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

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

Dolphins are known for being intelligent and playful animals, but did you know they are also excellent hunters? They eat a wide range of food, as they are carnivorous creatures. This means they mainly eat other animals who live in the water. However, what dolphins eat can vary depending on their species, where they live, and available food.

Discovering the Dolphin’s Diet

In this article, we will explore the fascinating world of dolphin nutrition and learn about the different types of food these marine mammals consume. We will examine their main diet staples, the kinds of animals they hunt, and how they catch their prey. Get ready to dive in and discover what dolphins eat!

A beautiful photograph capturing a group of dolphins swimming gracefully in the ocean, with their sleek bodies cutting through the water. Some dolphins are seen leaping out of the water, showcasing their playful nature.
Play Leaping

What Dolphins Eat Primary

Dolphins eat meat, and their diet consists mainly of other animals from water. The kind of food dolphins eat can change based on the type of dolphin, where they live, and what food is available to them. Some of the main things dolphins eat are squid, fish, jellyfish, shrimp, and octopus. These foods give dolphins the nutrients they need, making up the most crucial part of their diet.

Different Types of Food Consumed by Dolphins

Dolphins, besides their primary food source, have been observed to consume a variety of other marine animals. These include anchovies, carp, catfish, cod, crabs, gobies, herring, krill, mackerel, mullet, salmon, sardines, sawfish, shrimp, smelt, tuna, as well as different kinds of shellfish and invertebrates. It is worth noting that the types of food dolphins eat may differ depending on the species and the availability of these items in their habitat.

Image of dolphin hunting and catching their prey: An action-packed image capturing the moment a dolphin has their mouth open with a whole fish half in and out. The photo shows the agility and hunting skills of dolphins.
Dolphins are great hunters.

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
Image of different types of fish and marine animals that dolphins eat: A visual collage featuring various kinds of fish and marine animals, including squid, anchovies, shrimp, jellyfish, and octopus.
Dolphin Food

Feeding Habits

Dolphins eat whatever sea animals they can find in their area. How they eat can differ depending on the kind of dolphin and the size of their prey.

Amount and How Often They Eat

A dolphin weighing between 400 and 500 pounds must eat 25 to 50 pounds of fish and other sea animals daily. This is about 5% of their body weight. Remember that the food they need can differ depending on the dolphin’s body and how it works.

Exploring the Different Diets of Dolphins

There are several reasons why the different varieties of dolphins have a diverse diet.

Location: Where dolphins live affects their food choices. Dolphins in the Amazon River have different prey options than those in the open ocean. This is because different environments have different types of prey.

Health and Nutrition: Dolphins, like humans, need specific calories and nutrients to stay healthy. Their food choices may be influenced by what their species needs.

Teeth and Snout Shape: The shape and size of a dolphin’s teeth and snout determine what kind of food they prefer. Dolphins with sharp teeth usually eat fish, while those with round teeth eat soft-bodied prey like squid or octopus. The shape of their snout can also tell us about their feeding behaviour, like hunting near the water’s surface or digging in sandy bottoms.

Dolphins have a diverse diet because of where they live, their health, and how their bodies are built. This diversity helps them survive in different habitats around the world.

Dolphin’s Diet: Fish, Plastic, and Unfortunate Consequences

Dolphins need to eat fish, and some dolphins in the deep ocean prefer to eat jellyfish or squid. Dolphins are naturally playful and curious, so that they can eat other marine animals. Sometimes, dolphins accidentally eat small rocks, pieces of seaweed, and shellfish. They can also eat plastic in the ocean, which is very harmful and can cause them to die. This is a common cause of death in dolphins that get stuck on land called stranding. If you want to learn more about what baby dolphins eat, you can read about them here.

Variation in Dolphin Diets Depending on Location

Different types of dolphins have varied dietary preferences depending on their region.

Atlantic bottlenose dolphins: These dolphins in the Atlantic Ocean mainly eat catfish and mullet.

Indus River dolphins: These dolphins, residing in the Indus River, primarily feed on freshwater fish such as carp and gobies.

