Either I’m very lucky or the number of Black Skimmers here has gone through the roof. I have never had the opportunity to photograph so many, in such perfect conditions.
There a few things as spectacular as Dolphins stranding. If you are not looking you may miss the water seem to rise up. But when they hit the shore, enormous splashing waves immediately get your attention.
Sometimes it’s a single animal, with a few small fish. But here, it’s a full Dolphin pod and a large school they pushed to shore.
Did I mention they are almost the size of a Honda sedan?
No, nothing dramatic here. Not even a complete photograph of this Dolphin.
The dorsal fin is the critical part. They are like finger prints. When documenting Dolphin strands it is critical to know if any new animals have joined and learned the technique.
Compare the fins of each. You will notice the back edge of the dorsal is shaped differently.
While creating stills for a friends project with the LowCountry Marine Mammal Network I did grab a few clear fins for an ID. They were able to ID 4 distinct Dolphins during the stranding.
Click to learn more about LMMN.
When Dolphin start to herd schools of fish everybody wins. The Pelicans can be a signal to start paying attention.
Some wait on the waters edge since they also know these Dolphin will strand fish on shore.
Pelicans are not above diving down and stealing whatever comes their way.
There isn’t an animal in the area that in some doesn’t benefit from activity. Unless you are one of the fish of course.
I could not have asked for any more drama in a photograph than this. A pod of Dolphin were herding schools of fish at the mouth of a river. This is a favorite hunting spot. This is one of a few groups in the world that have learned to herd, and push, fish to shore. If the bank is steep enough, they go right up with them.
Here a large adult forced the school to shore, and has caught one, a second is jumping to escape. Adults grow to about 13 feet (4 m) and weight between 600 – 1100 pounds. They swim at 17 mph (27 K).
Best to use common sense around them.
Black Skimmers are one of those challenging photographs that we all work hard to capture. We don’t catch them very often either. Like a gull they change direction in an instant and by flying so low and fast they’ve gone by before we raise the camera.
The other morning everything fell into place. Skimmers were all along this shore line, at the waters edge.
Dolphin were pushing schools of fish and all the shore birds joined in.
Small fish were in the surf so these birds could not have fished any closer.
As with anything in photography it’s feast or famine. Later on flocks of Skimmers gave me all I could handle for the day.
One of the most exciting things about photographing pods of feeding Dolphin is watching and anticipating where the school of fish will be attacked. It’s almost never where you think, but to get the chase I at least try.
Because this pod can strand schools of fish a Dolphin will travel along the shore pushing fish. The deep slope of the sand makes it easy for them to be only a few meters away, a pain when using the required long lens.
An adult is about 13 feet (4 m ) in length, big enough to see them as the glide just under the surface.
This one turned away and went back out towards the others in the channel. he may or may not have also been pushing the fish towards them.
If he had made a sudden turn, especially to his left, it would have meant the push was on.
Not this time though.
There are only a few places in the world where Dolphin have learned to ‘strand feed’. This is an an inherited feeding technique used by bottlenose dolphins near and around coastal regions of Georgia and South Carolina. The method is to herd fish, then charge and push them to shore.
A 13 foot (4 m ) Dolphin does not naturally throw itself onto land. Where I photograph they will do just that, and catch the fish, before turning and sliding back into deeper water. Awesome ! Do not get in their way !
The photograph above is a female Dolphin, the smaller dorsal fin belongs to her calf. She is teaching it to strand feed. This is how the technique is passed through the generations in Dolphin pods (groups).
IMPORTANT : These Dolphin need protection…from people ! They are trying to survive, and we are their biggest enemy. There are currently rules to protect them, if followed. These are huge animals that don’t like a cell phone in their face, or a person standing in the shallows trying to pet them, or a boat alongside their young, or …
All of these things happen each time we photograph them. No matter how far off the beaten path, people are around sooner or later.
My friend, David Ramage Productions, with the Marine Mammal Network, is currently working on educational videos to help raise awareness. I have been honored to provide a few still photographs for this project.
We also need each others help to carry our gear over a gazillion miles of sand during this project too. But that’s another story.
I promise an attempt to keep my rants to a minimum while I publish some of the work.