The Food Chain of a Dolphin

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  • 0:01 Definition of a Food Chain
  • 1:20 Types of Dolphins
  • 1:58 Bottlenose Dolphin Food Chain
  • 2:38 Amazon River Dolphin…
  • 3:18 Threats to Dolphins
  • 4:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

This lesson explains the food chain of a dolphin. Here, we'll learn about what a food chain is and about different dolphin species. We will also study examples of food chains for different species of dolphins.

Definition of a Food Chain

A friendly school of dolphins swim near your boat as you sail out for a day on vacation. They frolic near you, communicating with clicks and whistles, like the spinner dolphins shown here in Hawaii. The dolphins swim with you for a while, then drift away in search of food. But what are the dolphins looking for? What do they eat? What does their prey eat? These are the questions we will answer today!

To start, we need to think about how food moves from the plants, all the way up to dolphins. The way we will do this is a diagram called a food chain.

food chain diagram

A food chain shows the transfer of energy from one species to another. Unlike a food web, a food chain is linear, and it shows one path of energy flow (a food web is many food chains connected). Food webs and chains always start with producers, or organisms that make their own food. Next come the primary consumers. These animals eat only producers, like vegetarians. Some humans can even be primary consumers! Secondary consumers eat primary consumers. Lastly, tertiary consumers, or top predators, eat both primary and secondary consumers and keep the food web in balance. As you can see in the diagram, many different animals can make up the levels of the food chain.

Types of Dolphins

Although dolphins live exclusively in the water, they actually breathe air like you and me. Dolphins are mammals and are more closely related to humans than they are to fish. When we first think of dolphins, you might think of the friendly gray ones at aquariums, called bottlenose dolphins.

But, there are actually over forty species of dolphins! Dolphins are very social and usually live in a group, or school. They are also very intelligent and communicate within their school. Most dolphins live in salt water, but a few, like the Amazon River dolphin, live in freshwater.

Bottlenose Dolphin Food Chain

Let's look more at the food chain for each of these dolphins.

Bottlenose dolphin food chain

Bottlenose dolphins eat larger fish, such as tuna and mackerel. They also eat crustaceans and, if living in open oceans, squid. Tuna and mackerel eat smaller fish, such as coastal flying fish in the Pacific Ocean. These smaller fish in turn eat producers, such as small organisms called phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are microscopic organisms that live by the millions in all oceans. They form the base of food webs by making their own food. The dolphins are a tertiary consumer in this food chain as well, since they eat secondary consumers: the tuna and mackerel.

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