Sharks have an earned reputation as the apex predator of the seas. After all, shark sightings drive swimmers back to the beach, and they even have their own theme song (duun dun, duun dun…). So why are sharks afraid of dolphins? More often than not, sharks steer clear of the cute, not-at-all terrifying mammals.
As it turns out, dolphins have several evolutionary advantages over sharks. From speed to smarts, the adorable dolphin is anything but. Not only can a dolphin spook a shark out of its territory, but it can also downright end them.
Why are sharks afraid of dolphins?
Dolphins will attack sharks on sight.
When we think of the ocean, we picture its beauty and wonder. And no other creature commands more awe than the dolphin. Whether flipping out of the water or speeding through the wake of a boat, a dolphin’s favorite pastimes are entertaining for us. When we humans see a dolphin, we smile. But when a shark sees a dolphin, it flees.
This is because a pod of dolphins can turn any unfortunate shark they see into a punching bag, making a sport of ending the shark’s life.
Harboring ruthless aggression, dolphins know how to take down the ocean’s most ferocious hunter. They can make quick work of a shark, striking vital organs from below, damaging gills, and generally wreaking havoc on a shark’s body.
Needless to say, a shark would rather play it safe than pop up on a dolphin’s radar.
Flexibility gives dolphins the edge.
Dolphins and sharks are no match for each other, right? After all, a shark is big, menacing, and has sharp teeth, whereas a dolphin is—well—cute.
The truth is, big doesn’t always mean better. A dolphin’s flexibility gives it an obvious edge over a shark in one-on-one combat.
First, a dolphin’s horizontal tail allows agile movement through the water. On the other hand, a shark’s vertical tail is much more difficult to move up and down through the water. A dolphin would win in a race with a shark.
It doesn’t stop there, though. Dolphins can swim circles around sharks. One method of attack dolphins employ is to swim up from below and spear the shark in its soft underbelly. The shark can only do its best to get a bite in, but the likelihood of landing a strike is low.
A dolphin’s soft skin and flexible skeletal joints allow it to make maneuvers even Tom Cruise would envy. The shark, for all its might, is rather rigid by comparison.
Unless this is Game of Thrones and the shark happens to get hold of the dolphin, the dolphin has a clear advantage.
Dolphins gang up on sharks.
One-on-one matches between sharks and dolphins rarely occur. Never is it a question of a dolphin fighting a shark, but rather dolphins fighting a single shark.
Dolphins often travel in pods, meaning several little murder machines are waiting to spot a shark for pummeling. Meanwhile, sharks prefer to travel and hunt for prey alone; A gang of dolphins will heavily outnumber them.
A dolphin’s nose is a cute debilitating blunt object.
Everyone and their mom want to touch a dolphin’s snout. But in the wild, in a battle between life and death, a dolphin’s adorable nose turns into a spear launched from a speeding cannon.
A dolphin’s snout is very strong and made of thick bone; this and many other dolphin facts may surprise those who think they’re all cute, squishy, and harmless. A dolphin can hurtle itself upwards and strike the shark in its soft underbelly from below, causing internal damage that sharks rarely recover from.
So, can dolphins kill sharks? Using their nose as a battering ram, a dolphin can downright skewer them like a kebab.
Meet the Dolphin’s Shark-eating Cousin
If these dolphin facts weren’t scary enough, meet the orca, the dolphin’s bigger cousin. Orcas are the largest of the dolphin family, and their black and white colors are well-known and recognizable. But unlike dolphins, orcas will hunt sharks for food on occasion.
Dolphins fighting sharks is wild enough as it is, but an orca is a full-on shark tamer. Using their keen knowledge of a shark’s anatomy, an orca can use its tail to flip a shark onto its back, rendering it docile. Then, the orca chows down without a fight.
Nightmare fuel? Think of how the shark feels!
Poor Little Innocent Sharks? Not!
Dolphin tales are full of triumphs and struggles. Take Queen P, the local dolphin of Boca Ciega Bay with a shark bite on her fin. Sharks are somewhat helpless when ganged up on but get on the wrong side of their jaws, and even a dolphin can have a bad time. In particular, sharks have a taste for baby dolphins and often hunt for these defenseless prey.
With this in mind, it takes no great leap to understand why a dolphin and its crew will batter a shark the moment they see it.
Additionally, a shark’s stealthiness is often the key to a victory over a dolphin. Dolphins have blind spots that make them blissfully unaware of shark jaws bearing down on them. Dolphins and sharks have a complicated, intricate relationship that is not as one-sided as it may seem at first glance.
Mortal Enemies and Tourist Attractions
There may not be dolphin-fighting shark cruises, but it attracts interest from fans of both species. Dolphins and sharks are the most well-known ocean creatures and have earned their reputation as rulers of the seas.
It may be surprising, but a dolphin can come out on top in a fight against a shark. Whether it remains unscathed is up to luck and finesse, it has all the tools necessary to take down a Great White or any other of the most fearsome shark species.
Though sharks are rare in Tampa Bay, dolphins are aplenty. Hop aboard the Dolphin Quest at John’s Pass for a cruise around Boca Ciega Bay and meet the local pods that populate the area. You can also try the Sharkboat tour in St. Pete Beach, FL, a unique 40-foot boat designed to create waves that dolphins love to jump and play in.
Cruises depart daily, so come aboard and enjoy the dolphins of Florida.