Species featured on dolphins’ diet radar are having a hard time — there are few limits to the imaginative methods these hunters use to secure their meals. “Fish-whacking” is perhaps one of the most surprising tactics.
Perfectly illustrated in a clip recently released by Michael McCarthy, owner of See Through Canoe, “fish-whacking” or “fish-kicking” is all about timing and accuracy. A dolphin will slide towards a school of fish (in this case, according to McCarthy), scattering the school and causing general panic and confusion. As the fish move to regroup for safety, the dolphin waits for the perfect moment and then spins in one smooth motion, swinging its tail through the water and chasing one of the lagging fish high into the air. Stunned and possibly injured by the blow, the fish is restrained long enough for the dolphin to run over and scoop up its prize.
It’s not the first time McCarthy has filmed the remarkable behavior. Speak with National Geographic back in 2019 regarding similar aerial footage, the amateur videographer points out that this is the most common feeding technique he has observed in the bottlenose dolphins near his home in Seminole, Florida.
It’s a tactic that has been documented in a number of dolphin species in a range of areas from the US Gulf Coast to New Zealand, Stefanie Gazda, a biologist at the University of Florida, explained to National Geographic.
Dolphins have a diverse arsenal of hunting techniques and tricks at their disposal. “Fish-whacking” is just one method that has emerged independently in several dolphin populations around the world. It appears that a few key figures are practicing fish-fishing behavior, while others may take a different approach, explains Shannon Gowans, a behavioral ecologist at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg who has previously witnessed the technique of fishing. to hit. “One dolphin does this, another does that… This helps reduce competition between individuals and gives the [fish-punters] an advantage over those who do the same as everyone else.”
Although the tail-slap technique only benefits a single dolphin, it is more widely known that these skilled hunters work together in foraging for food. Some dolphin populations — such as those that take advantage of the celebration hosted by South Africa’s annual Sardine Run — often team up to gather their prey into smaller schools or “bait balls.” Once the fish are gathered in a dense cluster, the dolphins take turns plowing through the school, picking them off one by one.
“Bait balling” is a technique favored by dolphins living in the open ocean, but those who prefer to hang out in estuaries and estuaries may develop a different approach. Rather than attacking a school of fish, these skuas in shallow water have been recorded driving them to shore, pushing them onto riverbanks and gulping down as much as they can before sliding back into the water.
Other groups of dolphins that live in shallow water prefer to use mud to catch their meals. Working as a group or alone, some Florida dolphins have been documented to circle schools of fish, dragging their tails across the seafloor to create a murky vortex of churned up sediment. The fish become disoriented by the poor visibility and in their attempts to escape the muddy water, they accidentally swim right into the mouths of dolphins.
The techniques of these master fighters are diverse and there is probably still a lot we don’t know.
Top header image: Springlab/Flickr
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