American Oceans
what do bottlenose dolphin eat

What Do Bottlenose Dolphins Eat?

If you ever witnessed the antics of bottlenose dolphins, you know that these creatures are very active and energetic. Like other aquatic creatures, dolphins need to eat to keep up their energy for long ocean trips, so what do bottlenose dolphins eat?

What Bottlenose Dolphins Like to Eat

Bottlenose dolphins are carnivores, meaning that they eat meat. Though bottlenose dolphins will eat a variety of fish, squids, and crustaceans, they have preferred meals, just like we do! 

What do bottlenose dolphins eat if they have a choice? Territory often plays a role in a dolphin’s favorite meal. For example, dolphins living along coastal areas gravitate toward fish and invertebrates, like shrimp. As bottlenose dolphins travel out to sea, they enjoy squid and deep-sea fish.

bottlenose dolphin diet

How Bottlenose Dolphins Eat

Would it surprise you to learn that bottlenose dolphins don’t chew? Imagine eating a fish or a shrimp whole! 

Instead of chewing, bottlenose dolphins use their teeth to capture a fish and then swallow it whole. If the fish is too large, the dolphin shakes or rubs the prey against something, like the ocean floor, to break off pieces. 

Bottlenose dolphins rapidly digest food because they have compartmentalized stomachs. They can eat between 4% and 6% of their body weight. Given that they weigh between 300 and 1400 pounds, that’s a lot of fish!

How Bottlenose Dolphins Feed in the Wild

Despite their friendly appearance, bottlenose dolphins make fierce predators for some species in the wild. They swim more than forty miles per day, giving them plenty of opportunities to trap a solitary creature in shallow water or attack a school of fish.

These incredibly social creatures travel in pods and work together to hunt by herding schools of fish toward their pod mates. As a pod, bottlenose dolphins may trap schools of fish against sand bars and seawalls to eat. Bottlenose dolphins even adapt their hunting strategy based on the situation and prey!

Bottlenose dolphins also rely on their hearing to hunt. They use echolocation to track prey by emitting a clicking sound that travels through the water until it hits an object, like a school of fish, and bounces back to the pod. Dolphins can determine the size and shape of the object as well as how far away it is.

bottlenose dolphin hunting

A Word About Bottlenose Dolphins in Captivity

Bottlenose dolphins aren’t endangered, but they are protected. Unfortunately, like many other sea creatures, bottlenose dolphins struggle against fishing nets and pollution in the wild. However, living free to roam and hunt in the open waters is often better than being in captivity. 

Since they are so intelligent, bottlenose dolphins can learn complicated tricks. However, they learn through a reward system, which means they receive food when they perform. Essentially, the impressive waves and dips captive animals perform occur because the dolphin wants to eat. 

Captive dolphins lose the ability to hunt as a pod. Further, they generally don’t have access to the impressive and varied diet that their wild counterparts enjoy.

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