Bottlenose dolphins are known for their jumping capabilities. They can leap up to sixteen feet in the air, and occasionally may be observed doing stunts in midair – I’ve seen wild dolphins jumping together and once I even saw one do a complete front flip out of the water! But why do dolphins jump? Scientists have many ideas why.
One reason may be to knock off remoras (or parasites). A remora is a type of fish that has a “sucker” on its head, which it uses to attach itself to other animals, including dolphins. Remoras can be a pest to dolphins, but a 900 pound bottlesnose dolphin falling from ten feet in the air and landing smack on the water several times in a row could dislodge a remora.
Another reason for a dolphin to jump would be for play. When dolphins get playful, they will sometimes leap and “porpoise” (make a shallow leap) from the water; however, dolphins have also been documented jumping clear of the water when being aggressive towards each other – but with a dolphin, it can be very difficult to determine an aggressive fight from fun play.
Dolphins also leap when hunting – in fact, I’ve observed what appeared to be a dolphin whacking fish into the air with its flukes, then porpoising out of the water to catch the fish as it came down.
In aquariums, people have trained dolphins to jump high out of the water on command, and they may even shape the behavior into a spin or flip in midair.