Southern Hemisphere dolphins: Dolphins living in the southern hemisphere mainly rely on squid or shrimp for their diet. For example, dusky dolphins in this region feed on anchovies.

Dietary Preferences of Different Dolphin Species

Dolphins are opportunistic eaters, meaning they eat whatever aquatic animals are available in their territory.

River Dolphins: Most river dolphins eat crustaceans (like crabs and lobsters) and other freshwater fish that they find in their environment.

Pelagic Dolphins: Dolphins, like rough-toothed dolphins, mainly eat squid.

Spinner Dolphins: These dolphins primarily consume jellyfish and other fish in their habitat. They also rely on krill, which are tiny shrimp-like creatures.

Killer Whales (Orcas): Orcas are the largest members of the dolphin family. They require a significant amount of food each day. In Canada, most killer whales mainly eat different types of fish. However, other killer whales feed on sea mammals like sea lions, other dolphins, and smaller whale species. The type of animals killer whales hunt often depends on the hunting techniques they learn from older pod members. There is also evidence that killer whales attack birds.

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

Diet of Dolphins in Captivity

What Dolphins Eat

The availability of fish mainly determines the diet of dolphins in captivity. Most dolphin facilities provide the dolphins with fresh fish found in local fisheries or the fish market. They can import fish from other places if these sources are unavailable.

Some aquariums even breed their fish specifically for the dolphins to eat. This ensures that they always have a fresh supply of fish.

Other Foods Dolphins Like

In addition to fish, dolphins also enjoy eating squid, shrimp, and other shellfish. These types of food are widely available in captivity.

Trainers’ Preferred Food

Trainers often choose smelt as the best option for dolphins. Smelt are small enough for dolphins to swallow whole, so there is no need to cut them into smaller pieces. Dolphins also really enjoy eating smelt

A group of dolphins being thrown fish, their mouths wide open, ready to catch. Text: Dolphins in captivity sadly miss the opportunity to hunt.
Feeding time in captivity

How much food does a dolphin eat?

On average, a dolphin that weighs between 400 and 500 pounds needs to eat 25 to 50 pounds of fish. This amounts to roughly 5% of its body weight per day! When you think about it, a large quantity of fish and other marine animals for a single dolphin to consume daily.

The amount of food dolphins need also depends on the fat in the fish. Mackerel and herring are high in fat, so dolphins need to eat more squid, which has less fat, to stay energised.

How do wild dolphins find and catch their food?

Dolphins work together in groups or hunt alone to find their food. They use different techniques to catch fish, such as herding, corraling, stunning, and echolocation hunting.


When dolphins hunt in a group, they surround a school of fish. They try to make the fish group into a smaller area. Once the fish group is smaller, the dolphins take turns catching and eating the fish. This method helps them catch their food more efficiently.


Dolphins find catching fish in shallow water easier because there is less space for the fish to swim away. When a dolphin is alone, it uses a technique called corraling. They push the fish into the shallow water, where they cannot escape. This is a unique way for dolphins to catch fish by themselves.


Sometimes, dolphins hit their prey with their tails. This confuses or stuns the fish, making it easier for the dolphins to catch them. Dolphins mostly use this technique when hunting marine animals that are much bigger than them.


Illustration showing how dolphins use echolocation to detect and locate their prey. The image shows sound waves being emitted from a dolphin's hea
Echolocation is used to detect and locate their prey.

Dolphins use sound waves to find out where the fish are hiding. This is called echolocation. They send the sound waves and listen for the echoes that bounce back. With echolocation, dolphins can find exactly where the fish are hiding. Dolphins use this technique not only to communicate with each other but also to hunt for their food.

Key Point

While the main diet of dolphins consists of squid, fish, jellyfish, shrimp, and octopus, they are also known to consume various other aquatic animals. The actual composition of their diet can vary depending on the species, location, and availability of food sources.

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Teresa Milne

Teresa is learning zoology and loves to share her knowledge through her articles. She is also a avid binge watcher of wild animal documentary's. Teresa has some pets that she adores two dogs, two cats, and one hamster. She has also studied canine behaviour and canine nutrition.