Lens-Artists Challenge #136 – S for Strand Feeding and Scavengers

dolphins, pelican, strand feeding, Kiawah

An animal perfectly in harmony with its environment is a perfect mechanism.

H.G. Wells

In response to last week’s post, I.J. Khanewala asked a question about an image in my collage of creatures that set me thinking about its subject. It’s one I’d addressed in a post several years ago – Strand feeding dolphins. Since Patti has conveniently asked us to respond to her challenge with the letter S, I’ve taken the opportunity to highlight this unique behavior and its benefit to the scavenging birds.


“For a scavenger, patience is the key to the pantry.”

Delia Owens

Here in coastal South Carolina, bottlenose dolphins form teams in order to herd bait fish up onto the beach for easy access. It’s an amazing thing to watch, and once you’ve learned their patterns it can be fairly easy to anticipate. Either from the shore or even more closely from a kayak, one sees the dolphins gathering into teams of up to a dozen. The group, upon some unheard signal, then swims together in an amazing burst of speed to push schools of fish up onto the shore. They then thrust their 500+ pound bodies onto the shore as well, whereupon a frenzy of activity ensues and the smaller fish become easy pickings.


“It’s a cruel and random world, but the chaos is all so beautiful.”

Hiromu Arakawa

Those of us who have observed the dolphins’ behavior know the best way to anticipate it is to watch the birds, who have an uncanny knack for knowing just where and when the dolphins will strike. This creates an easy meal for the scavenging birds and a wonderful viewing opportunity for us.

dolphins, pelican, strand feeding, ocean

Opportunity does not waste time with those who are unprepared.”

Idowu Koyenikan

Several years ago, the dolphins’ strand feeding behavior was studied and filmed by National Geographic here on Kiawah. It became part of their “Secret Life Of Predators” series because of the unique hunting strategy. Scientists believe it is proof of the animals’ ability to think and plan, and perhaps more importantly, to pass their skills on to their offspring. No dolphins anywhere other than along the southern coast of South Carolina and the northern coast of Georgia have ever been seen to employ the behavior, which several generations of local dolphins have used for over 50 years.

dolphin, fish, ocean, bicycle

“Fish learn from the water and birds learn from the sky.”

Mark Nepo

I’ve learned the hard way that taking one’s camera on a kayak is not a great idea, so these photos are from my archives. They were taken from a boat shooting directly into harsh sunlight, but despite conditions, hopefully you get the idea. It’s quite something to see these powerful, graceful, majestic animals in action, as I have been fortunate to have done many times. Part of the excitement comes from never knowing if it will happen and whether you’ll be in the right place if it does. The good news is although it may be rare, there have been very few times that I’ve been on or in view of our waters that I’ve not seen dolphins at least swimming by, and for a nature lover, that’s something quite special too.

Sincere thanks once again to Sheetal for her wonderful challenge last week, and for those of you who joined us with your as-always creative responses. We look forward to seeing your thoughts on Patti’s S challenge this week. Please remember to use the Lens-Artists tag and to link to her original post here. Finally, we hope you’ll join us next week when Ann-Christine presents us with our next challenge. In the meanwhile, as always please stay safe and be kind.


141 thoughts on “Lens-Artists Challenge #136 – S for Strand Feeding and Scavengers

  1. Wow, that was fascinating. What an amazing capture, but without the story it wouldn’t mean as much to the outsider. You have an amazing gift of sharing information, Tina. My post tomorrow on fairness is just the opposite of this. The quotes about opportunity and chaos sort of tell it all. Humans are the only species that try to be fair, I think. Dolphins teach their young, but not how to be fair and share their food – or maybe they do – with the scavenger birds. It’s food for thought anyway. Feel free to link this post to my post tomorrow, if you want! 🙂

    • Of late they have actually gotten scientific recognition of their intelligence John, including their “language” skills. Pretty amazing research, much like the great apes and crows. A really interesting evolution in the field of animal research

  2. Amazing close-ups of the birds and dolphins close to home, Tina. Though they are from the archives, they are great to look back on. It looks like a very adventurous day out there for them…and I am guessing you too 🙂 Your island must be so honoured to have been filmed by National Geographic. Dolphins sound like very smart creatures, knowing how to stay in packs and move together.

