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Several videos have surfaced of dolphins behaving strangely towards their food, even throwing it around in the water. This peculiar and playful activity is found most commonly among orcas. But when dolphins were filmed flipping around their food in Florida Bay and South Carolina, many people were curious to know why.
Dolphins could be behaving this way for a number of reasons: some cases it may be for fun, some may be training, and others may be mealtime safety drills. Dolphins are notorious for being friendly ocean dwellers. Therefore it is possible that they throw fish around for pure enjoyment. They also might be practicing their hunting skills, throwing the fish further away from them and then capturing it again. Think of it as someone kicking around a soccer ball in the backyard. Practice makes perfect, right?
Another theory involves the size of the fish being thrown. Whale and Dolphin Conservation field officer Charlie Phillips introduced this theory during his time working with dolphins in northeast Scotland. Phillips explained how “Dolphins need to feel that the fish they are trying to swallow fit properly and comfortably down the throat without hindrance or obstacles. Otherwise, the fish could become jammed or lodged.”
In Scotland and other regions, dolphins usually prey on larger fish like salmon. Therefore, they throw the large fish around, making sure it is something they can digest without causing themselves harm. One picky-eating dolphin named Zephyr has even been known to throw her food in the air at least ten times before eating it.
The video that surfaced in Florida of the dolphins playing with their food provided a good sign for the community after the devastation from Hurricane Irma. The Miami Herald reported that the recent hurricane might have been somewhat beneficial to the marine life of Florida Bay. Some scientists believe that the giant storm brought new life into a poorly circulated ecosystem.
In the weeks following Hurricane Irma, large numbers of dolphins have been seen hunting near rafts of seagrass and other nutrients churned up by the storm. In an ecosystem of unusually warm waters, high sulfur levels, seagrass die-offs and toxic algal blooms, it is an encouraging sign to see these creatures so active.