HomeOutdoorsNewsDolphin spotted ‘playing’ with catfish off the coast of Florida

Dolphin spotted ‘playing’ with catfish off the coast of Florida

by Caitlin Berard
Bottlenose dolphin off the coast of Florida
(Photo by Nature Love Photography via Getty Images)

Is a dolphin playing with its food adorable or mildly ghoulish? We’ll leave it up to you to decide.

For Florida residents, dolphins are a relatively familiar sight. Though no less majestic in large numbers, there are an estimated 10,000 bottlenose dolphins in the coastal waters of the Gulf. A bottlenose seemingly swimming playfully with a catfish, however, isn’t quite as commonplace.

While walking near the coast in Clearwater, a resident came across the bizarre scene in the water below. “I have never seen this in my life,” the woman exclaims in the footage shared by The Daily Gator. “Holy cow! Look at what I’m seeing right now.”

@thedailygator Check out what one of our group members caught on film in Clearwater!! Dainty_Dani filmed this amazing footage of a Dolphin playing tag with a baby catfish!! Remember when you’re out and about in Florida and you see amazing things – “PUT EM ON THE NEWS!” Make sure they join TheDailyGator team!! #dolphin #florida #catfish #clearwater #tampa #fishing #saltlife #thedailygator ♬ original sound – TheDailyGator

With no context, the dolphin and catfish appear to be “playing tag” near the shore, the cheerful cetacean rolling around what would typically be a tasty snack without biting or batting it. Meanwhile, the catfish continually swims toward the predator rather than fleeing.

The scene was so strange that, at first, the woman thought the dolphin was playing with its calf, not a catfish. The size difference between a calf and a catfish, however, makes this impossible.

The moment they’re born, dolphins are already around 4 feet in length. Meanwhile, the average channel catfish is a mere 2 feet long and the one in the video appears even smaller.

Eventually, the videographer realizes her mistake and reclassifies the smaller creature as a catfish. “She’s playing with her baby…I’ve never even seen a dolphin that small,” she says. “That’s not a dolphin, that’s a catfish! She’s playing with a catfish! That’s hilarious.”

Do dolphins often play with their food?

At face value, the “playful” moment between the dolphin and the catfish has a heartwarming quality. Just two aquatic friends enjoying a sunny afternoon at sea.

Knowing what’s more likely actually going on, though, the scene becomes slightly less sweet. Like their larger cousin, the orca (aka killer whale), dolphins have been known to play with their food. Right before devouring it.

A friendly, social species, dolphins will play with almost anything, including their favorite snacks. Now, if they’re full, the fish might swim away scot-free. If they’re not…well, at least the fish had a bit of fun in its final moments?

Oftentimes, however, these “playful” encounters are not fun for the fish. Rather than a calm game of tag, the cetaceans will smack the fish with their tail flippers, sending the fish soaring through the air.

The brutal strike stuns the fish, making them an easier meal for a hungry dolphin. It can also help to tenderize the fish or break it into smaller chunks.

Though known for their charming demeanors, dolphins are master hunters and careful not to eat anything that could become dangerously lodged in their throats.

The dolphin in the footage had no need to tenderize the tiny fish, so maybe it really was just playing with the smaller sea creature. Watching the interaction, though, it looks more like the dolphin is entertaining itself while it works up an appetite for catfish.

Dolphins are gorgeous, fascinating animals, but it’s important to remember that wildlife will always be wild!