Dolphins greet boaters near Kent Island
KENT ISLAND — Bottlenose dolphins are making their annual appearance in the Chesapeake Bay. The largest estuary in North America, the Chesapeake Bay has a length of 200 miles and 11,684 miles of tidal shoreline, more than the entire U.S. West Coast. Home to many species, the bottlenose dolphin has been making regular appearances in the waters around Kent Island.
Jan Jones shared a photo taken from her boat on July 1 by friend Ashley Leighty. Jones’ boat was just north of Love Point when they noticed the dolphin breach the water. They stopped and watched as a few pods passed by, and Jones estimated the animals came within 30 to 50 yards of their watercraft. She said they didn’t want to get too close, but they were very excited to have a chance to observe.
Jones is not the only one to observe these playful creatures, sightings around the Bay Bridge and from points near Wye Island north toward the Chester River have been on the rise since late June, with increased sightings since the beginning of July.
The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science invites everyone who spends time on or near the Chesapeake Bay to report dolphin sightings with a new online tracking system. Chesapeake DolphinWatch allows users to mark the location of their dolphin sightings on a map of the Chesapeake and its tributaries so scientists can better understand where the dolphins are and where they go. The online tracker is accessible at www.chesapeakedolphinwatch.org.
Thanks to the dolphin tracking site, people have the ability to view the locations of recent and past dolphin sightings on a map, and the tracker provides information about dolphins and the Chesapeake Bay.
Using information gathered from the dolphin tracker, Dr. Helen Bailey and her team at the Chesapeake Biological Laborator y, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in Cambridge, are studying how often dolphins actually come into the Chesapeake Bay, how long they spend here, what areas of the Bay they are using and why.
“We’d like to increase people’s awareness of the dolphins and collect data at the same time,” said Bailey. She specializes in studying the movements of marine mammals. “Whether you’re at home, whether you have a community pier, you live near the water, or you go out on the water, we need your eyes on the sea telling us where are the dolphins.”
By tracking the occurrence of dolphins and their movements, Bailey hopes to gain a better understanding of how bottlenose dolphins use the Bay and how to protect them in our local waters.
“Right now we have such scarce information. This is really the first time we are systematically recording this,” said Bailey. “We are hearing anecdotally that dolphins are becoming more frequent visitors to the Chesapeake Bay, but we really don’t have much information at all about where they are going and when. The more eyes we have on the water the better to report dolphin sightings. We think that citizens can make very good citizen scientists.”
Earlier in July, U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen announced $4.66 million in federal funding for the Chesapeake Bay, provided by several U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grants. The EPA is the lead federal partner in a multi-agency effort that supports regional implementation of programs that contribute to a healthier Chesapeake Bay.
According to the senators, some of those funds will go toward helping the Maryland Department of Natural Resources administer a Chesapeake Bay Implementation Grant program. More than $500,000 was awarded to help the Chesapeake Research Consortium Inc. support the outcomes and goals of the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, and $61,000 will be allotted to data management and analysis services.
“These grants represent a federal investment in the Chesapeake Bay and the countless locally owned businesses, watermen and farmers whose livelihoods depend on a healthy Bay ... A healthy Bay means a healthy economy,” said Cardin, a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “I’ll keep fighting to ensure the Chesapeake Bay Program is fully funded in the 2018 budget.”
“Taken together, these four grants will help Maryland make progress to improve the health of the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed,” said Van Hollen, Senate Appropriations Committee member. “The Bay is a natural treasure that is also essential to Maryland’s economy — including the tourism, fishing, and boating industries. We’ll keep fighting to ensure the Bay is clean and thriving.”
Dolphin sighting north of Love Point on July 1.
A web-based app, users can help track dolphin sightings. The information is being used by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science to learn more about dolphins and the Bay.