MEET THE CREW
Charleston’s at-large dolphin population (from North Edisto to Charleston Harbor) numbers around 350. They stay year-round, and mainly stick to the vast river network, in pods containing between two to thirty members.
Here on Kiawah, 90% of the dolphin sightings are of the same eight characters, who consistently visit Captain Sams Inlet to feed. A few have been tracked all the way back to the 1990’s. Dolphins can live to be in their 40’s. Thus, long-time Kiawah residents and vacationers alike have observed members of this close-knit group over several decades, getting to know them as old friends.
First there’s KoKo and her calf Kai. These two are the easiest to recognize right now due to Kai swimming in “baby position”: surfacing slightly after and behind KoKo. Kai turned three this spring and is learning strand feeding from KoKo. Babies stay with their mother for three to six years.
Step is at least 28 years old and the matriarch of the bunch. She watches over the group, and babysits Kai. She been observed with five calves of her own over the years, two of whom — Rosie and High Scoops — are now older and independent but still strand feed with her sometimes. Step has a distinctly distorted fin, probably the result of an injury.
Rosie is around 14 years old, named for her very pink belly. Or it may be his very pink belly. (Determining dolphin gender is tricky and Rosie’s is T.B.D..) As Rosie reaches sexual maturity, here’s hoping the feminine name rings true producing a calf in the near future.
High Scoops is Step’s other child in the group. He’s about five years older than sibling Rosie (so around 19 years old). He has a distinct scar behind his dorsal fin and you’ll sometimes find him in the company of the dynamic duo: Times3 and Small Nick.
Times3 is a genetically confirmed male with three large notches in the back of his dorsal fin. Small Nick is always with him, strand feeding or cruising the inlet, leading everyone to assume he’s male also, because they act like a male bonded pair.
Finally there’s Hook, first spotted as a calf in 2003 making him at least 18 years old. He’s the most frequent visitor to Captain Sams. You can always count on Hook to be around, cruising and feeding with Times3 and Small Nick, or sometimes Step, and also playing with baby Kai.
As you have likely surmised, the Kiawah dolphins’ names are usually based on an aspect of their appearance. They have official database numbers also, but the clever names are easier for fast identification and making notes on the fly. In addition, there’s no denying that naming the dolphins helps the Kiawah community recognize these animals and feel invested in protecting them.