Thursday, March 6, 2014

Dolphins Off the Dock

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: This has been a  long, cold and lately, rainy winter here in the low country. I know I get no sympathy from our friends up north who have been slogging through endless snow storms, school closings and power outages, but all the same, it is miserable here.

We have been cheered by the random days of flip flop weather and the recent appearance of large numbers of dolphins in the Ashley River. It was about three weeks ago that I first noticed them - groups of 3 -5 arching to the surface and gracefully diving beneath.  As Ham and I walk to shore before bed we can't see them, the color of their skin matching that of the waves, but we can hear them breaking the surface to breath,   "refilling the lung in one fifth of a second through an explosive blow which can reach velocities up to one hundred miles per hour."  (

At dawn, they spread ripples across the calm waters as they rhythmically breath and dive. From time to time, a pair will swim into the marina, weaving between and beneath the boats. I have learned that dolphins breathe purposefully, not automatically like humans do. Consequently, they can never fall completely asleep or else they will drown. One half of their brain always stays awake to continue sending the right messages to the lungs

We rarely see a solo dolphin. Some are in adult pairs, some are family pods of two adults and a child, and once I saw a group of 10. As we have traveled along the Intra-coastal we never see groups of more than 4, so such a large pod was exciting.

One sunny day I stepped into the cockpit and noticed a group of three playing just yards from the dock. One briefly disappeared and then emerged in a vertical leap between his two companions. It was a spectacular Sea World-worthy show.  I have always thought such behavior indicated a playfulness among dolphins -- simply a way to use up some energy on a beautiful day. Turns out it has a practical purpose -- such a leap from the water is called a "Spy Hop."  It allows a dolphin to get a good look at what is going on above the surface of the water.

No one is quite sure why we have so many resident dolphins in the river now: some have suggested it is mating season, although dolphins mate all year there is a spike in spring and fall , others think they are attracted by a higher number of fish in the area. All I know is that they have provided us with some beautiful sights and sounds as we wait patiently for spring.... 

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