Wildlife

Bottlenose Dolphin
Turdiops truncatus

Kiawah’s gray-silver bottlenose dolphin pods don’t migrate and can be seen off the shores of Kiawah every month of the year. If you look out into the ocean from the beach, you may be able to spot a 6- to 10-foot long dolphin, weighing about 500 pounds, swimming relatively close and parallel to the shore. The most remarkable dolphin encounters you can easily observe while on the beach occur at the western end of the Island, at Captain Sam’s Spit, the inlet of the Kiawah River. It is at the Spit that these highly intelligent and social animals work together to engage in strandfeeding, a community fishing effort Lowcountry dolphins teach to each other, to herd up fish.

Strandfeeding often occurs in the morning at low tide. A group of dolphins will circle a school of fish, usually mullet, and herd them closer and closer to the sloped river shore. You might notice a leader dolphin, pop his head up, checking to make certain the shore is open and clear. If it is, he’ll signal the other dolphins with clicks or whistles. Together, the dolphins create a strong wave tossing the fish up on the sandy shore. Dolphins throw themselves onto the beach as well, behind the fish, catching and consuming as many fish as they can before wiggling themselves safely back into the water. Interestingly, they always come ashore on their right sides. 

Strandfeeding is a learned behavior dolphins teach to each other, and is exclusive to dolphins of the South Carolina and Georgia coasts. Strandfeeding is risky for dolphins. If they push themselves up too far on the shore, they can strand themselves on the beach. If the beach doesn’t look safe, dolphins will stop their pursuit and consider another attempt in a safer area.

For your best chance to see dolphins, walk or bike down to Captain Sam’s Spit at the western end of Kiawah early in the morning at low tide. Quietly stand still about 50 feet from the shore to give the dolphins plenty of room. During the summer, pelicans will often scope out the area and patiently wait for extra fish thrown just out of the reach of the dolphins.

Strandfeeding also occurs at low tide at the exposed islands in the Kiawah River and in Bass Creek at the eastern end of the Island.  Getting to these locations, however, generally requires having access to a boat. Seeing dolphins work together isn’t something that is observed every day, but it is an astonishing sight to behold!

If you see a dolphin or other marine animal, dead or alive, on the beach, pleasec notify Town of Kiawah Island (843-768-9166) immediately. 

Photo by Ann Gridley
 

Racoon
Procyon lotor

Gray or brown racoons with black facial masks and ringed tails are abundant on Kiawah Island. They usually build dens in hollow trees and are nocturnal, meaning they are active at night. These 10 to 20 pound curious and intelligent animals are quite social, and often travel around the Island with other racoons. Although they often wash their food before eating it, they won't pass up a tasty treat if water isn't available. Some of their favorite foods include acorns, blackberries, grapes, insects, crayfish, lizards, and eggs, and are sometimes found scavenging in garbage cans. The dexterity in their human-like hands allow them to turn doorknobs and jars, or even untie knots! On Kiawah, the breeding season is from February to June, with up to 5 kits (baby racoons) born 63 days after conception.

Photo by Tom Boswell
 

Loggerhead Sea Turtle
Caretta caretta

The loggerhead is one of only seven species of marine turtles still in existence today. Adult loggerheads can grow up to three feet in length and weigh as much as 350 pounds and are believed to have a life span of up to 70 years. The name loggerhead refers to the size of its head, which is larger in proportion to its body than other marine turtles. The loggerheads head and upper shell (carapace) are dark, reddish brown. It’s flippers and lower shell (plastron) are light yellow. The outer layer of plates (scutes) on the loggerheads shell and head can be used to distinguish the various species of marine turtles.

Loggerhead nesting on Kiawah Island usually begins in mid-May and continues into early August. Each nest averages 100-150 eggs. Eggs hatch in approximately two months and the hatchlings after making their way to the surface, travel down the beach, into the surf and continue swimming away from land into the open ocean for several days eventually finding refuge and resting in the sargassum floats. After reaching maturity, female turtles will return again to Kiawah’s beach to repeat the nesting cycle.

Watch the Kiawah Conservancy's NEW Loggerhead Sea Turtle Documentary

Conservation Status:

The loggerhead sea turtle was listed as a threatened species in 1978 under the Endangered Species Act and the State Nongame Act. The highly migratory behavior of sea turtles makes them shared resources among many nations; therefore, sea turtles are protected by various international treaties and agreements as well as national laws

Loggerheads face threats on both nesting beaches and in the marine environment. The greatest cause of decline and the continuing primary threat to loggerhead turtle populations worldwide is incidental capture in fishing gear, primarily in longlines and gillnets, but also in trawls, traps and pots, and dredges.

Kiawah Island Turtle Patrol:

Sea turtle nests on Kiawah Island are monitored annually by the Kiawah Island Turtle Patrol, a group of dedicated volunteers. The Kiawah Island Turtle Patrol has been in existence since 1973 and the Town of Kiawah Island has provided funding and logistical support to the program since 1990. During the nesting season, volunteers patrol the entire beach by truck each morning to locate and mark nests that were laid the previous night. Nests found to close to the tide line are moved further inward to protect them from being washed over by high tides. Turtle Patrol volunteers monitor the marked nests daily for emergence of hatchlings. After hatching, each nest is excavated and an inventory is taken of the nest contents. Detailed records are kept of all activities and a report is prepared annually for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

To learn more about sea turtle conservation efforts on Kiawah Island, the Kiawah Island Turtle Patrol, types of sea turtles seen locally, and see records from previous years visit www.wildlifeatkiawah.com or www.kiawahturtles.com.

Photo by Kelly Bragg

White-Tailed Deer
Odocoileus virginianus

White-tailed deer are very adaptable creatures, equally at home in forests and fields as well as suburban neighborhoods.  There are approximately 500 deer on Kiawah Island and they can be seen on all parts of the Island, mainly during the hours between dusk and dawn.

Kiawah Island's white-tailed deer are the same species as deer in the Northeast and Midwest, although they are smaller in size.  Their smaller size allows them to cope better with the warm climate of the Southeastern coast.  During the summer, deer are slightly reddish in color; by mid-October they will have attained their winter coat, which is thicker, darker, and gray in color.  One of their most distinguishable characteristics is the white underside of their tail.  Deer raise their tails when they are alarmed as a warning to other nearby deer.  You'll be sure to notice it if you startle deer on your walks around the Island.

Photo by Jim Chitwood
 

Hooded Merganser
Lophodytes cucullatus

Hooded mergansers are common on Kiawah and can be seen frequently in the Island's ponds and marsh areas during the fall and winter months. This ostentatiously crested duck is an all time favorite for birders and photographers on Kiawah Island. The adult male (pictured here) is quite a sight. His sharp white chest is set off by a black back and a magnificent black and white crest.  Beautiful chestnut feathers cover his flanks. The females are less lavisly colored with grey brown feather, while featuring a cinnamon colored crest. The hooded merganser is the second-smallest duck in the merganser species. They have narrow, serrated bills that and eat aquatic insects, crayfish and small fish. They nest in tree cavities and often lay their eggs in other females’ nests. However, they only lay eggs in nests of their own species. The female typically lays 5-13 eggs in a clutch. Ducklings typically leave the nest cavity at only one day old.

Photo by Pamela Cohen

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