Dolphins: unlikely "villains" of the sea

, 21 June 2021
Dolphins: unlikely
Bottlenose dolphins © Carol Farmer Wright

By Sarah Ward

Living Seas Officer

This week we were tasked to come up with ideas of different “heroes and villains” of the natural world. When it comes to the marine environment, there are a few species that have been “vilified”, mostly by Hollywood - sharks being the obvious example. Dolphins on the other hand, have been made the heroes, making us think they’re gentle, caring and friendly creatures.

Whilst this isn’t wholly untrue, dolphins also exhibit a number of traits that suggest they're more complex in the “heroes and villains” stakes than they may first appear. Which is true of all creatures, and probably true of most humans we tend to hero worship or villainise.

Dolphins are well known to attack and kill baby dolphins. It is understood that this is because males see new calves as “competition”, so may try and see off the baby so that the mother is free to make more babies. Brutal, right?

Speaking of which, male dolphins are ruthless when it comes to mating. It is documented for males to form “gangs”, isolating females from other pods. Males can have a bit of a “one track mind”, sometimes engaging in mating with other animals (dead or alive!), or in groups. This leads to dolphins having a lot of STDs.

You’ve probably seen footage of dolphins playing. However, sometimes it may be that they’re 'playing' with other animals. A well-known example is a group of dolphins using a baby shark as a make-shift volleyball – the dolphins are having a great time, but the shark, not so much.

To us humans, some of these behaviours may seem shocking, it’s important to remember that scientific literature would suggest these are quite normal, albeit somewhat violent, behaviours, and that dolphins don’t have the same concept of consent as humans do.

All this being said, dolphins are absolutely amazing creatures that never fail to excite and interest me; it’s always lovely to hear about dolphin being spotted off the Sussex coast.

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  • Hannah Parkinson:

    Interesting blog. Are you / SWT joining in Sea Watch Foundation’s National Whale & Dolphin Week? Running from July 24 – August 1, it is a great way to assess the abundance or otherwise of dolphin and other cetaceans in the Sussex area – and Sussex is poorly represented in the dataset….You can find out more at

    23 Jun 2021 21:52:00