What’s on TV Tonight?

by Nichole Price, member of the Benthic Team

Dolphins by day. Photograph by Jen Smith.

Each night brings a different hit television program for us to watch on our big screen TV—the swirling waters on all sides illuminated by the faint glow of the deck lights of the Hanse Explorer. Each night the story line is the same: the large apex predators consume the smaller bait fish that, in turn, feed on the plankton attracted by our lights. The mesmerizing aspect of this never-ending night-time feeding frenzy is that the cast of characters changes at each island, and with them the feeding behavior spotlighted.

At Kingman Reef, we tuned in to ‘Shark TV’ for a show featuring the water literally boiling as the lurking gray reef sharks suddenly attacked flying fish en masse. At Fanning and Washington Islands, we switched channels to the more playful ‘dolphin TV.’ Here the bottlenose and spinner dolphins played with their food, pushing and nosing the squid that were flashing bright red and looking like underwater Rudolphs. Because the ocean is so deep just offshore of Jarvis, there we saw more pelagic species, including dozens of yellowfin tuna zipping through the water and breaking the surface to snag impossibly small fish. Tempting though it was, we refrained from throwing hooks into the water to catch those 50+ lb packages of fresh ahi. Jarvis is part of the newly formed US marine national monument, and these fish are protected. It was just as satisfying to watch ‘tuna TV’ and see predation in action, a rare event on most inhabited islands!