Buon appetito!

Copyright M.Costa/HEPCA

On day 13 of the 20 day Red Sea Defender Dolphin first Expedition, the researchers onboard were witness to a dolphin behavior not previously recorded in the Red Sea. Sitting on the observation deck, a flash of grey in the clear blue waters prompted the cry of “Sighting! Sighting! Sighting!”. As the Red Sea Defender slowed in order to determine the cetacean species and group size, the researchers realized they had found a group of Common Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus).

Common Bottlenose Dolphins are a large species, growing between 2 – 4m in length. They are generally found in small groups of up to 15 individuals, and they display boisterous behaviors such as tail-slaps, head-slaps, nose-outs, and aerobatics.

At this sighting, the Red Sea Defender was close to Abili Ali reef, about 40km offshore and part of the St John’s Reef complex. The group encountered consisted of 3 individuals, a female and a juvenile, and a second pregnant female. Many dolphins are naturally curious and throughout the expedition often approached the Red Sea Defender, bowriding and seemingly enjoying swimming and jumping alongside the boat. As this group of cheery bottlenose rushed towards the boat, the researchers noticed something shiny in one of the dolphin’s mouths. Within meters of the boat, the researchers clearly saw what the object was – a fish! This animal had caught a Blue Spine Unicornfish (Naso hexacanthus) and was happily displaying her catch to those on board. After a few minutes of showing off, the dolphin slowed down and the fish disappeared in two bites.

The location was teeming with large fish, and with near perfect sea conditions that day the researchers could easily see many schools of fish surrounding the boat. As the group of dolphins disappeared beneath the surface, the researchers scanned the water watching and waiting for their next appearance. Re-emerging from the depths, it was clear this abundant food was too tempting for the dolphins – a different dolphin had caught a fish, this time a surgeonfish. Again after displaying her prize to all, the animal slowly wheeled around and enjoyed her breakfast.

Amazed at their good fortune at having witnessed, and captured on film, these dolphins carrying fish in their mouths, the researchers wondered what else the day would bring.

Anna Markula (HEPCA intern)

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