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sharks vs dolphins

Sharks vs. Dolphins: A Poorly Thought-Out Idea

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A few days ago, Science Everywhere members Anthony Morgan and Dash McGorman came to my place, uninvited. They immediately helped themselves to a double-bottle of Jackson-Triggs wine, also uninvited. Turns out they had somewhere to be later on, and therefore had to get through the bottle ASAP. They did not explain where they were going, or where they came from, or why they were at my apartment. They were all business.

Jackson-Triggs double bottle: the practical choice for getting drunk fast

Trying to draw their attention away from getting to the bottom of the bottle as fast as possible, I asked if they had any ideas for the blog this week. “Sharks vs. Dolphins!” Anthony blurted between gulps. “That’s a bit vague”, I replied, “Do you mean which animal has a larger impact on their ecosystem? Or longer lineage? I need some point of comparison, the question as you phrased it makes no sense”.

Jackson-Triggs double bottle: the practical choice for poorly conceived ideas for science blogs

“Sharks vs. Dolphins!” Anthony yelled again. “Do you mean in terms of…” I started. “SHARKS vs. DOLPHINS!” Anthony screamed, staring darts at me with red, blurry eyes. I looked at Dash, hoping for a better idea, and to avoid Anthony’s angry-drunk stare. Dash babbled off an idea about a TV show where an eagle is a cop. “Claw and Order”, he called it.

“…and the police chief would say ‘You’re a loose cannon, bird!’” – Dash McGorman, last week

That idea has even more problems, not least of all being that it’s an idea for a TV show and not a blog. And that eagles don’t have claws. So here it is: Sharks vs. Dolphins.


Round 1: Fighting

I guess I need to narrow this premise down to have any chance of a narrative here. There are 39 species of dolphin and over 400 species of shark, so let’s take the ones people are most familiar with: the bottlenose dolphin, like Flipper, and the great white shark, like Jaws. I guess Round 1 can be about how they would do in a fight against one another. I often talk about fighting animals myself, so I guess having two animals fight each other is actually a step up, morals-wise.

Admittedly, that bar is set pretty low

Bottlenose dolphins grow to around 10-14 ft and weigh around 1100 lbs. They can swim over 18 mph and have sharp, conical teeth, which they use to chow down on small fish, squid, and crustaceans. The great white shark grows to about 15-20 ft or more, and weighs about 5000 lbs on average, making them the largest predatory fish on earth.

Not to be confused with catfish, the largest predatory phish online

They have up to 300 razor-sharp teeth at a given time, all of which get replaced if they fall out. They are excellent hunters, eating pretty much everything smaller than them, including large fish, seals, turtles, otters…and bottlenose dolphins. Apparently, it’s not uncommon for great white sharks to feast on bottlenoses. In fact, here’s a whole paper about sharks eating dolphins. That makes this round easy to judge. Probably should’ve just opened with that.

Round 1 Winner: Sharks


Round 2: Intelligence

I guess pitting a dolphin in a fight against a shark 5 x its size wasn’t really fair, so let’s make Round 2 something closer to what dolphins are known for: intelligence. Dolphins are extremely intelligent. They form complex social relationships and can communicate with each other to solve novel problems together. They also exhibit self-awareness, can learn sign language, and are studied as evolutionary models for extreme brain size in mammals. This Daily Mail article says dolphins are almost as intelligent as humans, which I only bring up so I can add that they’re probably several times smarter than anyone writing for the Daily Mail.

There were six spelling errors in this article. It was 400 words long

Great white sharks aren’t totally stupid, either. They exhibit some social behavior, largely for hunting purposes, and are inquisitive creatures, taking “curiosity bites” as a means of assessing whether something could be food. Re-reading my last sentence, I realize shark intelligence is exclusively focused on eating. Forgot what I said, sharks are morons.

Round 2 Winner: Dolphins


To their credit, at least sharks didn’t come up with “Claw and Order”.

Round 3: Family

When evaluating someone’s overall worth, it’s important to take their family into consideration. This is why no one likes Rob Kardashian; he’s cool, but his family just brings him down. Same consideration should go for assessing animals. Both sharks and dolphins have large extended phylogenetic family trees, and just like with Rob’s family, some parts are downright embarrassing.

This particular lineage is cold-blooded and requires spotlight to keep them warm, making them closer to sharks than dolphins

As we said before, there are over 400 species of shark. The great white has some bad-ass relatives, like the tiger shark and bull shark (which, along with the great white, are the only sharks that attack humans). There’s also the whale shark, which, confusingly, is the largest non-whale animal in the world, weighing in over 40,000 lbs. and feeding on plankton. Shark species date back over 400 million years, and some modern shark species are over 100 million years old, making them older than dinosaurs.

