Welcome to the Marine Mammal and wildlife Research and Community Development Expedition blog where you can keep up to date with all the happenings and information from Kenya

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Fishy Feeding Frenzy

It was just another day out on marine, with the calm waters and light breeze of early April. The rains had come and gone early, but the skies remained overcast and ominous. We had set out in search of Long-snouted spinner dolphins, but after a fruitless hour of dedicated survey our hopes of seeing the last spinners of the season were quickly fading. Then Faridi, our fearless boat captain, drew our attention to an area of turbulent water 500m away. Could it be that we had found our dolphins?

We followed the dive-bombing seabirds in their feeding frenzy

We quickly headed to the scene and there we found that, rather than dolphins, we had been lucky enough to come across a large feeding event where a school of fish were being herded by predatory king fish. The frenzied fish were jumping out of the water this way and that and above the confusion seabirds were waiting to pounce. We sighted brown noddies and sooty, roseate and common terns. No doubt there were a number of other species present that we were unable to distinguish in the fray. The birds wheeled and dove into the water, coming up with beaks full of small fish. There were literally hundreds of them and the air was filled with their cries. Against the backdrop of the dark, forbidding skies the terns stood out stark white and the noddies black, creating a chaotic and almost sinister tableau. The frenzy was undisturbed by our presence and we were able to follow the event for 20 or so minutes, and could have stayed longer if we hadn’t had to get on with our survey.

The predatory kingfish cause panicked leaps by their prey
It was exhilarating to follow the event as the kingfish turned their prey this way and that. We would head for 20 metres in one direction, only to have the frantic fish double back and head the other way. They were easy to follow, the water bubbled and frothed and often many of the terrified fish would leap from the water at once. If the chase ever disappeared deeper under the surface we could simply follow the birds, watching as they rose to a greater height to better seek out their prey below. As a born “birdo” I found this event to be one of the great observations of the expedition. I had witnessed birds and fish hunting smaller fish at home but never in such great numbers and never had I been able to follow the event for such a long time or distance. After a while my not-so-bird-crazy companions began to tire of chasing seabirds and my weak excuse that maybe dolphins would turn up to join the feast was getting old. So, as responsible survey leader, I rallied the team and we headed for a snorkel in the calmer waters of the Mpunguti Islands, the frenzy just part of another day on Marine.