(July 11, 2014) The public is joining forces with the National Aquarium today to carry out the 17th annual Maryland Dolphin Count along the state’s Atlantic coast.
The count starts at 8 a.m. with more than 20 aquarium staff joined by dozens of volunteers as they record and discuss bottlenose dolphins in four locations at 40th, 81st and 130th streets on the beach and at Assateague State Park on Route 611.
“What we’re doing is getting the public involved in getting a data snapshot of what the bottlenose dolphin population looks like,” said Jennifer Dittmar, manager of animal rescue at the aquarium. “It gives us useful information on the trends.”
The annual counts have been part of the aquarium’s programs for more than a decade and help marine mammal specialists look at dolphin populations, reproduction rates and ocean health over time. That not only gives them an idea of the health of the local dolphin population, but of the coastal ecosystem and abundance of prey.
Last year, participants spotted 113 bottlenose dolphins along Ocean City and Assateague’s shore — a big jump over the 31 dolphins counted in 2012. But the numbers can fluctuate from year to year based on several factors, such as weather, ocean swells and food availability, Dittmar said.
“There are a number of factors that can really affect it, the weather being one. If the visibility is less due to fog or rain, the animals might be there, but it might be harder for us to see from the beach,” Dittmar said. “The animals are going to be out and active in certain weather and they might not be as active in certain weather.”
A boat of National Aquarium staff that sweeps the coast helps balance those confounding factors during the annual count, she said.
Though the dolphins might be hard to see, rainy weather didn’t deter volunteers from coming to the beach for the 2013 count, Dittmar said.
“We actually had families that still drove from the Baltimore area to Ocean City to help us count dolphins,” she said. “They were so excited to be there. It’s great to be able to have that beach time with the public and talk to them about dolphins in their natural environment.”
“A lot of folks just don’t have experts that they can ask those questions,” Dittmar said. “They can learn the behaviors of those animals they’re seeing so they can interpret it next time they’re at the beach.”
Since 1991, the National Aquarium Animal Rescue Program has been responsible for responding to stranded marine mammals and sea turtles along Delaware, Maryland and Virginia’s shore. The program has responded to more than 480 animals in distress and has rehabilitated and released more than 100 back to their natural environment.
The aquarium is one facility among a network of nationally recognized facilities that work together to respond to stranded marine mammals and sea turtles.
The aquarium also leads conservation programs such as marine debris cleanups and habitat restoration work, Dittmar said.
Anyone is invited to join the dolphin count from 8-11 a.m. today in Ocean City at 40th, 81st and 130th streets at the beach and Assateague State Park in the day use area. Dittmar encouraged volunteers to come out even if they can’t stay for the full three hours.
Visit www.aqua.org for more information about the National Aquarium and its programs.