A dolphin next to different food varieties
What foods does a dolphin eat

What Do Dolphins Eat? (List Of Their Tasty Foods)

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  • Post category:Dolphins
  • Post last modified:11 January 2023
  • Reading time:9 mins read

Dolphins are carnivorous animals, so they eat other aquatic animals. The food type a dolphin eats depends on the particular dolphin species. It also depends on their location and what is available to them within the environment. However, dolphins can eat a variety of squid, fish, jellyfish, shrimp, and octopus.

List Of Foods A Dolphin Will Eat

If available to a dolphin within their habitat, they eat the following.

  • Anchovies
  • Carp
  • Catfish
  • Cod
  • Crabs
  • Gobies
  • Herring
  • Krill
  • Jellyfish
  • Mackeral
  • Mullet
  • Octopuses
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Sawfish
  • Shrimp
  • Smelt
  • Squid
  • Tuna

Reasons Dietary Variety

Forty-two different species of dolphins live in the oceans and rivers of the world. So, it is not very surprising that the food choices of all these species differ.

Location

The dietary preference of the dolphins living in the rivers of the Amazon is, of course, different from the diet preference of the dolphins living in the ocean.

Health

Other than the habitat, other factors that influence what the dolphins like to eat may include the number of calories the particular dolphins require to sustain a healthy life.

Body Shape

Other than that, the shape and size of their teeth and the rostrum’s shape also play a significant role in determining what type of food a particular dolphin would like to have.

Common Dietary Requirement

Dolphins’ most common dietary requirement is fish. Some dolphins in the deep ocean generally feed on jellyfish or squid. As dolphins are, by nature, playful and curious, they can also eat various marine animals. Sometimes, dolphins eat small rocks, seaweed pieces, small shellfish, and other invertebrates. Dolphins consume plastic debris by mistake, thanks to the sad extensive level of plastic pollution. It often leads to an excruciating death. It is one of the most common causes of death in dolphin stranding cases.

Recommended Read: What Does A Baby Dolphin Eat?

Regional Dietary Variation

The diet preference of a particular dolphin species depends on the region in which it lives. For example, Atlantic bottlenose dolphins generally prefer catfish and mullet. The dolphins living in the Indus River primarily feed on freshwater fish like carp and gobies. The dolphins living in the southern hemisphere mainly depend on squid or shrimp. The southern hemisphere’s dusky dolphins feed on anchovies.

Dietary Variation Depending On The Species

Dolphins are opportunistic feeders and will try to eat whatever aquatic animals they get in their territory. 

Most river dolphins will eat crustaceans and other freshwater fishes available in their environment. 

Pelagic Dolphins, like a rough-toothed dolphins, feed on squid. 

The spinner dolphins tend to rely more on jellyfish and other fish available in their habitat. They also depend on krill, which is a type of small shrimp. 

Killer whale “Orcas” have a unique appearance and are the most prominent dolphin family member. Orcas need to eat a significant amount of food each day. Most of the killer whales living off the coast of Canada mainly rely on different varieties of fish. However, other killer whales consume other sea mammals like sea lions, other dolphins, and smaller whale species. Most of the time, the type of animals the dolphins hunt depends on the hunting technique they learn from their elders. There is evidence that killer whales attack birds as well.

A killer whale jumping out of the ocean, showing body apart from tail
Orca (Killer Whale)

Captivity Dolphins Diet

One of the significant factors determining the captive dolphin’s diet is the availability of fish. Most dolphin facilities feed the dolphins fresh fish available in the local fisheries or the fish market. If none are available, they can get imported food.

Some aquariums even breed their fish for the dolphins to eat. This way, they can have an endless supply of fresh fish for the dolphins.

Most dolphins also like squid, shrimp, and other crustaceans, which are widely available in captivity. 

Trainers Preference

Smelt is usually the best option for trainers, as they are small enough to swallow, and there is no need to cut them up into smaller pieces. Plus, dolphins love them! 

How much food does a dolphin eat?

On average, a dolphin that weighs between 400 and 500 pounds will need to feed on 25 to 50 pounds of fish. It’s roughly 5% of its body weight each day! If you consider the amount, that is a lot of fish and other marine animals for a single dolphin to consume in a day.

Also, the amount of food the dolphins need to consume depends on fish fat. Mackerel or herring fish contain a lot of fat compared to squid. So a dolphin would need to eat much more squid than a mackerel or herring to maintain its energy level.

How do wild dolphins catch their food?

Many dolphins hunt together to catch their food. They can come together in groups of more than 30-100 dolphins to herd schools of fish. Dolphins also use other hunting methods when travelling alone, including corraling, stunning and echolocation hunting.

Herding

In this hunting technique, the dolphin pod surrounds a fish school. The members of the dolphin pod try to compress the perimeter of the fish school into as small a ball as possible. Once the perimeter of the fish school has become significantly smaller, the dolphins take turns feeding. It is one of the most common hunting methods the dolphins use as it enables them to hunt more efficiently.

Corraling

Catching fish in shallow water is easier for the dolphins as there is less room for the fish to swim away. The corraling hunting technique is when the dolphins push the fish into the shallow water, which they cannot escape. It is a unique hunting method that dolphins use when travelling alone.

Stunning

In this technique, dolphins hit their prey with their tails to confuse or stun them. Once the fish gets confused, it becomes easier for the dolphins to catch them. Most of the time, dolphins use this technique to hunt down marine animals that are much larger.

Echolocation

The sound waves the dolphins emit to find out where the fish are hiding are known as echolocation. With the help of this technique, the dolphins can pinpoint the exact hiding place of the fish. As we already know, dolphins use this technique to communicate with each other. But it is not widely known that dolphins also use the same process to hunt down their prey.

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Teresa Milne

Teresa is learning zoology and loves to share her knowledge through her articles. She has some pets that she adores two dogs, two cats, and one hamster. Teresa has also studied canine behaviour and canine nutrition.