Kiawah Island is well-known for the abundance of wildlife that calls the island and surrounding waterways home, including the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)! It’s always captivating to observe these magnificent mammals swimming through the ocean or playing in the tidal creeks, no matter if you’re a full-term resident on the island or visiting. But, what’s even more fascinating is having an opportunity to witness these dolphins strand feeding on Kiawah Island’s shoreline!
What is strand feeding?
Strand feeding is where a group of dolphins or other marine mammals work collectively to herd various species of fish or shrimp onto the local shoreline, sandbars, or mudbanks. What makes it such a spectacular sight is the dolphins will literally propel their bodies out of the water to feed on their newly trapped prey.
Check out the video below to see them in action:
This rare performance is a unique fishing technique that dolphins in Southern South Carolina and Northern Georgia have passed down from generation to generation over the last 50 years. Specifically, it is a behavior that a mother dolphin teaches her calf, and not all dolphins can strand feed.
Our local waterways are home to approximately 25 year-round resident dolphins, and the greater Charleston area has a resident population of about 350 dolphins. Only a handful of these Charleston resident dolphins actually know how to strand feed. These numbers do increase seasonally as other dolphins migrate north and south through the year.
When is the best time to see dolphins strand feed?
The average bottlenose dolphin needs to consume around 10 to 15 pounds of food per day, so there’s always a chance to watch our resident dolphins strand feeding on Kiawah Island year-round! However, it’s said that feeding activity tends to increase during the spring and early fall when mullet are in abundance.
While this feeding event can also occur at any time of the day, it typically peaks within 2 hours of the daily low tide. This gives you a 4-hour window to wait and see if you’ll be able to observe this miraculous event. Head over to Willy Weather’s tide chart for Kiawah Beachwalk Park to see when low tide is happening together.
Where to go?
Dolphins need an area of shoreline that meets specific criteria to aid them in performing this unique technique. To start with, the incline needs to be just right, not too shallow or too steep. And, the shore itself must be smooth to slide up and down on. Below are two of the best ways to have a chance in being able to experience this enthralling feed technique firsthand:
Captain Sam’s Inlet
Located at the western end of Kiawah Island, Captain Sam’s Inlet is known as one of the best spots to see dolphins in the area! It’s located past the end of Beachwalker Park and separates Kiawah and Seabrook Islands. If you’d like to walk or bike down to this area of the beach — simply head out on one of the boardwalks, turn right, and keep going until you reach the end of the island.
Aside from a leisurely stroll or ride down to Captain Sam’s, we also recommend renting a kayak or stand-up paddleboard to explore this breathtaking area from the water. We’ve firsthand witnessed seeing a pod of dolphins strand feeding on a kayak, and it’s an indescribable experience!
See dolphins from the water
Several companies on Kiawah Island offer dolphin tours from the water geared towards spotting these majestic marine mammals! Holy City Sailing offers 3 hour day sails that leave daily from Bohicket Marina. While seeing dolphins or watching them strand feed is never guaranteed, it’s one of the best ways to enjoy the wildlife from the water! Just check out this video Captain Chad captured of a mother dolphin teaching her calf how to strand feed:
What to do when you see dolphins strand feeding:
When you encounter dolphins on Kiawah Island, please follow these essential practices to protect their environment and keep them safe:
- Please do not attempt to touch or feed them — it is illegal to do so
- If you are on the beach: please keep at least 15 yards between you and the dolphins
- If you are on a boat or kayak, do not come within 50 yards of the dolphins, and please turn your motor to neutral when they are near or feeding
- Report any inappropriate actions or harassment to Beach Patrol (843-518-2880) or NOAA Fisheries Law Enforcement Office (1-800-853-1964)
Plan your next Kiawah Island vacation
Ready to witness this rare event firsthand? If one thing is certain, no matter where you stay on the island, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to see birds, white-tailed deer, alligators, bobcats, and marine life… including the dolphins strand feeding on Kiawah Island!
Our team would love to help you find the perfect accommodations for you and your family! Feel free to browse through all of our vacation rentals on the island or contact us directly for more information.