Scientists attached cameras to marine dolphin heads and captured amazing footage of fish being hunted and eaten

At the risk of giving up the title prematurely, we think we’ve found the strangest study to be published in 2022. Scientists attached GoPro cameras to the bodies of six dolphins trained by the US Navy, recording them hunting for food and cruelly consuming their prey. According to the study, there was a purpose behind this potential invasion of dolphin privacy; namely, to learn more about how the mammals hunted and ate.

Scientists have previously made two competing assumptions about how dolphins ate. They engaged in either ram-feeding, in which the predators swim faster than their prey and hold the fish in their jaws as they overtake them; or suction feeding, in which predators move their tongues and widen their throats to create negative pressure and slurp up prey. The authors of the study, which was published in the journal on Wednesday Plus oneset out to find out what method dolphins actually used.

“[S]Sound and video together have never before been used to observe the behavior of dolphins and the live fish they capture and consume,” they write in the study.

And of course there’s the fact that these dolphins were trained by the US Navy. The Marine Mammal Program, as it is known today, has existed in some form since before the 1960s, when naval researchers attempted to improve torpedo design by studying dolphins. Since then, they’ve spent millions of dollars annually caring for and training bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions. According to the program’s website, these animals have “excellent low-light vision and underwater directional hearing that allows them to detect and track underwater targets, even in dark or murky waters” — and unlike human divers, they don’t suffer under the bends.

However, the existence of a Navy program to train dolphins to identify targets such as deep-sea mines does not explain why this study was conducted. And since Sam Ridgway, the study’s lead author and founder of the Marine Mammal Program, passed away earlier this year, it doesn’t look like we’ll ever know the answer to this pressing question. We must instead stick to the text of the study itself, which is helpfully written like dolphin fan fiction. Here’s a passage that explains what the GoPro footage of the three hunting dolphins looked and sounded like:

“The screeching continued as the dolphin grabbed, manipulated and swallowed the prey. If fish escaped, the dolphin continued the hunt and sonar clicks were heard less frequently than the continuous buzzing and screeching at the end. During the catch, the dolphins’ lips widened and almost all their teeth showed. The throat widened outward. The fish continued to swim even as they entered the dolphins mouth, but the dolphin appeared to be sucking the fish straight down.”

— Ridgway et al.

The angle of view of the cameras shows a view of the dolphin’s side eye that we’ve never seen before and never want to see again. Up close, it’s clear that these aren’t idyllic Lisa Frank dolphins; These are terrifying, nightmare-inducing Roman dolphins who seem to crave the thrill of the hunt. The study, the Marine Mammal Program’s 330th peer-reviewed article, details how “it became apparent” once the dolphins identified their next target: The animals were picking up speed, evidenced by an increasing sound of the water was observed as they swooped through and their heartbeats became audible in the recordings.

It’s important to remember that this pseudo-horror footage had a scientific purpose. The researchers found that for the most part, the dolphins engaged in suction feeding rather than ram feeding. “We were amazed by the ability of all of our dolphins to open their upper and lower lips” to suck in food, they wrote.


But wait! The GoPros also captured a dolphin eating sea snakes, which has never been seen before: “It is remarkable that Dolphin Z hunted eight yellow-bellied sea snakes in one day. The dolphin clicked as it approached the snake, then sucked it in with a slightly stronger head jerk as the snake’s fluttering tail disappeared and the dolphin let out a long screech.”

You are welcome. Scientists attached cameras to marine dolphin heads and captured amazing footage of fish being hunted and eaten


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