Including the goblin shark. That dinosaurs don’t have to live on a planet with this hideous thing anymore is a silver lining to mass extinction

Bottlenose dolphins have some cool relatives, too. The Yangtze river dolphin, or baiji, somehow lives in the super-polluted Yangzte river in China, and may be making a comeback after being thought extinct. Spinner dolphins do sweet-ass barrel rolls in mid-air. And the Amazon river dolphin, or boto, are pink. Pink!

Pink dolphins. If a 6-year-old girl could make her own animal, this would be it

The dolphin lineage descended from land-bound artiodactyl ungulates (hooved animals like deer, camels, and giraffes) that went back to the sea after making it on land. So dolphins are more closely related to sheep than fish. Dolphins share a genetic clade with whales, but the largest “true” dolphin species is the orca, or killer whale, which again, is not a whale but a dolphin, sort of like how the whale shark is a shark. Anyways, orcas can grow to more than 30 ft. and 12,000 lbs, and move in pods to hunt animals like seals, small whales…and great white sharks. That’s right, Free Willy will sometimes eat Jaws for lunch. In fact, the number of recorded orca attacks on great whites has been going up recently. Like this video. Or this one.

Orcas: taking a bite out of the fear of great white sharks. And also great white sharks

And for that, we have to give this round to the dolphins.

Round 3 Winner: Dolphins


Round 4: Cultural Impact

Sharks and dolphins have both had big impacts on society. Great whites were voted as the scariest animal on, despite the odds of being killed by any type of shark being 1 in 8 million (whereas humans kill 11,500 sharks an hour, mostly for shark-fin soup, which is gross. Don’t eat it). Dolphins are universally loved and adored, but they commit infanticide for kicks, and males dolphins regularly “herd” females. “Herding” being forced copulation. Yeah.

I can see why they leave that little tidbit out of Flipper

Speaking of movies, Jaws is one of the best movies of all time, but spawned dozens of shark horror movies, all of which are just terrible. Flipper was one of the biggest shows of the 60s, and lead to several dolphin films and shows, only most of which were terrible.

But it also led to a million dolphin tattoos, all of which are terrible

Because I need some way to quantify “cultural impact” for the purposes of this article, let’s go to a place where there’s always a winner and loser: sports. There are at least 13 pro, semi-pro, or collegiate teams named after sharks, and only two named after dolphins: the Jacksonville Dolphins of Jacksonville University, and the Miami Dolphins of the NFL.

The Miami Dolphins’ logo now has no helmet, because there is absolutely no link between football and head trauma

Also, sharks have Shark Week. There is no “Dolphin Week”. Sharks win.

Round 4 Winner: Sharks


Round 5: Tie-breaker

So now we’re at 2-2, I’m already over my word limit, and I have no way of breaking this deadlock. Moral of the story: don’t listen to Anthony Morgan. To pick a winner, I’m going to incorporate Dash’s dumb suggestion and throw an eagle into this mess, because at some point during a fire you stop trying to fight it and just watch it burn. The first reference I can find to either a shark or a dolphin attacking an eagle wins it for their team.

Never let Jackson-Triggs factor into your writing ideas

The first reference I can find, bizarrely, is a video of an eagle catching a small shark. That one is grainy as hell, but here is another one. Most eagle species are opportunistic predators, and will scavenge dead fish that wash up on shore, which could include sharks. Hmm. I guess that’s an upset win for the eagle.

I didn’t see this movie, but I assume the guy in the eagle suit wins

As for dolphins, there isn’t much out there on interactions with eagles. However, as we noted before, dolphins are evolutionary cousins with even-toed ungulates, and here’s an awesome National Geographic article about an eagle attacking a swimming deer, which is basically a dolphin. Eagles eat lots of ungulates, actually. Also, the first thing that comes up when I type “eagles vs. dolphins” is a Philadelphia Eagles preseason victory over the Miami Dolphins.

Eagles hate all things dolphin-related

Eagles eat both sharks and dolphin-related land animals. So I guess the winner of this round is…eagles? Did eagles just win this match between sharks and dolphins? Did this premise of picking the “better” of two aquatic species lead to me picking a bird?  Fine. Whatever. Eagles win.


“Claw and Order” prevails.

Round 5 Winner: Eagles

“You’ve cracked the case, bird!”

I’m never letting Anthony and Dash into my apartment again.

Dan has gone to restock his cache of Jackson-Triggs double bottles. Email him or post on our Facebook / Twitter to see your topic covered here.

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