Spot­ters sought for dol­phins in the bay

Track­ing sys­tem aims to help sci­en­tists un­der­stand one of bay’s largest in­hab­i­tants

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By DANDAN ZOU dzou@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @Dan­danEn­tNews

South­ern Mary­land res­i­dents can now doc­u­ment their sight­ings of dol­phins in the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay on­line to help sci­en­tists bet­ter un­der­stand the aquatic mam­mals’ move­ments and in­ter­ac­tions with the bay.

Dur­ing the sum­mer sea­son, dol­phins are fre­quently spot­ted in the bay, but lit­tle is known about them, said He­len Bai­ley, a sci­en­tist at the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land Cen­ter for En­vi­ron­men­tal Science’s Ch­e­sa­peake Bi­o­log­i­cal Lab­o­ra­tory in Solomons.

“It’s just amaz­ing how fre­quently they are de­tected” in the bay, Bai­ley said. Changes in cli­mate, wa­ter qual­ity im­prove­ments and move­ments of fish which dol­phins feed on could all be fac­tors in a surge in dol­phin sight­ings.

Anec­do­tally, sci­en­tists hear dol­phins are be­com­ing more fre­quent vis­i­tors to the bay, but Bai­ley said re­searchers know very lit­tle about how of­ten dol­phins ac­tu­ally do come into th­ese wa­ters, how long they stay, what ar­eas they tend to fre­quent and why.

Re­searchers hope the on­line track­ing sys­tem will change that.

Tom Miller, CBL’s di­rec­tor, said the in­sti­tu­tion is ex­cited to use new tech­nol­ogy to re­cruit ci­ti­zens and help sci­en­tists bet­ter un­der­stand the move­ments of dol­phins.

“Cit­i­zen science, such as the Dol­phinWatch tracker, is be­com­ing more and more im­por­tant and helps con­nect ev­ery­one to our work to pro­tect, re­store and sus­tain the bay,” Miller said in a re­lease.

The track­ing sys­tem al­lows users to reg­is­ter and re­port the time and lo­ca­tion of where they see a dol­phin or a group of dol­phins on a map of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay and its trib­u­taries. Par­tic­i­pants can also see sight­ings recorded by oth­ers on the map.

So far, sight­ings of dol­phins recorded on the map stretch from At­lantic City, N.J., to wa­ters near Nor­folk, Va., with a ma­jor­ity re­ported in Mary­land wa­ters from Bal­ti­more to Scot­land in south­ern­most St. Mary’s County.

The project needs all the eyes on the wa­ter, Bai­ley said, not­ing the in­tent to in­crease aware­ness of dol­phins in the bay and col­lect data as well.

From Wed­nes­day to Fri­day of last week, more than 250 users have signed up and more than 50 sight­ings have been recorded, ac­cord­ing to Bai­ley.

“The more eyes we have on the wa­ter, the bet­ter to re­port dol­phin sight­ings,” Bai­ley said. “We think that ci­ti­zens can make very good cit­i­zen sci­en­tists.”

There’s no end date to the project, Bai­ley said. But af­ter the peak sea­son from April to Septem­ber, her team plans to re­view the data and look to im­prove the track­ing sys­tem for fu­ture uses.

To re­port dol­phin sight­ings, go to www.chesa­peakedol­phin­watch.org. To learn more about the pro­gram, go to www. um­ces.edu/dol­phinwatch.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO BY CHRIS MOE

Dol­phins swam across the Hellen Creek near Solomons in June 2010.

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