By SCARLET COLLEY
Special to the Parade
Dolphins are fishetarians. It is just another way to describe someone who only eats fish. After all, one who only eats veggies is called a vegetarian.
Teeth in the animal kingdom come in many shapes and sizes and are used differently. Bottlenose dolphin teeth are shaped just perfect to catch and eat fish. The teeth are shaped like an upside down pointed ice cream cone. Dolphin babies are born toothless and go through teething at about three to six months old. And with age, their teeth do wear down, that is when the younger dolphin will help feed the elderly in their family.
With such an array of fish varieties in a dolphin’s habitat, they do not go hungry. Of course, if they don’t catch a fish to eat, they can’t go to a fast food drive up to get a meal. They have to find fish to eat and every day and make sure there is enough fish for everyone in the family to thrive on.
So as our dolphins of the Laguna Madre make their rounds to find fish to eat, they have to first know what fish to eat and what fish not to eat. How do they learn this very important life saving knowledge?
From their elders who have learned from generations before them by trial and error.
Baby dolphins learn early not to play or eat hard head catfish, stingrays, scorpion fish, puffer fish and other fish that can cause them harm. They learn what fish to eat and not only to eat but the skill to catch them. Each fish behaves differently so the strategy to catching them is different as well, just like us using different rigs to target a certain variety of fish while fishing.
Our dolphins have many different types of fish to feed on. I am sure that sometimes they are in the mood for a nice redfish, or speckled trout. Mullet and menhaden are more of a staple food for them, ribbon fish are a favorite, sand trout and whiting are an easier fish for them to catch and sheepshead are the one fish I see them carrying around for a long time before they eat them.
A sheepshead is strong and tough so it takes longer to subdue them and tenderize them a little. Our dolphins also like to play with flounder or other little flat fish called wiffs. There is such a fish buffet in the bay for our dolphins to choose from and I am sure it takes the little dolphin years to perfect their fishing techniques that they learn from their elders. But so far they are healthy and happy and well fed, and we don’t want that to ever change.
It is our nature niche.
Come visit part of the dolphin’s world at the Sea Life Center at 110 N. Garcia in Port Isabel, or to take a tour with me call (956) 299-1957 or visit spisealife.org. One can also Facebook us at dolphinwhisper.