Unique dolphin strategy delivers dangerous octopus for dinner

April 3, 2017

A bottlenose dolphin tossing an octopus across the water during feeding off Bunbury. (Photo: Kate Sprogis)

New research has highlighted the development of complex behaviours that allow dolphins to eat octopus, thereby improving their ability to survive and reproduce.

Dr Kate Sprogis and Dr Holly Raudino from the Murdoch University Cetacean Research Unit , observed wild bottlenose dolphins in Bunbury (Western Australia) between March 2007 and August 2013, and found they have a unique way to handle and feed on octopus.

In an article for The Conversation, the researchers explain how large octopus can be a risky prey for predators to tackle, especially so for marine mammals, such as dolphins, which don’t have hands to help them keep control of this clingy, eight-armed prey.

“We observed 45 octopus handling events by dolphins. Most were performed by adults (male and female), although we also saw four juveniles and two calves performing this behaviour,” the authors say.

“During these events, dolphins were observed shaking and tossing octopus around at the water’s surface. In some instances, the prey was gripped in the teeth before being slapped down onto the water.

“This likely helped both to kill the octopus and to tear it into smaller, more digestible pieces.”

To read the full article and watch a video of the dolphins throwing the octopus, click here.

The research findings, titled ‘Complex prey handling of octopus by bottlenose dolphins’, can be viewed in Marine Mammal Science.


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