Well, dolphins are too smart to get caught up in a fight with a shark but of course, there are occasions when such an encounter is inevitable. Who would outsmart the other?
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Sharks are predatory fishes with cartilaginous skeletons and five to seven-gill slits on either side of their heads. They exist in numerous species in the marine waters and have tough skin supplemented with toothlike scales. Their muscular bodies are fusiform shaped with a range of gray to cream, brown, yellow, or blue dorsal color and a lighter shade on their bellies. Sharks have pointed fins, an upturned tail, some a pointed snout with a crescentic mouth while others, like the hammered shark, have a mallet-shaped head to create a greater surface for sensory organs.
Dolphins are highly intelligent marine mammals which are primarily gray with darker backs than the rest of their bodies. There are over 36 species of oceanic dolphins in the family of small toothed whales. Dolphins are damned with a super-streamlined body, an eye on each side of their heads, each moving independently of the other, have flippers, a dorsal fin, and a long slender snout. Their skin is smooth and unlike sharks who have gill slits, they have a single blowhole on top of their heads with flaps that open to reveal a pair of nostrils for breathing when they surface.
Shark sizes are diversified into over 500 species in the world. They vary from the smallest dwarf lantern sharks of only 0.56 feet (0.7meters) in length to the largest species, the whale shark, of a significant 46 feet (14 meters) body length, and 30000 pounds (21000kg) of weight. Other sizeable sharks include the tiger shark damned with 1400 pounds (635kg) of weight and a body length of 10-14 feet (3-4.2 meters), megamouth shark with 2680 pounds (1215kg) and a length of about 18 feet (5.5m) among others.
Dolphins can grow to considerable sizes as well, with the largest being the killer whale – the orca – which grows up to over 30 feet (10m) in length and can weigh up to 22000 pounds (1ton) and the smallest of the dolphin species is the Heaviside, that grows to 3.5 feet (1.2meters) and 88 pounds (40kg). Bottlenose dolphins can typically achieve an average weight of between 331.5-442 pounds (150-200kg) and a length of 6.6 to 12.8 feet (2-3.9meters).
Sharks are attuned to a wide range of aquatic habitats. Some species inhabit shallow coastal waters while others prefer the open ocean or deep-water ocean floor. Some like the bull shark thrive in the fresh waters of the Mississippi River, the Atchafalaya River, Lake Ysabel, and Nicaragua. Bigeye hound sharks have been found at the bottom of the Red Sea while sleeper sharks roam the chilly Arctic waters. They also cruise the oceans in regions where the prey population is particularly high. However, the Atlantic has been reported to harbor the largest population of sharks.
Dolphins, on the other hand, predominantly live along the coastlines but others live far out at sea. A few species such as the South Asian River dolphin and the Amazon river dolphin live in freshwater streams and rivers while only the orcas live near the polar ice sheets. Brackish waters, regions where rivers and oceans meet, are also a habitat for some as other oceanic dolphins cruise in off-shore, deepwater habitats due to the climate changes causing the seas and oceans to warm.
Large sharks are primarily solitary although some species may congregate in large numbers during feeding time. They are nocturnal predators, well adapted to hunting at night in the low and high tide of the ocean. However, daytime hours can as well be mealtime once they come across their prey. With an amazing ability to sense pressure differences with sensory receptors that run along their sides they easily detect their prey. Having the ability to rest on the ocean floor and still breathe, some sharks can pass water through their respiratory system by pumping the pharynx. However, others must swim constantly to keep oxygenated water flowing through their gills.
On the contrary, dolphins live in pods consisting of a dozen or more members. They are playful and often leap out of the water in a boat’s wake. The pod hunts together and defends each other against predators. How dolphins communicate has remained a peculiar discovery in science. They use a variety of sounds and ultrasonic pulses, with each sound unique to every member of the pod. Click sounds are used for echolocation, enabling them to ‘see’ through soundwaves that bounce off of objects surrounding them while whistles are used to communicate with other members of the pod. Their intelligence and ability to echolocate enable them to achieve true imitation, as they can mimic other dolphins’ behavior.
