Spotters sought for dolphins in the bay
Tracking system aims to help scientists understand one of bay’s largest inhabitants
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.
Dolphins swam across the Hellen Creek near Solomons in June 2010.