Rabies in Dolphins: Can It Be Transmitted?

It’s not as weird of a question as you may think, but the answer may surprise you!

Dolphins and other mammals can contract rabies and transmit it to other mammals in the ocean.

However, the likelihood of a dolphin catching rabies is extremely low. Since dolphins live in the sea, the chances of being bitten by a land-dwelling animal are minimal and very rare.

With that said, a dolphin could catch rabies under some circumstances, such as being bitten by other marine mammals such as walrus, seals, sea lions, and so on if these marine animals were previously affected by the rabies disease.

Dolphins Swimming

Can Dolphins Get Rabies?

The chances of rabies being passed to a dolphin are very low but in the event that they fight or are bitten by a different animal with rabies, it could happen.

Here are a few factors that keep dolphins safe from the disease:

  • Dolphins aren’t around the land where they’re most likely to be bitten
  • The rough skin of a dolphin help protect it from transmitting
  • Very few animals in the ocean can acquire and pass rabies

Related: Are dolphins faster than sharks?

How Can Dolphins Catch Rabies?

In order for this to happen, another land-dwelling animal first has to infect the dolphins or any other marine animal to transfer rabies. Most marine animals do not live near the same places, that rabies-infected animals do.

Even in fights that happen, an animal would have to pierce through the dolphin’s thick layer of skin and transfer the disease into the dolphin’s bloodstream. It’s a tough task to do which helps keep the cases of rabies very low in dolphins.

While there is a chance of dolphins getting affected directly by a land animal, this is also less likely to happen as these land animals are usually not living in/or around the seas and oceans. Even those that are found near the ocean won’t travel that far just to attack or bite a dolphin.

Related: Do dolphins dream?

How Would Rabies Affect a Dolphin?

Rabies is a disease that ultimately causes terrible encephalitis. This disease can last even for months and months before reaching the host’s brain.

Unfortunately, if it remains untreated before reaching the brain, it is almost always fatal. One of the main culprits that make rabies so deadly is their ability to easily transfer from one animal species to another, in most cases through a bite.

So it is possible for one mammal species to affect another, and so on. If a dolphin ever acquires rabies, it is almost impossible that the infected dolphin will transfer it to other dolphins as they are not designed to attack each other (it’s a very, very rare case!).

One of the main species that could, in some cases, transfer rabies to other marine mammals, is the killer whale. These whales are known to hunt, attack, and eat other marine mammals, including dolphins, sea lions, whales, and seals.

But since dolphins eat other fishes, squids, and crustaceans such as shrimps, if they are infected, they can transfer rabies to others, but once again, odds for something like this are pretty small.

And there is one more catch about transferring rabies to fishes and so on. Rabies is a specific disease that does not generally affect cold-blooded animals like sharks and fishes. But others can acquire it.


For a dolphin to get rabies, they need to be attached or bitten by another mammal that could transmit the disease. The transmission could happen in that scenario, but it’s not likely and there have been very few known cases of it happening.

As you can see, dolphins can’t get this disease from sharks, fish, and other cold animals. But some clinical experiments have pointed out that it is possible for rabies to be adapted to affect and adapt to cold-blooded animals.