Archive for the 'Dolphins' Category

Update: Bottlenose Dolphin Strandings Continue in Historic Numbers

Animal Rescue Update

More than 200 Atlantic bottlenose dolphins have washed ashore along the East Coast this summer. This alarming number is seven times higher than what’s normally seen in the Mid-Atlantic region – a statistic which caused the National Marine Fisheries Service to declare an “unusual mortality event.” 

Unfortunately, following the declaration of the the event last week, the has been no curb in the number of dolphins stranding on our shores. It is estimated that 25 dolphins were found in Virginia just over the weekend.

“We don’t know exactly what’s causing it, but we suspect it might be a virus called the morbillivirus,” our VP of Biological Programs, Brent Whitaker, told CNN’s Brian Todd yesterday during an interview here in Baltimore. Click below to watch the entire interview: 

CNN interview at national aquarium

The morbillivirus, a culprit very similar to the measles, killed approximately 740 dolphins in a similar event along the East Coast in 1987.

Although the virus has been found in some of the dolphins studied this year, it will take months for the federal investigation to produce a clear answer on what’s behind this event.

As part of the Northeast Stranding Network, our Animal Rescue and Animal Health teams have been deeply engaged in the efforts to study these dolphins and determine a cause of death.

Stay tuned to the blog for more updates! 


Unusual Mortality Event Declared in Response to Dolphin Strandings

Animal Rescue Update

Last week, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared an unusual mortality event in the Mid-Atlantic. For the month of July, dolphin mortalities were higher than average for the states of New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia. Stranding responders in these areas are working very hard to keep up with the number of dolphins washing ashore, and have been working to perform necropsies (animal autopsies) on as many dolphins as possible. During a necropsy, biologists look for signs of external or internal injuries, signs of disease or illness, and take routine tissue samples for laboratory analysis. Virginia has already collected over 100 bottlenose dolphin carcasses this year, which is about 20% more than their average for a whole year.

NOAA is compiling data that is being provided by the stranding networks and comparing it to historical numbers. This information will help NOAA determine if there is a widespread trend or if there are common factors across the affected areas. The last time a well-documented die-off took place was in 1987 when more than 740 bottlenose dolphins died in a range from New York to Florida. It took several years to compile test results and determine that the culprit was a measles-like virus known as morbillivirius. While it is unknown what is causing the present day die-off, biologists are not ruling out biotoxins, bacteria or viruses as a possibility. Charley Potter, a marine mammal biologist with the Smithsonian Institute is assisting the Virginia Aquarium with investigating the dolphin deaths, and is concerned that this event could be similar to the 1987 event, but it is still too early to tell.

Stranding networks play an important role in supporting the NOAA Fisheries Service through an array of unique research and monitoring opportunities to fulfill NOAA’s core mission. The national stranding network is a successful public/private venture for monitoring marine mammal strandings. Marine mammals are important indicator species of the ocean health, so monitoring their health through strandings is important for understanding the health of our oceans and the impacts of human activities in a time of significant development and change. The stranding networks and NOAA will continue to work together to investigate incidents such as this, and more information will be released as it becomes available.

What can you do to help during this event?

  • Report any live marine mammal strandings or mortalities to the local stranding response facility. In Maryland, call the Natural Resources Police at 1-800-628-9944.
  • If you do find a stranded dolphin, wait for directions from the local stranding responder – do not touch the animal or try to return it to the water. Doing so could cause more harm.
  • Make a donation to a local stranding response organization. Events like this require a lot of basic equipment, supplies, and fees for processing tissue samples.


Take the Bay Quiz for a Chance to Meet Our Dolphins!

This week, we’re excited to partner with Constellation Energy in support of their Bay Quiz initiative!

