Dolphins are known to consume a number of different fish, crustaceans, small animals and marine mammals depending on the dolphin’s species, where it lives and the available food sources in the dolphin’s area.
Most species of dolphin will hunt for and consume fish such as cod, herring and mackerel.
While most species of dolphin are known to consume small fish, crustaceans and other forms of small prey larger dolphins such as the killer whale and false killer whale may hunt other marine mammals, large animals and marine birds when smaller prey such as fish, squid and crustaceans may not be an available choice or a sufficient food source for their needs.
Because of the strong social structure dolphins have many species hunt for food in groups or pods and work collaboratively to capture their prey.
One technique dolphins frequently use to hunt for food is called bait balling.
The bait ball technique is used to capture schools of fish and requires a pod of dolphins to swim around in a circle around the school of fish, which forces the fish to herd themselves into a tightly knit ball allowing them to become easy prey.
Bait balling makes eat easier for dolphins to create abundant source of food in a small area by preventing the fish from being able to escape in any direction.
Once the fish are pinned down into a tight ball the dolphins can rush in and pick the fish off one at a time.
Another technique that is commonly used by dolphins in or near shallow waters is known as corralling.
This works by chasing the fish into shallow waters or getting them into a small narrow place where they can be pinned against a wall or mud bank so they are unable to escape.
Similar to a bait ball the school of fish will be limited in mobility and most will be unable to escape while the dolphins move in and attack them.
Some dolphins may also use their tail to hit and stun the fish in order to paralyze them long enough to be defenseless while the dolphins attack them.
While it is difficult to determine exactly how much food a dolphin consumes it is safe to say that depending on the dolphins species most dolphins can consume anywhere between 2% – 10% of their total body weight in food each day.
In addition to communicating with one another when hunting for food in groups dolphins are also able to hunt for food using echolocation which allows them to create sound waves in order to detect fish and other objects in the area by bouncing the sound waves off of the objects and interpreting the information that is returned to them through the echo’s they emit.
Information can include the size, distance, direction, speed and thickness of an object in order to provide the dolphin with vital data that will allow it to determine what the object is.
Echolocation is extremely important in areas that lack light as the dolphins must rely on their sense of sound to search for food, navigate the ocean and maintain awareness of potential predators.