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Feeding Frenzies

By September 23, 2021October 14th, 2021No Comments
Bow of inflatable boat out at sea

Photo credit: Anna Jones

We are very fortunate in the summer months to be occasionally treated to sightings of feeding frenzies while we are out on our trips. These are congregations of multiple species, often in large numbers, all coming together to feed on a gathering of smaller baitfish, such as sardines. Although it is not always a common occurrence, we have been lucky enough to witness some instances which include several species, such as common dolphins, gannets, Atlantic bluefin tuna and minke whales. 

How to spot a feeding frenzy:

Look for gannets circling & diving. While out on our trips looking for dolphins, we often use the gannets as an indicator that dolphins may be around. Visible from a great distance away due to their bright white feathers and large, 2-metre wingspan, spotting gannets circling and diving can mean dolphins are feeding underneath, pushing the fish closer to the surface of the water, creating an easy opportunity for the gannets to grab some fish for themselves. When a feeding frenzy is occurring, gannets can gather together in their hundreds and be seen from hundreds of metres away! When gannets spot an opportunity to catch a fish, they tuck their wings in to streamline their bodies and plummet towards the water at up to 60mph, inflating air sacs in their head, neck and shoulders to cushion the impact. Beneath the chaos of gannets falling from the sky, dolphins surface at great speed creating large splashes as they work as a team to corral the shoal of fish together into a large tight-knit bait ball making it easier for them to pick off fish. 

If we are lucky, we may even see bluefin tuna breaching the surface as they move at speed in excess of 40mph in pursuit of the same bait fish as the dolphins. The Atlantic bluefin tuna have been making a comeback to British waters in recent years as it is thought that conservation efforts have been helping this endangered species bounce back, which has allowed us an increasing number of sightings of this impressive animal in the last couple of years, particularly feeding in conjunction with other species like common dolphins.

Often when a feeding frenzy is occurring, we are treated to sightings of minke whales, circling around the periphery of the feeding dolphins and tuna. Minke whales are frequently found as solitary animals but can congregate in larger groups where food is abundant, so feeding opportunities like this provide the best chance of spotting multiple whales in one place. Minke whales will gulp feed on a wide variety of fish. They will travel through the water with their mouths wide open and expanding their pleated throats to engulf the large volumes of water, which they then sieve through their baleen to leave only the fish to be swallowed whole. 

It is a very humbling feeling to have a front seat for such a spectacle and leaves passengers and crew alike, stunned. Seeing these kind of feeding events in wildlife documentaries like Blue Planet might make you think you would have to travel across the world to witness one, but we are lucky enough to have these wonders of nature occur right here in Cornish waters!

gannets min cropped 1Feeding frenzy of gannets
Photo credit: Izzy Burns

gannets dilphins min cropped 2Common dolphins surfacing in front of gannets
Photo credit: Izzy Burns

flying gannets and dolphin min croppedMinke whale surfacing with gannets flying by
Photo credit: Izzy Burns

Anna Jones & Jenny Simpson