Incredible footage showing the ways in which dolphins hunt from the POV of riding on the side of one’s face is the rollercoaster we didn’t know we needed to go on. The footage, filmed by US Navy dolphins, was made possible thanks to some mavericks over in San Diego Bay who decided to strap on some cameras and see what they got up to.
Being Navy dolphins, these animals are usually kept in captivity but they are allowed out on some wild jaunts in the open ocean, and it was for this that they were enrolled in a study published in PLOS ONE. The project involved attaching cameras to six bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) with the lens pointing at the animals’ snoots to see how they went about hunting and eating for six months.
Not only did the cameras capture the dolphins’ best angle, but they also got recordings of the many squeaks, buzzes, and clicks they were emitting when in pursuit of some living dinner. This revealed that dolphins in search of a meal would click at intervals of 20 to 50 milliseconds, but upon homing in on their prey would crescendo in a buzz and a squeal.
Squealing continued while the dolphins wrestled the fish into their mouths and down their throats. Any escapees were pursued by the dolphins who would continue their buzzing and squealing.
Dolphins were also seen expanding their throats when eating and if fish managed to slip through their jaws, they seemed perfectly capable of sucking them right back in again.
Dolphins have historically enjoyed a rather PG reputation despite being plenty capable of violence (just ask this porpoise), but the study’s footage revealed their meaner side as they appeared to flare their lips to show all of their teeth shortly before capturing prey.
As for prey choice, on their adventures, the Navy dolphins were filmed capturing a wide range of fish, but curiously one showed themselves to have a penchant for venomous sea snakes. Our gastronomically adventurous cetacean gulped down eight yellow-bellied sea snakes (Hydrophis platurus) in a behavior that’s never been seen before in these animals and, fortunately, didn’t seem to make it sick.
While the insights and accompanying footage represent a unique and original way to study dolphins’ diets, the findings are limited in that they are based on Navy animals rather than wild ones. However, the researchers are confident that their approach can be altered to work for wild dolphins, too.
“The camera placements that we used could be employed with small cameras and suction cup tags to observe feeding in wild dolphins,” they explained in their paper. “This would give a better understanding of feeding and nutrition in threatened populations.”
My Dolphin Diary 2: Cetaceans Gone Wild? You can count us in.