13 August 2010

HOW TO CATCH A MULLET



This short video is an excerpt from the BBC Life series showing the amazing cooperative hunting technique of bottlenose dolphins working Florida Bay in pursuit of mullet. This video was published on their new website, Life Is, which will release monthly embeddable videos from the entire BBC catalogue of nature programming. I'm glad to hear it.

The research behind this film was published in a 2005 paper: A division of labour with role specialization in group–hunting bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) off Cedar Key, Florida. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2004.2937 Proc. R. Soc. B 22 January 2005 vol. 272 no. 1559 135-140

From the abstract:
Individual role specialization during group hunting is extremely rare in mammals. Observations on two groups of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Cedar Key, Florida revealed distinctive behavioural roles during group feeding. In each group, one individual was consistently the ‘driver’, herding the fishes in a circle toward the remaining ‘barrier’ dolphins. Aerial fish–capture rates differed between groups, as well as between the driver and barrier dolphins, in one group but not in the other. These differences between the two groups may reflect differences in group stability or in prey school size.


(Mullet from here.)

I wrote about mullet living in the waters around the atoll of Rangiroa—and a different way of catching themin my book The Fragile Edge. Here's an excerpt:
The littlest fish are less than six inches long, and their schools are sleek and whippy as cat-o’-nine-tails. They are behaviorally circumspect, skittering only through the protected water around the dock’s pilings. In contrast, the schools of the larger mullets, with individuals reaching more than a foot in length, parade aggressively under the dock, around the pilings, and out into the open water, their pectoral fins flipping open and closed like golden fans
as they root out the diatomaceous and detrital scum of the sandy bottom. As one of the few species of fish that feed almost exclusively on single-celled plants—diatoms, dinoflagellates, and phytoplankton—vegetarian mullet have a taste unlike any other fish, or so I’m told. 


Sucré et huileux (sweet and oily), says the Tahitian woman who has joined me on the dock with her hand-fishing line. She has settled onto the pier not far from me, her bare legs and feet dangling over the edge, the sunset square in front of her, where all sunsets always seem to be in Rangiroa. Like many Tahitian women, her hair reaches past her waist, blue-black and shiny as the inside of a mussel shell, the long plait unfastened at the bottom, the hair holding the shape from habit alone. 


She cooks the mullet whole in a pan with just salt, no oil, she says, since the fish are oily enough. Sometimes she adds milk. I recognize her from the hotel, where she works as a maid, and this dock is apparently one of the perks of her job because I’ve seen her fishing here most evenings. She seems relaxed and happy at the end of her workday, carrying nothing of the emotional and psychic exhaustion of a Western worker at shift’s end—and this is one of the many miracles not only of Polynesia but of French Polynesia, where the Gallic embrace of the sensual allows time for the enjoyment of life as it comes.
It's possible this video (the Oprah-Winfrey-narrated version) will stream only on computers based in the US. Sorry if that's true. Copyright Is, too.

(Photo by Endless Vacation on Flickr)  
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