In late July, our Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP) held Maryland’s annual dolphin count event. This is just one of many activities MARP participates in throughout the year, in addition to rescuing and rehabilitating animals.
The National Aquarium is one of several East Coast organizations that participates in this annual dolphin count. These counts allow marine specialists and researchers to gather a “snapshot” view of the population status of the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin.
On July 22, our Marine Animal Rescue team, along with members of our Conservation Team and several volunteers, gathered in Ocean City, MD. Record heat index temperatures could not stop them from a date with the beach and dolphin watching!
Teams stationed at four separate locations, including Assateague, 40th & 130th Street Ocean City, and on the Ocean City Coast Guard Vessel. From land, our staff and volunteers spotted more than 130 dolphins, some of which were neonates and young of the year.
Surprisingly, there are no marine mammals indigenous to Maryland. Rather, many species are spotted traveling through our area at various times of the year. We have learned that bottlenose dolphins use Maryland waters as a thoroughfare for migration, summertime breeding, and feeding along their travels. The most prevalent bottlenose dolphin populations are visible in the month of July, when the water temperatures hover around the mid-70s.
Gathering such information on animal populations helps determine the health of our coastal ecosystems, as well as furthering our knowledge on the habits and movements of these animals. From this data, researchers can look at when, how, and why other marine animals travel to this area.
Even though we counted well over 100 dolphins, it’s important to know that dolphins aren’t the only large marine animals swimming in our waterways. Our staff and volunteers aboard the Ocean City Coast Guard Vessel also spotted an adult loggerhead sea turtle, and a couple of young cownose rays.
We must remember that we share the water with all different kinds of magnificent aquatic creatures. So what should you be doing to help them live comfortably in their watery habitats?
- Slow down – boat strikes are a frequent source of injuries for marine mammals and endangered sea turtles.
- Dispose of trash properly, particularly plastics and plastic bags. Marine animals confuse trash with a food source or become entangled.
- Do not release balloons. Balloon debris can fall into bodies of water where animals can choke on the pieces.
- Never dispose of fishing line or nets in the water, as marine animals can easily become entangled.
- If beachgoers spot a stranded animal, they are required by law to keep their distance, and encouraged to to report the animal by calling the Maryland Natural Resource Police at 1-800-628-9944, or the National Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Program at 410-373-0083.
Learn more about the Marine Animal Rescue Program here.