Each summer, teams gather to take a look into our planet's future. The health of our coastal waters is an indicator as to the health of our ecosystem that affects all marine life. And the impact on marine life can affect us all. As part of the strategy to continuously monitor the coastal waters, an annual dolphin count has evolved over the years along the eastern seaboard to help marine mammal specialists capture a snapshot view of the coastal ecosystem by studying dolphin populations, reproduction rates and the abundance of prey.
The annual counts have now been part of the National Aquarium’s programs for more than a decade. The marine mammal specialists look at the dolphin population and reproduction rates as an indicator as to the state of our ocean in general.
Just passing through . . .
Atlantic bottlenose dolphins use Maryland waters as a thoroughfare for migration, summertime breeding, and feeding along their way. During the Spring and Summer months, the dolphin travel from the Carolina's up the East coast to Delaware waters. Then in the Fall, they travel back down to the warmer waters of the Carolinas.
“The annual count is a great snapshot into the health of our dolphin population off the Maryland coast and helps us to discover trends,” said Jennifer Dittmar, manager of animal rescue at the aquarium. “It’s also a great opportunity to get families on the beach to answer questions for them, enjoy hands-on work and it’s an outreach to folks who want to help these animals.”
Another very important purpose of this event is to bring awareness to the public. “It’s a great opportunity to connect with families and other demographics to get the message out there about what we do and why it’s important,” Jennifer Dittmar said in a statement. It is with great enthusiasm that the National Aquarium includes families in these events to educate everyone on the importance of the ecosystem to our future.
Taking the count
The Dolphin Count involves teams of National Aquarium volunteers and the public stationed at three locations along the Ocean City Maryland shoreline. They scan the waters waiting for passing dolphin and then record the sighting on data sheets. Each station has Aquarium representatives on hand to set up and answer questions. Approximately 10 aquarium volunteers and an estimated 25-35 public volunteers take part in the counting over a three-hour sampling period.
Positioned three miles off-shore, a National Aquarium research vessel patrols the coastal waters taking counts as well. Radio contact is made with the shore-based stations and GPS coordinates are logged for each sighting from the research vessel.
Keeping our waters clean
Another important service that the National Aquarium team provides is to clean up, as possible, any floating toys, bottles, and other items that pose a threat to marine life. During our brief time onboard, several bottles, a plastic jug and several inflatable toys were retrieved.
Due to a variety of conditions, results have varied greatly over the past few years.
About the National Aquarium in Baltimore
National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program is a member of the Northeast Stranding Network (NERS) through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Aquarium is one facility among a network of nationally recognized facilities that work cooperatively to respond to stranded marine mammals and sea turtles. Since 1991, the National Aquarium Animal Rescue Program has been responding to stranded marine mammals and sea turtles along Delaware, Maryland and Virginia’s shores.
The Animal Rescue team works directly with NOAA, USFWS, Maryland Department of Natural Resources and regional and national stranding partners to respond to stranded animals and collect data used to better understand aquatic animals that are still very much a mystery to modern science.