Are Sharks Really Afraid Of Dolphins?

Dolphins are cute and playful. Sharks are scary and full of teeth. So how can it be true that a ruthless predator like a shark is afraid of a sweet little thing like a dolphin? Could such a concept even be true at all?

Well, yes and no. Sharks don't exactly go yelping off in terror just because they saw a dolphin. Because, let's face it, that would seriously destroy the whole "I'm a badass shark" image they're trying to put out. But dolphins can kill sharks, so a smart shark will mostly avoid a pod of healthy dolphins. Surprised? Here's how dolphins can make a shark sleep with the fishes (well, so to speak).

Sharks will hunt baby dolphins and sick or injured adults, though, and dolphins know this. And according to Whale and Dolphin Conservation, up to one third of the dolphins living in the waters off Sarasota, Florida have scars from encounters with sharks, so in some parts of the world sharks are considered major predators of dolphins. When forced to fight back, as Sciencing explains, dolphins will actually defend each other from a shark attack with their powerful, bony snouts, which they use like battering rams against the sharks' gills and soft underbelly. A well-placed blow can potentially cause enough damage to kill a shark. Two or more dolphins are more than a match for a single shark, and most sharks will move off rather than face down an entire pod of them. 

Healthy dolphins are fast, too, and they're more agile than those big, lumbering great whites. So a pod of dolphins might surround a shark and slap it with their fins before proceeding to the battering ram part of the attack — in a sense, they're kind of just annoying it until it goes away.

There is one kind of dolphin, though, that appears to scare the heck out of great white sharks. Yes, according to National Geographic, orcas (also known as killer whales) are in fact just very large dolphins, and yes, great white sharks appear to be petrified of them. In 2019, a team of scientists reported (via Science Alert) that great whites will flee when they are near orcas, and will sometimes stay away from areas they associate with killer whales for as long as a year. And for good reason, too — orcas eat great white sharks. And they don't just eat great white sharks, they appear to be only be eating the sharks' livers. So it's kind of like a Hannibal Lecter thing, only without the fava beans and the nice Chianti. No wonder the sharks are terrified.