Why on Earth? Dolphin

Why on Earth is this dolphin wearing a sea sponge on its beak?

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Answer: Sponging!

These bottlenose dolphins in Western Australia collect basket sponges and position them to cover their rostrums or beaks. Dolphins are carnivores and feed on various species of fish, crustaceans, and squid. By using the sponge as a protective shield, the dolphin is able to drive desirable, bottom dwelling fish out from the seafloor without damaging their rostrum. Dolphins have been known to ‘crater feed’-- where they dive beak first into the seafloor. However, in areas where rocks or sharp corals cover the seabed, this behavior could result in injury.

The bottom dwelling fish are plentiful and they behave similarly when they are disturbed. Their predictability and frequency make them a great food source for the dolphins to exploit. This hunting technique is passed from generation to generation and it has been suggested that the behavior is more commonly passed from mother to daughter.

Dolphins practice a number of other hunting techniques to catch prey including tail slapping to stun, strand feeding to isolate and trap prey, and herding to condense large schools of fish.

To learn more about predator and prey relationships, check out our hands-on education programs: Tale of the Tooth, To Tell the Tooth, and Tooth and "Eye" Denfification.