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Electric Dolphins

August 24, 2011

One dolphin species hunts by detecting the electricity given off by its prey.



Electric dolphins…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Everyone knows that dolphins use echolocation. But new research suggests that at least one species, the Guyana dolphin, also hunts by detecting the electricity given off by its prey. Sensory biologist Wolf Hanke of Rostok University says the dolphins have small, dark pits on their snouts. When he and his colleagues experimentally covered up these areas on a captive dolphin, it became less efficient at finding prey. He says Guyana dolphins probably use echolocation to locate prey from a distance, but switch to electroreception when they’re less than 10 inches away from their target.

WOLF HANKE (Rostok University): 

It works at close range only.


He adds that the dolphins often root around in the mud, where echolocation doesn’t work.

WOLF HANKE (Rostok University):

And having more than one sensory system is definitely of great advantage in evolution.


The only other mammals know to hunt with electroreception are the platypus and the echidna. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.