Dolphin researchers have determined that the sea creatures love to feast on quite an odd snack: snakes. Last month, while researchers were studying the eating patterns of aquatic mammals, they found one dolphin ate eight venomous sea snakes.
The San Diego National Marine Mammal Foundation made the unique observation in a study that recorded the eating behavior of several Navy-trained dolphins.
Sam Ridgway, a well-known marine mammal scientist and veterinarian led the research study. However, he passed away in July. During their research, Ridgway and other scientists wanted to learn if dolphins fed frozen fish in captivity regularly could successfully hunt and capture their prey in open water.
During their research, they used GoPro cameras strapped to the dolphins to monitor the sound and sight of the creatures. They noted that the dolphins could successfully feed on different species of sea bass. However, they never expected one dolphin to chomp on eight yellow-bellied sea snakes.
“I’ve read that other large vertebrates rarely prey on the yellow-bellied sea snake,” Dr. Barb Linnehan, director of medicine at the National Marine Mammal Foundation, said in an interview with Business Insider.
She added: “There are reports of leopard seals eating and then regurgitating them. This snake does have the potential to cause neurotoxicity after ingestion, and its venom is considered fairly dangerous.”
Dolphins recorded playing with sea snakes in a cat-and-mouse-like game
However, the team was initially skeptical that the sea creature recorded on the dolphin’s camera was a sea snake. According to dolphin researchers, dolphins have been observed playing with sea snakes in “cat and mouse” like behaviors, per a study published in PLOS One.
However, no previous studies have recorded dolphins eating snakes. Yet, the researchers theorize that it could’ve resorted to odd behaviors since they held the dolphin in captivity.
“Perhaps the dolphin’s lack of experience in feeding with dolphin groups in the wild led to the consumption of this outlier prey,” the study noted.
One dolphin, named “dolphin Z” by the research team, was also found hunting and eating the same species of small snakes. Then they could come to this conclusion after the team put a GoPro camera on top of the dolphin. They place the GoPro behind its blowhole.
In a video of dolphin Z, viewers can see the dolphin catching the sea snake using echolocation. A sequence of clicks used to locate the snake was followed by numerous head jerks while eating the snake. The dolphin then let out a high-pitched squeal.
Additional video evidence shows dolphin Z trying to wrangle one giant sea snake before the snake manages to get away. The researchers reported that the dolphins didn’t show any signs of sickness from chomping on the venomous snakes.