimming through the school to eat what they can. Some herd fish into the more shallow water to make it harder for them to escape. This technique is referred to as corralling.
Stunning and whacking are different methods that stun the fish so they can't swim away. Whacking is when a dolphin strikes fish with their tails. Stunning involves dolphins sending a very loud click through the water at the fish to shock them into a stupor.
Finally, some dolphins get really creative, picking up a sponge and using it to push through the mud on the bottom in shallow areas. This technique reveals bottom-dwelling prey and is known as foraging.
Though they have teeth, dolphins do not chew with them. They typically use their teeth to grab or bite and then swallow their prey.
What Do Baby Dolphins Eat?
Because they are mammals, baby dolphins, or calves, nurse for several years. So for the first few years of their lives, they primarily drink their mother's milk. However, they do start to learn to catch fish even as young as a few months old. They often start by catching a few little fish and then, over a few years, can learn to catch enough on their own to where they can be weaned off milk.
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