South Carolina is home to many pods of bottlenose dolphins that have all adapted to the constantly shifting geography of the nearby inlets and bays. These dolphins have developed a technique that is unique to this region of the world and demonstrates the pure intelligence and the high sophistication of these animals.

This strategy allows dolphins to chase entire schools of fish, not one at a time as is custom in open water. At low tide, they begin by corralling schools of fish into the intertidal inlets and coves that permeate throughout the region. As the tide drops, the fish find themselves trapped with little room to escape. The dolphins then use their bodies to herd them towards the shore, preparing to strike.

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When the fish are trapped between the sand and the dolphins, they signal to each other (more evidence for their high sophistication levels) and simultaneously thrust their bodies onto the beach. This tremendous act of power sends a wave that throws the fish, followed by the dolphins, out of the water and onto the shore. The dolphins then grab the fish, wiggle back in the water, and start the process all over again.

I’ve personally watched this incredible display of intelligence on multiple occasions, but I find myself more and more shocked each time. This behavior is something the dolphins taught themselves, a learned behavior to maximize food consumption and minimize energy loss. Not only did they teach themselves, but they continue to raise the next generation of dolphins with the same critical knowledge to maintain their population levels.


The dolphins are able to adapt to the constantly changing landscapes—hurricanes, urban development, and erosion visibly change the inlet I see them at each and every year, and the dolphins must learn to tweak their hunting pattern to fit the new environment.

The fact that this self-taught behavior even exists is evidence enough that dolphins do not belong in captivity. A trainer throwing a dead fish to a dolphin cannot even begin to replicate the wild behavior of chasing and catching schools of fish. Dolphins are intelligent creatures— they deserve a life of freedom.