Staff from the National Aquarium Animal Rescue program were joined by volunteers today for the annual Maryland Dolphin Count. This year, 53 dolphins were sighted, a lower number than last year, likely resulting from limited visibility do to fog.
Around 50 volunteers of all ages and 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.
During the 2013 dolphin count, 113 dolphins were recorded, which is relatively normal. In 2012, 31 dolphins were recorded, which was lower than average, and likely a result of several factors including the weather, bigger swells and food availability.
"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.
Prior to the annual count, an annual fundraiser was held at Seacrets: Jamaica USA where $2,930 was raised for the National Aquarium Animal Rescue Program.
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 635 animals in distress and has rehabilitated and released more than 120 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.