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

What Do Dolphins Eat? (List of Foods)

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  • Post category:Dolphins
  • Post last modified:30 March 2022
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Dolphins are carnivorous animals, so they eat other aquatic animals. The type of fish it eats generally depends on the particular dolphin species. It also depends on where the dolphins live and the wildlife around their habitat. Depending on their location and the environment of the habitat, 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 would eat the following.

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

Dietary Variety Reasons

There are 42 different species of dolphins living in the oceans and rivers of the world. So, it is not very surprising that the food choices of all these species are different from each other.

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 species of dolphin would like to have.

General Dolphin Diet

Dolphins’ most common dietary requirement is fish. Some dolphins in the deep ocean generally feed on jellyfish or squid. As the dolphins are, by nature, playful and curious, they can also eat various additional marine animals. Sometimes, dolphins eat small rocks, seaweed pieces, small shellfish, and other invertebrates. Thanks to the extensive level of plastic pollution, dolphins consume plastic debris by mistake. 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 Dolphins Eat?

Regional Dietary Variation

The diet preference of a particular dolphin species depends on the region in which it lives. For example, the Atlantic bottlenose dolphins generally prefer catfish and mullet. The dolphins living in the Indus River primarily feed on freshwater fishes 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 they 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 the rough-toothed dolphin, 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. 

The killer whale “Orcas” have a unique appearance and are the largest dolphin family member. Orcas need to eat a significant amount of food each day. Most of the killer whales that live off of the coast of Canada mainly rely on different varieties of fish. However, other killer whales consume other sea mammals like sea lions and other dolphins and whale’s species. Most of the time, the type of animals the dolphins hunt depends on the hunting technique that they have learned from their elders. There is evidence where 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 that determine the diet of the captive dolphin is the availability of the 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 fish for the dolphins.

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

Trainers Preference

Smelt is usually the best option for trainers to use, 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.

Generally, 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 1,000 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 pod of dolphins surrounds a school of fish. 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 to 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 them or stun them. Once the fish gets confused, it becomes easier for the dolphins to catch them. Most of the time, the dolphins use this technique to hunt down marine animals that are much larger compared to them.

Echolocation

The sound waves that the dolphins emit to find out where the fish are hiding is 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 for hunting 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.