There are already more than 40 species of dolphins registered, belonging to various types of ecosystems/habitats, such as estuaries, rivers, coastal waters and even in the high seas, which in itself influences the diet of these beings.
In addition, it is also known that the way they hunt is influenced by the type of food available to them.
In this article, we will explain to you the various types of food that some species of dolphins consume and the various hunting methodologies that these animals can perform.
What do dolphins eat?
These mammals, active predators by nature, usually have a very varied diet, consuming fish, squid and crustaceans.
There are 28 cetacean species present in the Azores region. Of these, 11 are dolphins, which in itself enhances a very similar diet between them.
With a wide distribution, the common dolphin is a species that is based on a diet rich in small schools of sardines and mackerel, but can also feed on both squid and crustaceans.
Comparatively, bottlenose dolphins can feed on a wider variety of fish such as corvina, mackerel and mullets, and can also feed on cephalopods and crustaceans.
Risso’s dolphins feed on deep water animals such as squid, octopus and cuttlefish.
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As regards the diet of false killer whales, it is known that it is based on large fish such as salmon, albacore and tuna. Additionally, their diet also goes through the consumption of squid and they can still attack and eat other cetaceans.
Por último, mas não menos importante temos as orcas! Caracterizando-se pelos grandes predadores que são, esta espécie de golfinho tem uma dieta muito diversificada, sendo que pode alimentar-se de 150 espécies, como cetáceos, peixes ósseos, tubarões e raias, aves marinhas e tartarugas.
Dolphin Hunting Methods
Dolphins can have a wide variety of techniques when it comes to hunting, and these depend on the typology of prey in sight and its location.
One of the techniques that dolphins use is the “Fish Whacking”, which consists of stunning the fish through a blow with the tail, to be sometimes able to throw the fish and catch it out of water.
We also have strand feeding when dolphins create waves to push fish to the edge of the mud. When trapped, dolphins move to that shore temporarily to catch the fish. This technique occurs mainly in rivers and estuaries.
Finally, we have the “Mud Ringing”, where a dolphin creates a ring-shaped mud plume, creating a turbidity barrier around the fish. These, when trying to escape through the surface of the water, are caught in the air by the remaining dolphins of the group.
Orcas also opt for a great diversity of strategies to feed themselves. One of these strategies is the beaching method of ambushing prey (mostly seals), driving them ashore and then capturing them.
Em adição à estratégia acima descrita, as orcas utilizam também a técnica de ‘wave washing’, com o propósito de retirar as focas dos blocos de gelo onde se situam. Para terem sucesso necessitam de trabalhar em equipa e criar ondas com o seu corpo para movimentar o bloco de gelo fazendo com que a foca acabe por cair na água.
The carousel feeding technique consists of forming a group ball and then capturing the herring of the shoal.
How do dolphins find their prey
Dolphins and other species use echolocation a lot to find their prey.
This evolutionary adaptation gives dolphins the opportunity to differentiate the size and type of fish.
A ecolocalização é um processo biológico que consiste na produção de sons pelos biosonares, localizados nas passagens nasais, e subsequentemente emitidos através do melão (estrutura que se encontra na parte da frente da cabeça – representada a amarelo na figura). Estas ondas de som, por sua vez, fazem ricochete nos alvos, e são refletidas de volta ao golfinho emissor. Estes ecos são recebidos no maxilar inferior (bola laranja) sendo transmitidos à orelha.
Como mencionado anteriormente, temos uma elevada diversidade de espécies de cetáceos identificadas nos Açores. A existência de um elevado número de espécies nesta região leva à criação de diversos nichos alimentares e, consequentemente, a uma elevada diversidade de técnicas de alimentação.
Considering that different cotypes of the same species may present different feeding techniques, depending on the habitat where they are located, visiting the Azores may represent a unique opportunity to observe unique feeding techniques of certain species. Come with Futurismo to explore the possibility of witnessing special and incredible behaviors!
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Berta, A. (Ed.). (2015). Whales, dolphins, and porpoises: A natural history and species guide. University of Chicago Press.
Carwardine, M. (2019). Handbook of whales, dolphins and porpoises. Bloomsbury Publishing.