Strand Feeding: Life in Community
By BENJAMIN PRATT
One of the basic tenets of ReadTheSpirit is that we live better in community than in isolation. In 2007, on the day this publishing house was founded, 10 Principles of Publishing were posted, including:
Principle 4: It’s about connection, not competition. Our voices should call people together, not separate them.
I have been a part of this community since before that first day and I can tell you: For 15 years, we have been building community. Many authors of these columns are sharing ideas and encouraging each other in a collaborative way, convinced that the ache in our American soul is due to the tension between believers in individuality and believers in communities.
Some Bottlenose Dolphins live this truth.
Everywhere in the world, the moon and the tide change constantly. The Low Country of South Carolina includes Kiawah and Seabrook among other communities that are laced with vast marshes layered with reeds, brackish waters, fish and other marine life including alligators, snakes and myriads of birds. Even dolphins are seen in marsh waters. It is a thriving eco-system.
One of the most common species of dolphins, the Bottlenose can live in most parts of the ocean, with the exception of Antarctica and the arctic. In the United States, these dolphins travel up and down the East Coast, from Maine to Florida as the seasons fluctuate. Bottlenose dolphins live in social groups, or pods, that consist of multiple generations. This may include grandparents, parents, children and their siblings. Offshore dolphins tend to live among hundreds of individuals. Whereas inshore, or estuarine, dolphins—such as the pods residing near Kiawah and Seabrook—tend to live in smaller groups. Members of pods spend their days playing, hunting, and exploring together. A dolphin’s main food sources consist of local species of fish, squid, octopus, jellyfish, and a variety of crustaceans. These dolphins are partial to sea trout, red drum and striped mullets that can be found in the tidal rivers that run into the Atlantic.
Bottlenose dolphins are common in this area. Like us, they are mammals; they breathe air and bear live young. They are generally slate gray to charcoal gray in color with a short and stubby rostrum, hence the name Bottlenose. Males can live 40-45 years while females live up to 60. They range in size from 6-9 feet and weigh 300 to 600 pounds. They typically swim 2-4 miles per hour but for brief periods can reach speeds of 20 mph. Dolphins can hold their breath as long as 5 minutes. They have up to 104 very sharp teeth.
Dolphins are extremely social creatures, generally forming pods of 2-15 individuals. There are three basic groups: maternity groups made up of females and their most recent calves; adolescent dolphins form mixed-sex juvenile groups until they are sexually mature; mature females often return to maternity groups and males form bachelor groups of strongly bonded pairs. The calves nurse 1 1/2 to 2 years and remain with their mothers for 3 to 6 years to learn survival skills. Mating season tends to peak in spring and fall but may occur at any time. Gestation averages 12 months. Calves weigh 25-40 pounds, are 3-4 feet long and are usually born tail first.
Bottlenose dolphins are opportunistic feeders. They eat a wide variety of fish species, usually in depths less than 10 feet. They are active both day and night. Dolphins listen passively for sounds produced by the fish they hunt but also use echolocation to find their prey.
Dolphins sometimes work together during feeding, using a variety of methods to entrap fish. Small groups may converge on a central point surrounding the fish, then tighten the circle until the fish are forced to the surface where the rest of the group is waiting to feed.
What is Strand Feeding among Dolphins?
At Seabrook Island, dolphins have been observed using a technique called strand feeding. Strand is the term used for the point where beach and water meet. The dolphins herd schools of fish onto a sloping sandy beach or mudflat, to seize their prey. Strand feeding, so-called because the prey fish are stranded on the shore, occurs along the East Coast only in South Carolina and Georgia, and has been reported in just a few other places around the world. A sophisticated form of hunting that involves teamwork, good communication and expert timing, strand feeding testifies to the intelligence and ingenuity of these extraordinary marine mammals. Underwater, small groups of two to six dolphins, sometimes more, herd fish tightly together into a “bait ball.” Then, forming a line, the dolphins accelerate to create a bow wave that forces their prey onto shore as they, close behind, surge out of the water in unison.
Recently, I’ve witnessed this communication/cooperation principle in nature through the communal nature of these Bottlenose dolphins. With camera in hand, I captured this unique event at low tide in Seabrook Island.
Keep in mind that not all dolphins know how to strand feed. Of the two pods of dolphins in this area, only one pod strand feeds. This behavior is passed from mother to calf. For reasons unknown to scientists, adult dolphins are not able to learn the feeding technique once they reach a certain age. Because of this, a little less than half of the island’s dolphin population can perform strand feeding. This delicate act is at risk of becoming extinct! It is hoped that through education and the dedicated work of people like Lauren Rust and her volunteers, this learned feeding behavior will be passed to future generations to experience.
Patricia P. Schaefer, in her book Dolphin Strand Feeding, says, “Dolphins communicate through clicks and whistles that we have yet to translate, echolocation and body language. They have developed a culture with tight social bonds and rituals to teach their young, such as blowing circular bubble walls to corral a school of fish.”
In 1965, Ian and Sylvia released “How Come We Can’t Talk To Each other Anymore?” That has been our theme song for far too many years. I think it is time to let the dolphins teach us: How We Can Talk and Work Together Once Again.
Thank you, Mother Nature.
And, think about this …
List the members of your most important pod.
What are the most significant contributions to your life that you receive from your pod?
What do you wish you received from you pod that you do not?
How have you communicated this need to your pod?
Care to learn more?
Here’s a short video shot in the same area where Ben wrote this story:
Based near Washington D.C., the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt is a retired pastoral counselor with 40 years of experience working with men and women facing a wide range of stresses and tragedies. He is a Fellow of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors and a retired member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. He writes regularly for ReadTheSpirit online magazine.
His book, A Guide for Caregivers, has helped thousands of families nationwide cope with the wide array of challenges involved as more than 50 million of us serve as unpaid caregivers in the U.S. alone. In 2021, Ben will continue to write about caregiving issues for us.
You can learn more about him, and all of his books, by visiting his Amazon author page.