A Navy-trained bottlenose dolphin devoured eight venomous sea snakes in one day, GoPro videos show.
Dolphins have never been documented eating sea snakes, just playing with them.
The attacks intrigued scientists, as consuming venomous snakes can be dangerous.
A Navy-trained dolphin hunted and devoured eight venomous sea snakes in a single day, the first time scientists have documented such behavior.
Researchers at the National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego, California, strapped GoPro cameras to a pair of dolphins, which the US Navy trained to locate mines with their sonar calls. The dolphins were off duty for the video project. Scientists wanted to see them do what they do best: hunt fish.
One of the dolphins, however, opted for a less orthodox meal. Cameras recorded her eating eight yellow-bellied sea snakes one day. Prior to this study, which was published in the journal PLOS ONE on Wednesday, there was no documentation of dolphins eating sea snakes – just playing with them and releasing them. Ingestion of venomous snakes can be dangerous.
In one video, below, the dolphin catches a snake and swims with it for a while, shaking its head repeatedly to swallow its prey. It then emits a high-pitched “victory cry”, according to the study.
“The dolphin clicked as it approached the snake and then sucked it with a little more head shake as the snake’s tail disappeared and the dolphin let out a long squeal,” the study authors wrote.
Did you see that? The sea snake was only visible for a split second before the dolphin caught it.
At first, the researchers did not believe their eyes. They looked for other fish that might look like a sea snake on camera, but found no other explanation.
“I have read that other large vertebrates rarely attack the yellow-bellied sea snake. There are reports of leopard seals eating and then regurgitating. This snake has the potential to cause neurotoxicity upon ingestion and its venom is considered quite dangerous.” Dr. Barb Linnehan, director of medicine at the National Marine Mammal Foundation, said in an emailed statement to Insider.
The dolphin showed no signs of illness after its meals with sea snakes, the researchers reported. They’re not sure why she was chasing such risky prey, but they suspect she’s simply never learned any better since she was born in captivity.
“Perhaps the dolphin’s lack of experience in feeding with pods of dolphins in the wild has led to the consumption of this atypical prey,” the study authors wrote.
All the snakes she captured on camera were quite small, and the researchers suspect they were newborns. The dolphin tried to catch a larger snake, but it escaped.
“Perhaps because the snakes ingested were considered juveniles, they had a lower amount of venom present,” Linnehan said.
The research was led by Sam Ridgway, a prominent marine mammal scientist who earned nicknames such as “Doctor Dolphin” and “the father of marine mammal medicine” before he died at his home in San Diego in July.
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