While seeing dolphin is an absolute dream for most people, it is hell on earth for any species of schooling fish that are the potential prey of these formidable hunters. The beautiful Short-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) are no exception here. After tracking the fish down using their acute sonar, the animals congregate to launch coordinated attacks on their victims, usually doing so in groups of 3-4 dolphins. The fish are then consistently zapped with some sonar, terrorised and intimidated by their attackers before the attacks are launched. The nature of these attacks depends on their prey but within all these hunting strategies, the dolphins make use of their incredible ability to engage in speed bursts of up to 60 km/h.
Today the pod was hunting Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus), large schooling fish that are incredibly speedy and not the easiest to catch. The intelligent dolphins are aware of this and collectively gather the frightened fish at the surface and then launch sprint-attacks at the school one by one. What’s more is that the fish today even received some airborne attacks from several marine birds on site, including Northern Gannets (Morus bassanus). During such situations. the mackerel often seek shelter in the shadow of our boat’s hull in a desperate attempt to escape their predators. This, of course, cannot save the poor mackerel from their sad fate but enables us to admire the hunting strategies of the commons at close range. I’m sure all guests on board felt happy to experience an encounter with these wonderful dolphins… and were equally not to be one of those poor mackerel.
By Paula Thake
Sightings of the day
10:00 Short-beaked common dolphins