It’s apparent that dolphin behavior changes as the tide changes. Low Tide is a peak activity time for dolphin in Hilton Head, where they are engaged in fishing quite consistently. As the tidal creeks empty out, they are pushing massive quantities of baitfish such as mullet, grunts, and pinfish into the the main creeks, along with bigger fish like sea trout, flounder, and redfish. This is an ideal opportunity for dolphins to enjoy a buffet in the shallow creeks. Just imagine having the same amount of fish in just 10% of the water that was there at high tide. The fish are so concentrated that the dolphin simply push them to the edge of the creek and gobble them up!
Two main types of feeding behavior are often observed at Low Tide, and almost exclusively at that time. Stun Feeding is when the dolphins turn on their side, using their strong tails to whip a wave of water at fish in on the tidal creek’s edge. This is highly effective, forcing the fish together and often literally stunning them long enough that the dolphins can turn them into a quick snack.
The other amazing feeding behavior is Strand Feeding. The Hilton Head area has received international attention for being the focal point of this clever feeding tactic employed by our local dolphins. It only happens in very specific spots, where there is a nice muddy bank in a narrow tidal creek. A small group of usually 3-4 dolphins will team up to push a school of fish right towards the shore, with a sudden forward lunge creating a wave of water that washes the fish ashore. The dolphin continue thereafter, right out of the water and up the bank, gobbling up the fish while they slide around on the mud. Afterwards, they slide back into the creek and continue their feeding.
While Strand Feeding is quite a rare event to observe, and a memorable experience. The other feeding tactic, Stun Feeding is seen more often and is nearly as spectacular. Having a chance to see one of these feeding displays on a boat such as a Live Oac dolphin tour in Hilton Head is a special opportunity best pursued at low tide, so be sure to request such a time.