Autumn Joys: Dolphins steal the show

There is a softness in September and October, with some still mornings and glasslike rides into town in the sunrise, the first faint hint of cooler temperatures, the marsh grass blooming tufted heads above the blades and then turning golden.  It seems like everything stirs from summer torpor and heads new directions.  Some of our winter shorebirds have already arrived, with the flock of American Oystercatchers on the shell middens of the waterway growing each day.  Several evenings this month have been punctuated by a dragonfly migration from north to south, and we are just beginning to see monarchs on the move through the maritime forest.  Warblers dash through the underbrush or explore every cranny of an oak tree, mockingbirds begin to stake out winter territories.  Alligators emerge from shady wallows to sun on platforms and banks.  Wildflowers nod in the breeze. (I love their names: marsh fleabane, mistflower, blazing star, frogfruit…) At the ferry dock, four otters swam across the channel, tossing and playing and rolling in the water before disappearing, sylphlike, into the Spartina.  But it’s the dolphins who steal the whole show.

I am not sure why they seem more visible in the fall.. perhaps the more still waters make them more visible, the quiet air makes their punctuated whoosh of an exhale louder, or we just have more moments to pause and appreciate them.  Large schools of baitfish and mullet have begun to move around the marsh, and the dolphin have been following them, leaping from the water and slapping their tails to stun them, gobbling them up with what appears to be joy, sparkling in the sunlight and rolling on the surface.  They teach the young ones to fish this way, and we were delighted to watch one wander further and further from its mother, catching its own food before rejoining her and hovering right by her side again.  We took a few video clips without getting too close. The video below should autoplay, but if not, click here.


Local bestselling author Mary Alice Monroe‘s most recent novel, Summer Girls, does a fantastic job exploring our fascination with dolphins.  Set on nearby Sullivan’s Island, one of the three main characters befriends a dolphin– with near disastrous consequences.  The story takes an unflinching look at how well-meaning, environmentally minded individuals can unintentionally end up harming the very wildlife they love.  (It’s a great read; I can’t wait for the second and third books.) I spoke with Mary Alice last week about the dolphins we were seeing along the waterway, and she mentioned that she had just been out with one of NOAA’s research vessel to assess our dolphin population.  “We were very surprised to discover so many pregnant females in the past 2 weeks. It’s unusual for this late in the season.” She was excited about how many babies we were seeing. They even found a pregnant female who was over 40 years old! Grab a copy of Mary Alice’s book for a mental dip in our lowcountry waters, and then head on down to the dock and see if you can hear the dolphins as they approach.

If you’re missing fall on the island, you’re missing out!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Rebecca E

    One of your most poetic entries.
    Peace descended while watching your video.

  2. Melinda nutter


    I enjoy your descriptive language of the marsh changing for the fall season. September and October are two of my favorite times for enjoying Dewees Island. Cannot wait to arrive next week. Thanks Melinda

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