Like nature shows on tv, our nature boat trip to Bird Key to see the Brown Pelican chicks included some mating. This time is was not birds, but Dolphins.
Our boat captain and guide spotted a pod of Dolphins on our return trip up the Kiawah River. He was quick to say he thought we’d also see some mating based on his interpretation of what we were seeing.
From our distance on a bobbing boat it was hard to say for sure, but scenes frozen by the camera tell the story. Before you scroll on I’ll tell you that even at a distance they are graphic. And amazing.
The gestation period for Bottlenose Dolphins is twelve months. Tune in a year from now and we may see a calf.
Dolphin can be hard to spot from shore until they break the surface but this Bonaparte’s Gull served as a great marker for me. You can just make out the young Dolphin below and to the left of the bird.
With an idea where the animal is there is some chance of capturing an image of him above the water, like this:
I had the pleasure of speaking with Lauren Rust, founder of The Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network (www.lmmn.org), while I was watching the Dolphins in the Kiawah River on March 18. She spends a lot of time monitoring the local Dolphin and shared with me that this behavior goes on regularly and she has wondered if it is the same few Gulls who have figured this out. The Dolphin is a two year old who still stays pretty close to its mother, who was feeding nearby.
These two had developed an understanding. and if you zoom in on the next image you’ll see the Gull got a fish just as the Dolphin ducked under the water.
It appeared that the Bonaparte’s Gull was following the Dolphin, which presumably was following fish.
Lastly, a wider view of the unlikely pair, taken on the Kiawah side of the river, looking towards Seabrook Island.
Conditions shaped up nicely on Wednesday to head to Beachwalker Park on Kiawah Island to observe Dolphins feeding. Timing was good, with low tide about 10:30am. Strand feeding, the method peculiar to this area of South Carolina’s coast where Dolphin drive fish to the shore, tends to happen two hours either side of the low tide.
For a couple of hours the light was good and I was pleased to get this sequence, which was much less vigorous than previous times I’ve witnessed this behavior. The Dolphin seemed to be lolling around in the shallow water, not zooming full speed ahead.
Other times I’ve seen this as a cooperative effort but this Dolphin was on her own.
My position and the shape of the sand bank cut off some of the action.
I got a little closer before the Dolphin flipped around and caught a fish.
Once again I was amazed the power of these animals which is evident in the splash of water and waves that rushed to shore.
It turns out that it was a good thing I went Wednesday. As of today all of the area beaches are closed due to Covid-19 concerns.
These are from my last trip to watch the Dolphins strand feed two weeks ago. There is a lot of time when nothing much happens, you see movement and push the shutter button hoping to catch some action. Following is a collection of a few of the better moments.
This tail-up image was unusual because a few Dolphins were almost down to the mouth of the river and out in the middle. They may have been feeding or just having fun.
Next is a picture of the calf with his head out of the water with his mother trailing behind. They often swim so close together it’s hard to tell what part belongs to what animal.
This one was passing close to shore checking on the humans but not feeding.
Last, what I think is the same calf as above, circling with his mother.
This trio of Dolphins charged the beach head on instead of from the side as I’ve usually seen.
The Dolphin on the left was hanging on tight to his catch.
As they continued to chase the fish herded to the water’s edge the Dolphin in the middle got a fish.
I didn’t notice it at the time, but a juvenile Dolphin was watching from a safe distance. I wonder if the Dolphin on the left was holding this catch to feed the youngster or if he/she was just too busy getting back in the water.
Later that morning I did see the mother and juvenile working the shore in what looked like teaching of the water swirling methods.