Octopus can kill dolphins even after the dolphin has swallowed them

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.


Essentially, the octopuses’ tentacles keep fighting, blocking the dolphins’ airways, even after most of their bodies have been swallowed. It’s a terrifying way to die, but Sprogis and the researchers observe that octopuses must be such valuable prey that they are worth it. Over seven years of observation, she and her team watched 33 dolphins “handling” octopuses in ways that made them meal-ready. Typically, the encounter would start with the dolphin biting the octopus’ head off, followed by tossing the legs into the air so that they smack hard into the water over and over. Dolphins would execute the grab-and-toss move about 10-15 times before they were satisfied.

It’s not unusual for dolphins to shake or hurl other kinds of prey to break it up or soften it, but the process is especially important when it comes to octopuses. Dolphins have to disable defensive responses in the legs, preventing the octopuses from using suckers to adhere to the dolphins’ faces or throats. Basically, to kill an octopus, you have to rip off its head, then kill each of its legs. Then you can feast.

Dolphins aren’t born knowing all the ins and outs of octopus hunting. Sprogis and her colleagues found that adult females were the most likely to attack octopuses, and it appeared that this was a behavior that younger dolphins were learning from other members of their groups. Bottlenose dolphins are very social, and octopus attacks only happened in the very largest groups. More research will be needed to know for sure how dolphins are teaching each other the art of the octopus smackdown, but it does seem to be a strategy that’s shared in these Australian dolphin groups. The researchers found no other reported observations of octopus hurling in the current scientific literature.

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