The Bullies of the Sea: Dolphins Beat Up Baby Manatees

Written by Camilla Jessen

Mar.21 - 2024 2:33 PM CET

Researchers have discovered surprising aggressive behaviors of bottlenose dolphins towards young Antillean manatees and other marine life.

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Findings reveal that dolphins frequently attack manatee calves, engaging in biting, chasing, and even abducting them from their families.

This study, published in the journal PLOS One and reported by Live Science, documents instances of dolphins acting as predators, a stark contrast to the playful image often associated with them.

"We see bottlenose dolphins behaving like bullies and showing cruelty to other species," Jeremy Kischka, a biological sciences professor at Florida International University and co-author of the study, commented.

Scientists documented over ten instances of dolphin aggression towards manatees, primarily occurring between 2015 and 2020. These attacks targeted both orphaned young and calves accompanied by their mothers.

Furthermore, dolphins were observed attacking porpoises (Phocoena phocoena), inflicting fatal injuries, and even engaging in aggressive behavior towards their own offspring.

The Motivations Behind Dolphin Aggression

Eric Angel Ramos from the International Fund for Nature and Sustainable Development (FINS) suggests that such aggressive acts by dolphins might stem from sheer curiosity or perceived threats to their territory or resources.

"Because dolphins are often aggressive towards each other, they can show similar behavior to other species, such as manatees," Ramos explained to Live Science.

Jeremy the Cat, another researcher, posits that dolphins may exhibit aggression when viewing other animals as competitors for resources.

Currently, scientists do not fully understand the motives of the attacks, but will continue to study the behavior of dolphins. Jeremy Kischka adds that if dolphins suffer from climate change and human activity, their hostility may increase.

Antillean manatees

Antillean manatees (Trichechus manatus manatus) are a subspecies of American manatees. These herbivorous marine mammals face extinction threats across their habitat along the American continent's Atlantic coast.

Residing in a variety of aquatic environments, Antillean manatees are especially vulnerable in areas like Belize, where boat collisions pose significant risks.

Researchers aim to further explore the factors contributing to manatee mortality to enhance conservation efforts for this endangered species.