Sharks generally feed on smaller fish and invertebrates. Larger species are known to prey on seals, sea lions, smaller sharks, and other marine mammals. Though predominantly carnivores, a few species feed on planktons. Confusion, or sometimes curiosity, might be the chief reason why sharks attack humans. A shark can smell blood from up to 3 miles (5km) away using an organ called the olfactory bulb. According to National Geographic, a shark can detect a drop of blood in 25 gallons (100 liters) of water. This majorly attracts their numbers when feeding.
Dolphins chiefly feed on fish, squid, shrimps, jellyfish, and octopuses, which they track through echolocation. This technique reveals the prey’s location, size, and shape. Even so, prey varies from one species to another and also depends on their habitat making them opportunistic feeders. Larger species like killer whales prey on marine mammals like seals, sea lions, and even turtles. Quantities of food ingested by dolphins must be enough to sustain their appetite and generate energy for their busy lifestyles.
The average cruising speed of the shark is about 5mph (8kph), approximately the same speed as the fastest Olympic swimmer. But some like the great white can reach top swimming speeds of up 35 mph (56kph) in short bursts. The fastest swimming shark, the Mako, can reach maximum speeds of 46mph (74kph) in short bursts, allowing it to jump to an approximate height of 30 feet (9meters).
Similarly, dolphins are quite accomplished swimmers too! The orca can achieve a top speed of 35mph (56kph) while the fastest bottlenose dolphin can hit 21mph (33kph). Short-beaked common dolphins have been recorded at 37mph (60kph). Generally, dolphins have a cruising speed of around 8mph (12.5kph).
Sharks have a less stellar vision, often relying on their ability to detect electrical fields of hidden prey. Circling their prey is particularly very common. However, when they are sure of the target they attack from below at great speeds and may send their meal flying out of the water. Larger species can swallow an entire animal or tear them into large chunks. Their teeth are arranged in rows to continually replace fallen out or broken teeth during a struggle. Bite force varies depending on size, with the largest bite strength recorded at 4000 pounds per square inch.
According to scientists, dolphins use the sonic weapon to hunt their prey. The clicks made during echolocation are low-frequency ‘bangs’ designed to damage the fish’s hearing apparatus. This weakens and slows their target, giving them time to catch them. They grab the fish by its tail and slam it against the surface of the water breaking it into smaller pieces that are easy to consume. Unlike sharks, dolphins have only one set of sharp, conical-like teeth in their lifetime. Although, they do not use their teeth to chew but only to grasp prey then swallow it whole.
Can a dolphin kill a shark?
This fight would hugely depend on the species of dolphins and the species of shark. Nonetheless, assuming similarly sized members would ensure fair combat. Undeniably, anyone who messes with the dolphin gets the snout. Made of strong and thick bone, dolphin snouts are battering rams. The dolphin would position itself under the shark and vigorously burst upwards aiming for the shark’s soft underbelly. A well-targeted jab could cause fatal internal injuries. Moreover, their flexibility and soft skin enable them to easily maneuver around their cartilage filled counterparts. Not forgetting sleek speeds are also an added advantage to avoiding a possible attack.
Killer whales are known to hunt down sharks – particularly the great whites and use their immense intelligence for a successful kill. These whales use their stocky tail fins to flip sharks on their back rendering them immobile. What follows is a yielded buffet. In fact, the formidable great whites have evolved an instinct to flee at the sight of killer whales.
Also, dolphins hunt in pods. A solitary shark would, therefore, stand no chance of winning a battle and will most likely succumb to the angry pack. Nevertheless, a turn of events could occur due to the shark’s stealth and ambush predatory skills. But unless the shark makes his move on a dolphin who’s unaware of his adversary, he has little chance of seizing the throne.