Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bottlenose Dolphin active in the Lowcountry

Last Wednesday, three of us headed to Deveaux Bank to photograph nesting seabirds (first image). In the mouth of the Edisto River, we ran into a large pod of bottlenose dolphin feeding at the tide line.  Here where the river and ocean currents meet, the food chain is rich with big fish feeding on the smaller ones...dolphin being one of the biggest around.  Dolphin activity this time of year and through November is at its highest because of the amount of food in the water.  Take a look at some images from this time of the year and plan to join us on a future trip.
Speaking of food, as the food moves around the sea, so do dolphin. We find dolphin up in the small creeks feeding on schooling bait fish and other times in the inlets or open ocean.
 Dolphin are playful and curious and will warm your heart with that smile.
  Since 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, all mammals are protected.  It is illegal to harm, harass, touch, feed or restrain them.  I think some still come around to see if you are a rule breaker. We are not and ask others to respect the natural order.
This display illustrates a dolphin feeding method where they direct fish with their flukes.
When no fish are in front of the dolphin.. I have to think this is just for fun.
Teamwork may be their best approach to feeding. They use numerous methods for finding and feeding on fish but most involve the dolphin working together to herd, corral and confuse the fish. My favorite technique to watch and photograph is called Strand Feeding (last three images). 
Dorsal fins often show the wear and tear of the life they lead - some scrapes come by fighting and some by the hand of man.
 Bottlenose dolphin have good vision out of the water and will surface often to check out their surroundings. They do this just before strand feeding to see if the surroundings are safe and the banks are clear of obstacles, especially oysters.  
This dolphin is checking us out as well as looking for the perfect place to land dinner.  Dolphin are quick to determine  whether you are friend or foe. You are not going to get close unless they allow it.
 When in the creeks on the low tide cycle, we are always watching the bird activity to find where
the dolphin are strand feeding. They locate, corral and blast through the middle of schooling fish, in a matter of seconds, and end up feeding on the banks with the birds
 Strand feeding is just one feeding method dolphin use to catch fish and is only common in South Carolina and to a lesser degree in Georgia.  Experts say that not all dolphin use strand feeding, only local dolphin.  Studies show that the young have learned it from their parents and will carry on the technique by teaching their own offspring.
No they are not stuck in the mud.  This shot was captured seconds before they wiggled their way back down this slippery slope home to sea....E
P.S. It does take some practice shooting dolphin in the wild and it can feel like all you get is dorsal fins until you've had a little practice with a technique which I teach in the boat. Before long you are able to capture much more of what you are seeing : )

Contributing photographers: Karin Brown, Ross Peebles, Sherri Winarski, Brian Simuro, Vanessa Kauffman, Eric Horan, Art Brown, Naomi Elderfield

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