  3. Pingback: Lens-ArtistPC-136-Starting-with-Letter-S – WoollyMuses

  4. An impressive post both in terms of words and pictures Tina! You have been fortunate to experience this in real life while the rest of us are grateful that you share your experiences with these amazing creatures.

    • I have indeed Anita, they truly are amazing. They also exhibit other behaviors here, such as spy-hopping (where the come up from the water to look at the people in the boats). They’re so fun to be around and are quite playful although they are definitely wild. We are very vigilant to make sure no one feeds them or gets too close.

  5. These are awesome shots… it was actually your photos a few years back that inspired me to go take a “look” on my own! I love all the phases of their feeding frenzy you caught on camera!

  6. How amazing to get the chance to witness this unique behaviour! Dolphins are such intelligent creatures aren’t they, just like whales – I love to watch them both whenever I get the chance! But I’m wondering if this ever goes wrong and a dolphin ends up stranded, as can happen to whales? Do they ever misjudge their movements and get stuck? I do hope not!

    • It is indeed amazing to watch Sarah, and as far as I know there hasn’t been a situation where a dolphin was stuck on the beach. They are truly only there for a minute or less with each “attack”, and come back multiple times for more fish. Great fun and very exciting to watch.

  7. Your post was scintillating, Tina and I certainly came away wiser . Strand feeding was an interesting phenomenon and something new for me. To think how an action affected the complete eco system right down to the birds . Happy to know that the dolphins are smart not to get beached pursuing their prey. The pictures of course are beautiful and I can only imagine how much more exciting it must be to watch all this in person. Thank you also for the wonderful shout out. Keeping this week’s brief in mind, supremely satisfied Sheetal , signing out 😊

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  9. Lovely shots. I was happy with your earlier post on the behaviour of your local dolphins. This is, happily, more of it.

    I’m no longer surprised by seeing animals learn behaviour. It was silly of us to think of them as automatons in any case. Dogs learn a lot of behaviour when they interact with us. It is only the silly things (beg, roll, sit) which require reinforcement training. They easily learn the things which are compatible with their natural behaviour: mealtimes, children versus adults, friendliness, and so on. Socially learnt behaviour, is perhaps harder to spot.

  10. What an interesting behavior! I’ve heard of orcas herding prey towards shore, but didn’t realize dolphins did it. I liked your appropriately named “Chaos” picture. Lots of action in that shot.

  11. This is absolutely AMAZING! Strand feeding. I love the idea that this is unique to this one patch of coastline and these dolphins are passing on this knowledge to their offspring. I love this post Tina. Thank you so much for sharing this knowledge with us and I am glad that the S challenge brought it out.

    • Thanks so much Anne – glad you were touched by this one. As an animal lover of course I’m not surprised it caught your attention. They’re amazing creatures and we are so grateful to share a small part of their world.

    • Thanks Patti – the S challenge is a runaway success; kudos! Yes, the dolphin feeding is really fun to see and tremendously exciting as they rush and swim up onto the shore. It’s over in a flash so no small challenge to capture. Lets just say there were a few throwaways to go along with the keepers!

    • Many thanks Izzy – yes, I do get uber excited and it’s truly over in a flash so being ready and hopefully focused on the right spot is really challenging. Honestly, it’s a privilege just to see it.

      • I can just imagine seeing their actioned display up close. Was it in Alaska? We had a cruise scheduled for Alaska that we had to cancel due to Covid. I would adore taking wildlife photographs. On my bucket list … Be Safe 😷 Isadora 😎

  12. Amazing show, Tina! and you have seen this several times too – fascinating. But these are clever animals. I have actually seen this on National Geographic – I wish I had known they were shot where you live! So well photographed, and even better when you write about the conditions. Thank you for posting these!

