Category Archives: Dolphins

Dolphins and Low Tide in Hilton Head

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.

Dolphins and High Tide in Hilton Head

Different behavior is observed amongst dolphins at different times of the tide. Closer to High Tide, dolphins often congregate in larger groups. Smaller pods of dolphins and single dolphin who have been out exploring and feeding at Low Tide will start to gather for social activity, mating, or sometimes fishing as a larger group in open water or deep water.  At these times, with more water for fish to attempt escape, the dolphins are better off teaming up in large groups to herd the fish for a successful hunt

There are spectacular moments where you might be lucky enough to see several pods of dolphin meet up in a “super pod” with dozens and dozens of dolphin enjoying each other’s company. These “super pod” family reunions seem to be most common around high tide, and a great area to see this happen is off the northwest corner of Hilton Head, known as Dolphin Head. This area where Skull Creek meets the Port Royal Sound is a high traffic zone for lots of dolphins. It seems to be a “home base” for the superpod that we estimate at around 80-100+ dolphins on the most epic days.  But even a sighting of a few dozen dolphins here is quite common. If you’re fortunate enough to have access to the private beach park inside Hilton Head Plantation (Dolphin Head Park), you can witness this from land. The best way to have a chance to see dolphin is on a boat ride with an outfitter such as a Live Oac dolphin tour in Hilton Head, who offer individual and small group eco tours on comfortable deck boats to see dolphins and other wildlife. The offer trips at all tides, but a high tide trip during certain parts of the year could offer a good chance at seeing a spectacular super pod of dolphins. Ask them about current dolphin activity and the best times for a dolphin watching trip, and they’ll steer you right.