At Christmas and New Years, as we feast on our traditional foods, our resident bottlenose dolphins will feast on a meal of a variety of fish, squid, and shellfish such as crab and shrimp. But above all, in our local waters, they will feast on red mullet.
Dolphins use different techniques to pursue and capture their prey, foraging individually or cooperatively. They are opportunistic eaters, which means they eat the fish that share their home. Here on Pine Island, mullet are a staple fish in the dolphin diet.
You may have seen the mule jump. There are only theories as to why they jump. My father always said they were jumping for joy. This seems to be the accepted explanation in my extensive research. However, there is some speculation.
It is possible for mules to jump to get rid of hooked parasites or for females to jump during spawning season to open their egg sacs for laying.
Either way, the dolphins chase the tasty mullet. They hunt them in shallow water where the bottom is covered with a layer of cloudy mud. Once the mules are in groups, the dolphins swim in circles around the fish, creating a muddy enclosure. The fish try to escape by jumping. Instead, they jump straight into the jaws of hungry dolphins.
From spring to early fall, the mullet (Mugil Cephalus) forages and fattens in the protected streams and backwaters of the brackish coast of southwest Florida. Female mules (hens) get heavy with abdomens full of yellow or red eggs – an egg delicacy popular around the world.
Fried and smoked mullet is a cultural delicacy and a staple for native Floridians.
Captain Cathy Eagle has spent over 40 years navigating our local waters. As a professional charter captain, she specializes in excursions with dolphins and nature. Visit CaptainCathy.com or call 239-994-2572.