  13. Creighton and I spent hours at Lime Kiln Whale watch site on San Juan Island, waiting for a chance to see Orca’s. It happened once in 25 summer visits! Love these shots of your bottlenose dolphins and their attending bird “fans”!

    • LOL – we had to take a whale watching speedboat in the San Juans to find them. They were about 90 minutes out and it was FREEZING!! But it was so worth it. We found a pod leaping and jumping and just generally having fun. A wonderful memory Lindy, thanks for the reminder!

  14. Incredible captures of animals feeding in the wild, Tina! The feeding frenzy is quite amazing to see! I’m surprised the dolphins don’t get stuck on the beach! I would love it if you linked this post with Sunday Stills today, as the theme is feeding the birds!

  15. What an extraordinary behaviour to witness, Tina. I wonder why only on Kiawah? Is it the shallowness of the water in places, do you think? An amazing thing to be able to share. 🙂 🙂

    • Thanks JO! It’s not only one Kiawah, rather up and down the northern Georgia and Southern South Carolina coasts. We are fortunate that our beach is such that we can get quite close to them, especially when out on the water. Because we are a barrier island our waters are much calmer than much of the shoreline where the strand feeding happens so we can sit in kayaks nearby for a birds-eye-view (pun intended!)

  16. Wonderful captures Tina and fabulous team-work by the dolphins! I’ve never seen this behaviour before and I can imagine it is amazing to witness 💛

  17. National Geo was back again this fall filming for an upcoming special. Then a free-lance nature documentary producer was here filming as well. So there should be some new films in the coming months. I am a “dolphin educator” which means I know a little more than those who are clueless. I do two or three four hour shifts a month at the Spit, sharing information, gathering simple data and keeping people back from the bank, hopefully forty five feet. Photographers don’t like this much but we have found that dolphin are less likely to strand if people are closer than this.

    I thought this stranding behavior was limited to our little stretch of coast as well but I’ve read it has also probably been observed at small beaches in Mexico and Australia. Only about one third of our dolphin actually strand feed, the rest being content to fish only in open water.

    Last year I watched a mother teaching her calf how to strand. It was really cool. And their play is really fun to watch.

    • Thanks for your comment Andy – I’d seen a few reports of “possible” stranding on some small beaches in Australia but wasn’t sure they were real. I also read the mothers teach their children but haven’t seen that YET 😊. Keep those darned visitors away from the edge! Makes me crazy. We have monitors on the Kiawah side as well.

  18. How fascinating is this whole post! You’ve introduced me to a term and a dolphin behavior new to me, and very interesting. I’m glad you didn’t have your camera in a kayak situation — but even shooting into the sun reveals the wonders of nature and the behaviors of herds! Excellent!

  19. Hi Tina – enjoyed the unique photos and I thought it was a filter you used and then read it was from the kayak and into the light – either way – I actually liked the bit of a muted vibe in color – there is a timer full deep blues and rich hues and this really had a special “filter feel” with a salty, beach washed essence
    and so interesting about the behavior of dophins on southern coast of South Carolina and the northern coast of Georgia- !

  20. Just gorgeous shots…obviously timed perfectly!! I love the detailed lesson…TU!! I unfortunately have not yet had the opportunity to experience this spectacular event but shall keep on trying!!

  21. While feeding this way, do dolphins ever get stranded by a retreating tideÉ (And look! My keyboard has suddenly switched languages…) Just wondering if this behaviour is linked at all to the sad phenomenon of whales getting beached we’ve seen so often recently.

    • Hi Chris – no, thanks goodness. The dolphins don’t spend more than a minute or two out of the water. They burst up, grab a fish and then slither back in. They only go up to the edges of the sand, not far enough to be beached.

  22. This is about the third time in recent days that I’ve heard about a symbiotic relationship involving other creatures. Maybe someone/something is trying to remind me of something like..life is better if we work together. Love seeing the creatures doing their thing. Thanks, Tina.

  23. Pingback: Lens-Artists Challenge #136 – S for Strand Feeding and Scavengers – A.J"s WORLD THINGS.

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