Long-beaked common dolphin, Eastern Cape, South Africa
© Pete Oxford/Minden Picture
Long-beaked common dolphin
With a global population of about six million, the common dolphin is the most populous aquatic mammal in the world. Although once classified into two species, short-beaked and long-beaked, the difference is no longer considered meaningful. Long-beaked common dolphins are social, energetic creatures that are usually found in groups of 100 to 500 – they can be seen swimming in pods, playfully leaping out of the water and riding the pressure waves of ships. At mealtime, the common dolphin makes its way to shallow waters where it feeds on small schooling fish like anchovies, hake, pilchards and sardines, as well as krill and squid.
This pod, off the Eastern Cape in South Africa, is using an ingenious hunting technique, herding a school of frantic Pacific sardines toward the surface of the water so they have no escape. Once near the surface, the sardines are easy prey for the hungry dolphins and any other lucky bystanders, like these dive-bombing gannets. The technique requires teamwork of course but that comes easy to dolphins, known for their intelligence and tight familial bonds.