A small pod of wild bottlenose dolphins teamed up off the Florida Keys Saturday to employ a unique foraging technique commonly called “mud netting,” in which the marine mammals stir up the sediment in shallow water to catch and feed on fish such as mullet.
Islamorada fishing captain Matt Bellinger, owner of Bamboo Charters, happened on the behavior during a weekend backcountry fishing trip just inside Everglades National Park, whose Florida Bay boundaries include waters a few miles off Islamorada.
Bellinger remained a safe distance away from the pod and recorded the activity using the zoom feature on his smartphone.
Dolphins typically execute this behavior, scientifically referred to as “mud-ring feeding,” in groups. One dolphin circles and beats its tail in the water, making a tight ring of bottom sediment. This forces the disoriented fish to jump out of the mud ring “net” to get away, and they are easily caught by a group of waiting dolphins.
According to researchers with Key Largo’s Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder, this developed, cooperative feeding behavior is unique to bottlenose dolphins in Florida waters, where a shallow bottom is common.
Marine conservation experts emphasize that it is important for people to keep a safe distance from wild dolphins and simply observe, not interrupt, their natural feeding habits.