Following Their Nose: Can Dolphins Smell?

can dolphins smell

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Dolphins are some of the most unique and intelligent animals that inhabit our oceans.

Their agility and speed are unmatched, making them formidable predators that puts them near the top of the food chain.

They have some of the most fascinating hunting techniques of any marine animal and have even been known to collaborate with local fishermen to catch a quick snack.

In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at the dolphin’s senses and answer a question that often comes up when discussing these creatures. Can dolphins smell?

In short, no, dolphins have no sense of smell. These marine animals do have olfactory tracts during their fetal stages of development (required to smell) but have no olfactory nerves once they are born.

Can Dolphins Actually Smell?

It’s easy to presume that dolphins would have a remarkable sense of smell as they are known to be highly intelligent and excellent hunters, but this is actually not the case.

Dolphins are unable to smell and do not need this sense to thrive in the ocean as their other senses are incredibly strong and make up for their lack of smell.

Their eyesight is incredible both in and out of the water, allowing them to see in front of them, behind them, and to the side of them because their eyes are placed laterally.

Their eyes are also exceptional in low light, allowing dolphins to be able to see in even the murkiest of waters.

Not only that, but dolphins have an echolocation ability that allows them to spot prey the size of an orange from distances up to 80 meters!

Can Dolphins Smell Underwater?

Dolphins have no olfactory lobe or olfactory never which are required for a sense of smell, therefore dolphins are unable to smell underwater.

These marine animals are notorious for their exceptional hearing, eyesight, and echolocation, so there’s really no need for them to need to smell.

So how do dolphins determine which food is edible and which food they should avoid?

This is done through the dolphin’s sense of touch and taste. They have densely packed nerve endings throughout most of their body and even have the ability to taste with their lack of sense of smell.

Dolphins in captivity have been known to show preferences for different food options which is done almost exclusively by their sense of taste.

In fact, it’s thought that the dolphin’s acute sense of taste is a replacement for their sense of smell, and helps them in the same way that our sense of smell helps us.

Why Do Dolphins Have No Sense Of Smell?

Dolphins have no sense of smell as they lack an olfactory lobe and nerves which are required for animals to smell.

However, dolphins have an amplified sense of taste, hearing, and eyesight which more than makes up for their lack of sense of smell.

These incredibly smart animals use their sense of taste much like how we use our sense of smell, which is why they’ll often taste the water around them for this purpose.

For example, instead of using their sense of smell underwater which is largely useless for many marine animals, they will taste the water surrounding them to pick up any substances that may be traveling in the current.

This can give the dolphins an early warning sign of predators, as they may be able to taste blood in the water.

That said, more research needs to be done in order to determine if a dolphin’s sense of taste truly functions as a sense of smell.

How Do Dolphins Navigate The Ocean?

A dolphin’s compass really is its echolocation ability which allows them to make sense of its surroundings with incredible accuracy.

Echolocation works by bouncing clicks and sound waves off of nearby objects and listening to the echoes that are returned.

The time it takes for the echo to return as well as the angle and tone can tell dolphins how far an object is away from them.

This allows dolphins to not only avoid predators but is the perfect tool for hunting prey. It’s much more helpful than a sense of smell could ever be to a dolphin.

So How Do Dolphins Hunt Prey?

When it comes to hunting prey, dolphins use an array of sophisticated techniques in order to gather up fish and catch their next meal.

Dolphins are highly social animals that often come together to hunt for maximum efficiency.

Oftentimes dolphins will work together to circle a school of fish, splashing their tail fluked and forcing the fish to pack tightly together, this is what’s known as a “bait ball”.

Once the fish are packed tightly together, dolphins will take turns speeding through the bait ball in order to grab as much fish as possible before heading to the back of the line and repeating the process.

These marine animals also use their echolocation ability to scower the dark ocean in search of food.

This ability combined with their unmatched agility allows them to make quick work of prey that is on the move.

Dolphins can also swim at speeds of up to 60km/h and are some of the fastest animals in the ocean.

In some areas of the world, dolphins have been helping fishermen for generations to help round fish up into their nets.

Once the fishermen draw in their nets, they feed the dolphins a percentage of their catch.

After all, teamwork makes the dream work!

Final Thoughts

Dolphins are some of the most intelligent animals in our oceans, and they have a remarkable set of senses that allow them to stay alive and thrive in an ocean full of predators.

So, can dolphins smell? No, they can not. Dolphins lack an olfactory lobe and nerves which are needed for animals to smell.

That said, they simply do not need this sense as their other senses are heightened.

Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed this post and have learned something new today about dolphins and why they are unable to smell.