Episode 149 – Bottlenose Dolphin: Thanks for all the Fish

“…and today we’re talking about one of the most famous sea animals of all time. The white hat to the black hat of the great white shark. Though, PR can be deceiving. But more on that later…”

When life kicks mud in your face, most of us, and most animals, would give up or bemoan our misfortune. But the bottlenose dolphin is smarter than that. It takes that mud and makes some lemonade, which isn’t a great material to make lemonade out of. But it gets the job done when it comes to tricking a bunch of fish to jump directly into your open jaws. But that’s just how the bottlenose snatches up its supper here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description of the Bottlenose Dolphin

This is the dolphin. The one you know. The grey smiling torpedo of the lagoon. We’re talking the cylindrical nose that widens to a submarine-shaped head, adorned with two gentle monocular eyeballs.

These greybies have two pectoral flippers and a dorsal fin that’s located toward the middle of their backs. Their bodies tapper to a horizontal tail. Their blow holes are located on top of their heads for easy breathing access.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. 


  • 4 meters (13 feet)
  • How many of the largest bottles of wine go into the length of a bottlenose dolphin?
  • Hint: The largest bottle of wine is a german bottle that holds an Austrian “100 Days Zweigelt” red wine. The bottle was presented at a Chinese restaurant in Austria in 2017, where it was meant to age for several more years before being auctioned off. However, temperature problems caused the wine to expand, spilling 230 liters onto the floor.
  • 1.3 bottles. The bottle was 9.8 feet high.


  • 300 kg (660 pounds)
  • How many Atlantic herring would a dolphin have to eat to eat it’s weight in herring?
  • Hint: Atlantic herring are bigger than both Pacific and Baltic herring. And if you’re wondering, “Herring?! I thought they ate fish!” I’d say to you, “Fievel. Herring are fish!” 
  • 440 herring. Atlantic herring are 700 g (1.5 lb).

Fast Facts about the Bottlenose Dolphin

Bottlenose dolphins are found in temperate to tropical waters all over the world, but they generally stay out of the arctic and antarctic zones. There are both inshore and offshore populations with some subtle physical variations between them. 

These happy go lucky sea bros like to eat eels, squid, shrimp, and all manner of fish. Despite their formidable set of teeth, they prefer to swallow prey whole. They locate prey with echolocation, which is similar to SONAR. High pitched sounds are emitted that bounce off prey and tell dolphins where they are. 

They can also use sounds for communication as well as body language, like slapping the water or breaching. 

Dolphins breed in the spring mostly. Males form roving bands of lady seekers to find suitable mates. When located, they separate her from her home rains. Females can bear caves every three to six years, ensuring they never have the dreaded two under two. 

In the wild, dolphins live for about 17 years, but they can live up to 51 years in captivity. 

Sharks avoid dolphins because they bully them. Pods attack and kill sharks when they find them. Their group tactics and superior maneuverability make them formidable to a single shark. They use up and down tactics which their horizontal tail fins allow them to dominate shark mobility. They’ll ram shark bellies and gills until they die or flee.

Because of their relative intelligence, dolphins display some human-esque tendencies including sophisticated social structures and large brain to body ratio. Intelligence tests found they are not only capable of solving complex novel tasks, they were able to complete novel tasks that required cooperation. They can also associate visual symbols with an action they already know. Like assigning a written word to an object. Self-recognition in mirrors is inconclusive, so they may or may not be self-aware.

Though bottlenose dolphins are listed as Least Concern by the IUCN, they can be threatened by things like marine pollution and tuna fishing. 

Major Fact: So Long and Thanks for all the Fish

So it’s no secret that dolphins are unusually intelligent animals. They have complex social relationships and even a language. But some of the best examples of their smarts comes from their problem-solving. Not just solving problems… improving on solutions

Bottlenose dolphins in the brackish estuaries of Florida have developed a unique way of catching fish.

The estuaries are usually shallow and filled with silt, which kicks up as the dolphins swim.

Other dolphins would see this lack of visibility as a hindrance, but the bottlenose uses it to 10x his lead gen efforts.

What is Mud-Ringing?

A group of bottlenoses will use a technique known as mud-ringing to have the fish literally jumping into their mouth – like when Jesus showed Peter a thing or two about fishing.

So when a small team of dolphins finds a school of fish to munch on, one dolphin will swim in a circle around the school, brushing its fluke along the silt-covered floor to create an actual ring of mud. The circle is almost perfect every time too.

When the circle is done, the fish will swim away from the dolphin that made the ring, but once the fish encounter the mud wall, rather than just swim through it, they’ll try to jump over it–directly into the open mouths of the team waiting just on the outside of the ring.

This is unique because other dolphins and even bottlenoses that don’t live in estuaries don’t use this technique – I mean, why would they?

So that means that they learned this technique. In fact, there are videos of mothers teaching their calves how to make mud rings. 

The Disney Nature documentary shows them enjoying the shower of fish in slow motion and it reminded me of the opening scene from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Ending: So get together with your friends, find a sizable school of delicious mackerel, and if you like it, put a mud ring on it like the bottlenose dolphin here in LDT.


Thank you to Casy for creating our theme song. To hear more of Casy’s music search Casy Michelle on Youtube

Thank you to Brian for creating the episode art. See more of Brian’s art at xNamaru on Instagram or Twitter.