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Dolphins At Hunting Island

The common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) is a charismatic and beloved sight in our Beaufort waterways. Intelligent and social – they travel, feed, play and rest in groups and are active throughout the day and night. Local residents and visitors alike are fortunate to have the opportunity to frequently observe these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat.


Bottlenose dolphins consume approximately five percent of their body weight a day; roughly 15-30 pounds of fish, squid, and crustaceans depending on the size of the dolphin. They employ a diverse array of foraging strategies, many of which are complex in nature and likely learned. Some of these behaviors involve single animals while other techniques involve dolphins working together in a coordinated effort. With flukes slapping, water splashing and fish leaping, many of these feeding methods create an impressive visual and acoustic display that an observer will not soon forget.

Dolphin Coastal Exp.jpg


Photo courtesy of Coastal Expeditions/Will Gifford


At Hunting Island, the salt marsh estuary is created by the network of capillary creeks that lead from Hunting Island State Park through Fripp Island and Harbor Island known as The Story River.


This southeast coast saltwater river is called the Southeast Coast Saltwater Paddling Trail (SECT) which is part of 800 miles connecting the Chesapeake Bay and the Georgia-Florida border. This river provides a unique opportunity for paddlers to experience an unbroken trail through four states in the tidal marshes and rivers of the southern USA. 



Hunting Island is home to some four miles of pristine beaches, thousands of acres of marsh and maritime forest, a historic lighthouse, a saltwater lagoon and ocean inlet…which all play their part in the park’s natural allure. Thanks to limited human development and lots of hard work by a dedicated staff, the island remains a natural preserve for its abundant wildlife.


Chart courtesy of Coastal Expeditions


Story River Dolphin Cruise

Adults: $40

Children 3–12: $20

Children 2 & under: Free
1.5 hours


Join us for a 2-hour ecotour to explore the salt marsh estuary created by the network of capillary creeks that lead from Hunting Island State Park near Beaufort, South Carolina. This tour is ideal for families and nature lovers that want to learn more about the native habitats and the animals that live within them, included the gregarious and curious Atlantic bottlenose dolphin.  

While we look for dolphins, your guide will also point out the other wildlife that lives in this diverse ecosystem. The Story River is home to nearly 300 different species of birds, including egrets, herons, terns, bald eagles, roseate spoonbills and pelicans. As we enter this saltwater tidal zone, we’re sure to see many of these birds as they feed in the estuary.

There is no better way to enjoy the educational and inspiring aspects of these wonderful creatures than from the stable platform of our expedition cruiser, Godwit. 

Will Gifford photo - St. Phillips Island


Photo courtesy of Coastal Expeditions/Will Gifford

Perhaps one of the most impressive feeding techniques to observe in our area is a type of cooperative feeding behavior that is unique to South Carolina and Georgia. This method is termed strand feeding and is so-called because the dolphins partially strand themselves temporarily on the shore to feed.

First documented in 1971 (Hoese) in the shallow marshes of Georgia, strand feeding involves a group of dolphins operating as a unit to capture schooling fish. Working at low tide, the dolphins synchronize their movements underwater to corral the fish towards a bank. The dolphins then make a strong push towards the shore, creating a bow wave and forcing their prey onto the mud. The sheer force of them hurling their bodies towards the shore as a group is an extraordinary display and not without risk. The dolphins consume the fish on the bank and must quickly slide or shimmy back into the water before they become stuck in the mud and face a host of hazards.




Photo Courtesy of Eat, Stay, Play Beaufort

Lowcountry Dolphins: Strand Feeding


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