[dropcap]S[/dropcap]taff from the National Aquarium Animal Rescue program joined with volunteers for the annual Maryland Dolphin Count that was held in July of 2013.
Despite rain and the threat of storms, volunteers of all ages came out between 8-11 a.m. to help record dolphin sightings at four locations along the Eastern Shore of Maryland – Assateague State Park Day Use Area, Berlin, MD; 40th Street in Ocean City, MD; 81st Street in Ocean City, MD; and 130th Street in Ocean City, MD.
Annual dolphin counts help marine mammal specialists capture a snapshot look at dolphin populations, reproduction rates and ocean health. Looking at the population numbers over the years can help to determine the health of the coastal ecosystem as well as the abundance of prey.
[box_light]The Bottlenose Dolphin[/box_light]
Atlantic bottlenose dolphins use Maryland waters as a thoroughfare for migration, summertime breeding, and feeding along the way. Information is gathered and analyzed to learn more about the state of the waters and dolphin populations that are found off the Eastern coast.
Adults reach 6–12 feet in length and weigh 400–800 pounds. Males are slightly larger than females.
And, being near the top of the food chain in the Atlantic, the dolphin has few predators. Major threats come from humans. Dolphins are accidentally caught in fishing gear (gill nets, purse seines, and shrimp trawls) and become entangled in discarded fishing gear or monofilament line. Humans harass and feed wild dolphins, and in some parts of the world kill them directly. However another threat exists – seismic testing.
[box_light]2013 Count Is Promising[/box_light]
During the 2012 dolphin count, just 31 dolphins were recorded, which is well below average and likely a result of several factors including the weather, bigger swells and food availability. In 2011, 107 dolphins were recorded, which is relatively normal.
“The entire team from National Aquarium is incredibly thankful to all the volunteers who joined us for this year’s Dolphin Count,” said Jennifer Dittmar, Animal Rescue Program Stranding Coordinator.
[box_light]National Aquarium Animal Rescue Program[/box_light]
Since 1991, the National Aquarium Animal Rescue Program has been responsible for responding to stranded marine mammals and sea turtles along the Delmarva (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia) Peninsula, primarily along the nearly 7,000 miles of coastline in Maryland, including the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic coasts.
The Animal Rescue Program has responded to more than 480 animals in distress and has rehabilitated and released more than 100 marine animals back to their natural environment. Many of these animals are endangered or threatened, so every individual introduced back into the natural environment has the opportunity to add to the genetic diversity of the species. All species of marine mammals are federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, and all seven species of sea turtles are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
Research, satellite tracking and outreach education are also significant components of the Animal Rescue Program. Every animal that is rehabilitated and released is an opportunity to raise awareness and get the public involved in helping to conserve and protect our marine resources.
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.
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.
For more information on National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program and how the general public can assist with rescue efforts, visit http://aqua.org/care.
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