With more than 500 species of sharks and 49 species of dolphin and porpoise and sharks inhabiting all five of the world’s oceans, it seems that this ecosystem is full of these predators being able to hunt and attack at any moment.
This article will give you an overview of the relationship between sharks and dolphins and whether dolphins are a common item on the menu or a rare occurrence for one of the largest types of fish in our oceans.
If you want to find out more about these fascinating creatures, read on to find out more.
How Often Do Sharks Eat Dolphins?
You might be surprised to learn that even though there are many instances of dolphin attacks by sharks, occurrences where they prey on them are not very common.
This could be because sharks would prefer to go after prey such as smaller herds of fish such as tuna, bass, or salmon, but of course, its prey can very much depend on the type of shark and what part of the ocean they are in.
On the other hand, if a shark is hungry enough, it will only go after smaller dolphins as the smaller, and younger dolphins are easier to subdue, as they are much harder to hunt if they are in a pod, which is the most common way that these mammals tend to travel.
Sharks can counter this group advantage by traveling in groups themselves so they can ambush the pod from underneath, and as the two species share the same food source, they can be seen sharing the same space in the ocean and pass each other quite often.
It has been speculated that dolphins have the capability to kill lone sharks, but to what extent is determined by the number traveling in the pod. And this is where we turn to next.
Are Sharks Scared Of Dolphins?
It has been a topic of speculation whether a pod of dolphins can successfully take down a great white shark, but as dolphins don’t eat sharks, their grouping and tactics are more of a defensive stance than anything else.
However, an orca, or a killer whale, is part of the dolphin family, and these massive black and white mammals can be up to 9.7 meters in length and weigh up to 5,443kg, or 6 tonnes.
This makes them a lot heavier and faster than a great white shark and is seen as an exception when talking about threats to shark species.
An orca can easily overpower a shark by spinning it on its back, where it becomes defenseless and seems to be only eating certain parts of the shark, like the liver.
This fear of dolphins stems from these orcas that are abundant in colder waters like Antarctica but can be found in any ocean regardless of temperature.
Large pods of dolphins can deter a shark as they generally find it challenging to overpower larger numbers.
What Is The Relationship Between Sharks And Dolphins Like?
In general, these two species don’t get along, so a lone shark might try to pursue a smaller or lone dolphin, as they generally try to avoid sharks if they can but won’t hesitate to attack any lone shark that comes into their path.
As dolphins are intelligent fighters, they will only attack a shark if they feel that a threat is imminent, which is a natural reaction to protect their group or offspring so that they won’t attack unprovoked.
This can seem strange considering these species have been seen swimming side by side and generally mind their own business, and if provoked, can ram sharks with their noses or slam into them with the full force of their bodies.
What Are The Differences Between The Two?
This could be a simple evaluation based on their appearance, but some factors give each species a significant advantage when hunting or traveling in groups.
As simple as it would be to determine that a great white shark would be able to overpower a bottlenose dolphin, these differences can make one species more effective in its tactics over the other.
Below we outlined some of the physical features of both to determine their effectiveness in their roles.
The great white shark can weigh between 680- 1,800 kg, and some weighing over 2,270kg have been documented and can range from 4.5 – 6.4 m in length.
An adult bottlenose dolphin can weigh between 150-650kg and is around 2-3.9 m long, so as you can see, the great white has the advantage here.
As we have seen with orcas, these are the only types of dolphins that can match up to the size of a great white.
Dolphins have an excellent sense of hearing, good vision, and the ability to use echolocation that can detect other creatures and their movement with great precision, and the shark is also quite handy with senses.
They have good vision, even in low light, have an unusual sense of smell, can detect 1 part per 10 billion parts of substance in the water, and can also see electrical fields using their ampullae of Lorenzini.
This makes sharks more sensitive to their environment than dolphins, making them more susceptible to oncoming threats, but it depends on how the species decides to act based on this information, as in general, only a portion of shark species are known to be highly aggressive.
In general, dolphins need to move fast to catch their prey, reaching speeds of 20mph as they tend to corral their prey by rounding them up into balls and taking turns plowing into the cluster, snatching them up in the process.
Sharks can also be quite nifty, reaching speeds of between 20-35 mph and, in some cases, like the shortfin mako shark, can reach bursts of up to 46mph, so this side-to-side motion can easily outpace a dolphin, but an orca can also reach a similar speed and overall could depend on if there are any younger members in these groups.
Both species use their teeth to attack prey, and in most attacks, each other, with the shark having one of the strongest bites in any species at 4,000 PSI or more, which can damage paint and brick or even cut your arm off if the same pressure were to be used with a pressure washer, for instance.
To add to this immense strength, their teeth are up to 6 inches long and have 300 flesh-tearing teeth, so Dolphins, on the other hand, have up to 268 sharp teeth that are used to tear the flesh off their prey and catch their food.
They do not chew their food, instead, they swallow, so there isn’t much power behind them if you compare them to other types of prey, such as the Titan triggerfish, which can use its powerful teeth similarly.
The primary defense a dolphin has is in its pod group, which can range from 2-15 members, as they are very social creatures and the bonds they form are what give them protection from a shark, the only predator that dolphins have to deal with.
Sharks, on the other hand, are known to be solitary creatures but can cooperate with other members of its species by hunting in groups, and it’s pretty surprising how quickly they can learn from each other.
Their primary defense is using their bodies to slam into their opponent, which can disorientate them, especially in the case of the hammerhead shark.
If the shark admits defeat, it can swim away at full speed as they’re able to outswim most species.
How Do Dolphins Fight Sharks?
We’ve discussed ways of defense, and it seems that sharks have the upper hand, but dolphins have found ways to injure a shark by placing themselves under it and bursting upwards.
They can use their snout to ram into the soft underbelly and target its weak areas, including its eyes and gill rakers, which could incapacitate the shark, allowing the dolphin to escape, except this is mostly done in groups.
There are some instances where a dolphin can attack and kill small sharks and don’t usually eat them, as these can result from an altercation from the dolphin trying to socialize with the creature.
This might be something rare, though, and may seem counterproductive, as sharks can keep ecosystems in balance by limiting the abundance of their prey, which can affect the prey of those animals, and works down the food chain.
With this much direct or indirect influence on these levels, it makes sense that dolphins should only use their cooperation and intelligence if a shark were to pose a threat to a vulnerable, young, or sick member of their pod.
How Do They Fare With Humans?
Dolphins, for the most part, can show kindness towards humans as they can recognize their intelligence and can communicate with them in limited circumstances, but as they are wild animals, they should be treated with caution, and long periods of human interaction can sometimes affect their behavior for the worst.
Sharks, on the other hand, can be seen to have a mixture of confusion or curiosity when seeing a human in the wild, and its investigation may lead it to attack the person accidentally, but in general, sharks can be seen to fear humans due to not knowing a lot about them.
This may not work in your favor though if you begin to thrash around, so being aware of what to do in an emergency is paramount.
So there you have it, we have outlined the relationship between these two majestic species that can live side by side without getting into fatal encounters, as these attacks can be attributed to factors like defending a territory or a mainly empty area that forces the shark to be tactful about how and when to attack a lone dolphin.
We’ve also outlined that dolphins are intelligent mammals that can use their social and physical attributes to overcome a shark attack in some scenarios. This may be why dolphins may feel a closer connection to humans.
This could be why humans are often accepted into a dolphin pod and why attacks on humans by dolphins are rare and can appear approachable and friendly to us.
Of course, sharks and dolphins are fascinating species because of their abilities, and with much speculation and assumptions about the two, it’s important to understand them and their behaviors the next time you happen to see them out in the wild.
Thank you for reading.