It is a known fact that dolphins are highly intelligent and social creatures. They typically live together in pods. Some pods are small with only a few dolphins and other individual pods are quite large with as many as fifteen dolphins. In these pods they swim together, play together, and even hunt together.
Many times some dolphins will only swim in a pod for a few hours to a few days, coming and going as they please. Other dolphins prefer to swim with their pod family most of their life. Sometimes whole pods will combine to form herds or several pods will combine bringing their numbers up to around 100 dolphins. Regardless of the size of the pod, dolphins work together when it comes time to hunt for food.
The first tool in their hunting arsenal is their ability to use echolocation to find food. They send out a series of clicks in the form of echolocation to first locate their prey. This also helps determine whether the object in the distance is actually food, such as fish, by providing the dolphin with information such as size, shape, direction, distance, and more. Once food has been located, the dolphins head off in that direction in search of a feast.
One of the most impressive hunting techniques of dolphins is how they work together as a team to corral their prey. When they find a school of fish, such as sardines, they herd the fish into what is called a bait ball. Not only do the dolphins benefit from this, but other animals do as well. These bait balls are typically close to the surface of the water and sea birds enjoy the easy feast as well. Sharks, seals, or other predators also come in to enjoy the meal. Once everyone has had their fill, the dolphins fall back, allowing the school of fish to disperse.
Dolphins don’t always have to hunt in pods. Some dolphins come into the shallow areas to catch fast swimming fish that hug the shore line. One way they out maneuver these fish are by beating their tails against the silt for the sea floor creating a ring. This acts as a net to trap the fish in a circle of disturbed silt. The fish then try jumping over the ring of silt, making it easy for the dolphin or a group of dolphins to catch them as they jump.
Many times dolphins will use their tails to stun their prey. They do this by slapping the prey hard with the dolphin’s tail. Dolphins especially use this technique in shallow waters. By slapping a fish, it will stun them long enough to allow the dolphin to scoop it up for a meal.
Sometimes dolphins have to come in even closer to the shore to hunt. This is risky business when the water is only a few inches deep. Fish that swim closer to the beach to seek refuge from hunger dolphins often find that they have underestimated the skill of a hungry dolphin. It may appear that the dolphin has given in as it speeds away. However, it is just building up speed to hydroplane closer to the fish. This is a risky technique because dolphins risk being stranded on the beach. Not all dolphins will try this technique. Younger dolphins watch and learn from more experienced dolphins who have mastered the skill.
The grace, beauty, and ingenuity of dolphins when they hunt display exactly how intelligent they really are. Their hunting techniques are highly effective and other predators that enjoy the same diet also benefit from dolphins being skilled hunters. Also, dolphins only take what they need and release the rest when they are full. This helps to keep a healthy aquatic ecosystem and ensures that there will be more meals to come.