Dol­phins can be seen around South­ern Mary­land

The Enterprise - - Sports - Jamie Drake jamiedrake­out­doors@out­

It has been my fam­ily’s tra­di­tion to visit Ocean City dur­ing the win­ter­time.

Not many places are open for busi­ness in the dead of win­ter, but the beaches cer­tainly aren’t crowded and can still be combed for trea­sures, and the ho­tel rates are more than rea­son­able.

The seashore is just as beau­ti­ful in win­ter, maybe even more so. And one of the high­lights of those win­ter trips is sit­ting on the bal­cony en­joy­ing a cup of hot cof­fee and watch­ing a pod of dol­phins track the coast­line as the sun rises.

But you don’t have to go to Ocean City, or any­where on the At­lantic Ocean ac­tu­ally, to see a pod of dol­phins ca­vort­ing in the wa­ter. In fact, from April to Au­gust, you have a fair chance of see­ing a dol­phin (or a dozen or more) in our lo­cal wa­ters if you spend enough time out­side and near the wa­ter.

Last week, I headed over to the As­bury com­mu­nity cen­ter in Calvert County to hear Dr. He­len Bai­ley, a sci­en­tist from the Ch­e­sa­peake Bi­o­log­i­cal Lab­o­ra­tory, give a pre­sen­ta­tion on dol­phins in the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay and its trib­u­taries.

You might be sur­prised that dol­phins have been sighted as far north as the Bay Bridge, and even up to the Bene­dict Bridge in the Patux­ent River and the Gov. Harry W. Nice Memo­rial Bridge in the Po­tomac River. There are plenty of dol­phins to be seen around South­ern Mary­land.

The kind of dol­phin you might see around here is the bot­tlenose dol­phin. Th­ese an­i­mals are a lot like hu­mans. They are highly in­tel­li­gent, have good mem­o­ries, live in

fam­ily units, com­mu­ni­cate with one an­other, ges­tate their young for up to 12 months and feed and care for ba­bies un­til they’re sev­eral years old. It seems to me the only dif­fer­ence be­sides liv­ing in wa­ter in­stead of on the land is they don’t pay taxes (not yet, that is).

While I’ve never seen any dol­phins around here my­self, my daugh­ters were lucky enough to be on the Marchelle out of Bunky’s on Solomons Is­land dur­ing July last year when a pod of nearly 100 dol­phins de­cided to visit. They sur­rounded the boat and both adult and very young dol­phins put on a dis­play of their jump­ing abil­i­ties in the waves, a phe­nom­e­non none of the chil­dren or crew who were on­board that

day will ever for­get.

In the past, the number of dol­phins and the fre­quency of their vis­its to the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay and rivers were a mys­tery.

Aerial sur­veys, akin to the wa­ter­fowl sur­vey per­formed by the Mary­land Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources an­nu­ally, weren’t very ef­fec­tive. In fact, not a sin­gle dol­phin was seen dur­ing the 2017 flight. But anec­do­tal ev­i­dence from lo­cals in­di­cated they were see­ing dol­phins, rang­ing from just one or two to huge pods with dol­phins num­ber­ing close to 100.

Dr. Bai­ley and her team de­cided to en­list the pub­lic’s help to ac­cu­rately track the number

of dol­phins com­ing into the bay, where they go and how long they stay there. Hence the Ch­e­sa­peake Dol­phin Watch was launched in late June 2017, and dur­ing those six months alone nearly 900 dol­phins were re­ported. Of those, al­most 450 were ver­i­fied with a de­scrip­tion, pho­to­graph or video.

“It was in­cred­i­ble. We were re­ally over­whelmed,” Dr. Bai­ley said of the pub­lic’s re­sponse.

The number of cit­i­zen sci­en­tists reg­is­tered to re­port dol­phins has in­creased from

1,500 users in 2017 to over 3,500 at the time of her pre­sen­ta­tion last week. I’m sure that number grew even more af­ter ev­ery­one in the au­di­ence went home that night.

It’s very easy to re­port a dol­phin sight­ing and the in­for­ma­tion it provides to sci­en­tists is “in­cred­i­bly use­ful,” said Dr. Bai­ley, who added, “None of this in­for­ma­tion was even known two years ago.”

If you want to get in­volved, go to www.chesa­peakedol­phin­ and cre­ate a pro­file. Or, if you pre­fer, you can get the app for your Ap­ple or An­droid phone. You can ad­just the date, time, or lo­ca­tion of your re­port and even upload pho­to­graphs or video.

If you want to go the ex­tra mile, you can even use a drone to take aerial footage of dol­phins, which is very help­ful to the sci­en­tists study­ing their be­hav­ior.

To stay abreast of the lat­est dol­phin sight­ings and up­com­ing events, the pro­gram has a fre­quently up­dated Face­book page (www.face­ Chesa­peakeDol­phin­Watch) and Twit­ter ac­count (@dol­phin­watch_CB).

Ch­e­sa­peake Dol­phin Watch also em­ploys two acous­tic de­vices to record the dol­phins’ sounds and com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Sci­en­tists who an­a­lyze the data have been able to rec­og­nize in­di­vid­ual dol­phins by their sig­na­ture whis­tle — the call they

pro­duce when they meet other dol­phins, much like a name.

As th­ese record­ings are col­lected, sci­en­tists hope to use the data to learn more about where spe­cific dol­phins go and why.

By combining in­for­ma­tion gleaned from both sight­ings and the acous­tic record­ings, sci­en­tists have al­ready been able to an­swer the ques­tion, “Do more dol­phins visit the bay in the sum­mer months or are the in­creased sight­ings due to more peo­ple be­ing out­side in the sum­mer­time?”

Ev­i­dence from acous­tic de­tec­tors have con­firmed that fewer dol­phins visit the bay dur­ing the win­ter. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t see one in the up­com­ing months.

Al­though they are more com­mon in our area dur­ing the sum­mer, there are still some dol­phins in the more southerly part of the bay in the win­ter, just not as many. Keep your eyes peeled when you’re on or near the wa­ter, be­cause you never know what you might see. And if you do see a dol­phin, re­mem­ber they are a species pro­tected by the Ma­rine Mam­mal Pro­tec­tion Act.

The law pro­hibits hu­mans from get­ting too close, touch­ing one or at­tempt­ing to swim with or feed them. But you can al­ways take a photo or video. And if you do, don’t for­get to upload it to Ch­e­sa­peake Dol­phin Watch.

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