Are Dolphins Faster Than Sharks? 3 Surprising Facts

For a second I’d like you to imagine a race between your favorite shark species and favorite species of dolphin.

We know that both animals are very fast, but the only way to know who would win in that race is by figuring out if dolphins or sharks are quicker in the water.

Are dolphins faster than sharks? While the dolphin is well known for being one of the most intelligent creatures of the sea, they are also incredibly fast. The body of a dolphin is built like a tube, which lets them cut through the water and swim faster than most sharks. The bottlenose dolphin, in particular, has been known to reach speeds up to over 20 mph.

Even though the top speeds of dolphins are higher, there are some species of sharks that can swim faster than certain dolphins.

Dolphin swimming in water

How Fast Can a Dolphin Swim?

Most dolphins can swim between 7 to 10 miles per hour when they are traveling together at cruising speed. Species like the bottlenose dolphin can actually reach a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour when using all of their efforts or by receiving assistance from waves.

The main reason they can reach such high speeds is because of the process of streamlining. Most dolphins are shaped very similar to tubes,  which allows the water to flow over the dolphin’s body allowing them to swim faster.

If you’re curious about how dolphins match up compared to other animals of the sea, here’s a table of different animals and their top speed.

Animal Top Speed (mph)
Bottlenose Dolphin 21 mph
Blue Whale 31 mph
Bluefin Tuna 43 mph
Tiger Shark 19 mph
Whale Shark 6 mph

Even though sharks and dolphins aren’t natural enemies, they will occasionally get into scuffles in the wild. Sometimes a shark may pick off a dolphin that is old or sick. However, dolphins are not the natural prey of sharks so this is still a rare occurrence.

In certain situations, a more aggressive dolphin may ram or body slam a shark when they feel threatened but generally, these two marine predators share hunting space and keep primarily to themselves.

Why are Dolphins Faster Than Sharks?

There are a few features that allow dolphins to swim so quickly.

  • Flexible joints
  • Tail design
  • Group travel

Dolphins have flexible joints and soft skin and that allows them to maneuver much more easily than a shark-filled with stiff cartilage could. These physiological differences give the dolphin a substantial upper hand (or rather a fin) in a fight against a shark.

Another important physical difference between the shark and the dolphin’s anatomy is their tails. The shark’s tail is constructed with a vertical plane design.

This design substantially restricts its movement when the shark travels upwards and downwards. A dolphin’s tail is constructed with a horizontal tail design which allows the dolphin to change their direction quickly and allows them to be more agile than a shark.

Dolphins also have a snout that is constructed of thick and hard bone making them perfect for raming. Dolphins have been known to ram their snouts into the soft underbelly of a shark if they feel threatened.

While sharks tend to hunt alone, dolphins travel in groups known as pods. If one of the members of the pod is in danger the rest of the pod will hurry to protect their pal. This safety in numbers makes dolphins a poor choice of prey for the shark.

Dolphins vs Sharks

Great white sharks are also occasionally hunted by orcas, the largest member of the dolphin family. The orca will use its strong tail to flip the shark on it’s back.

This causes the shark to become immobile, making them an easy meal for the orca. This proves once again that the highly intelligent and adaptive dolphin is no fish food for the shark!

The dolphin is impossibly smart, agile, and fast and has many methods of avoiding the shark at their disposal.

  • They can use their highly intelligent brain to outsmart the shark.
  • They also use their uniquely designed tail to outmaneuver them.
  • They can use their snout as a battling weapon.
  • They can even out swim the shark with their impossible speed.

All these key factors keep the dolphin safe and out of the jaws of the shark. While the shark may look scary, who really is the superior predator?