The Chesapeake Bay is one of our nation’s most prized possessions. National Aquarium has numerous conservation initiatives to help restore the Bay, but not every one can join us for these events. By taking this quiz and participating in the sweepstakes, we hope that people can better understand what conservation measures we can all take to preserve the Bay and protect its inhabitants!

national aquarium dolphins

From now until August 4, those who participate will be entered to win a training and play session with our dolphins!

Through generous contributions to the Chesapeake Conservation Corps (CCC), Constellation has been a great supporter of the Aquarium’s conservation team and initiatives.  The CCC pairs young adults with organizations like ours for a year, giving them hands-on environmental, leadership and technical training! Check out our CCC volunteer, Stephanie Pully, in this great video about conservation issues facing the Bay:


Don’t forget to test your Chesapeake Bay IQ and be entered for a chance to meet our dolphins! 

Happy Birthday, Bayley!


Today we’re celebrating the 5th birthday of our youngest dolphin, Bayley!


Bayley is the daughter of the first dolphin born at our aquarium 21 years ago, Chesapeake. She was named in honor of the Chesapeake Bay, just like her mom!


As the smallest in our pod, Bayley is probably the most recognizable of our dolphins! She is light grey in color with a pink belly and pink on the tip of her rostrum.

Personality-wise, Bayley is rather spunky and full of energy! Whether it’s learning a new behavior or figuring out a game during interactive enrichment,  she is always eager to learn and play with family members and trainers!

Join me in wishing Bayley a very happy birthday by leaving her a message in the comments section or on our Facebook page


National Zookeeper Appreciation Week: Kerry Martens

In the celebration of National Zookeeper Appreciation Week, meet Kerry Martens, one of our Marine Mammal Trainers! 

kerry martens

How long have you been at the Aquarium?

I started with the Marine Mammal Department as an intern in 2006. I started full-time as a trainer the day after graduation and have been working with the dolphins ever since.

What interested you to pursue your current career path?

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a fascination with dolphins.  I spent many an hour in front of the TV watching re-runs of Flipper and would get so excited to see dolphins swim off the coast during family vacations to the Jersey Shore.  I actually wrote to Sea World in fourth grade asking what it takes to be a dolphin trainer!  I took the response they gave me and used it as a life plan, making sure I did everything possible to get my dream job.

Can you briefly describe for us what your typical day looks like?

A day in the Marine Mammal Department can start as early as 6:30 in the morning. It takes two full hours to sort and weigh out the 200 pounds of frozen fish that make up the dolphins’ diet. The dolphins get fed between 7-10 times a day, roughly every hour and half. There are many different types of sessions we have with the animals. Some are focused on training brand new behaviors, others are dedicated to husbandry, the medical behaviors that help us take care of them, and some consist entirely of playtime. Play is a great way for us to build our relationship with the animals, which is key to all of the training that we do.

When we’re not working directly with the animals, we spend a majority of our time cleaning. This includes buckets, toys, the kitchen, all of our back-up areas, and even our pools. All trainers are SCUBA certified, which allows us to enter the water and scrub and vacuum the pools each and every day.

What is your favorite Aquarium memory?

I was selected to be a presenter and represent the National Aquarium at the 2010 International Marine Animal Trainers Association conference. There, I got to meet trainers from all over the world and learn about the exciting advancements and developments in marine animal care and research taking place.  At the conference, I presented on the work we did with our 41 year old female, Nani,  in which we trained her to voluntarily participate in an eye exam with a veterinarian.  The presentation won a first place award!

What is the next big project you’re working on?

We are constantly training the animals new behaviors, so I consider those my “projects.” I am in the process of training Bayley to lay calmly while the veterinarians take a blood sample from her tail, and am about to start teaching Jade a high-energy breach behavior.  

What is your favorite animal?

Although we spend a lot of time building relationships with all of the animals, a good portion of my day is spent with 4-year-old Bayley. I’m responsible for all of her husbandry behaviors, so it is important that she and I have a strong bond, as these are not necessarily the most high-energy or exciting behaviors. Bayley is extremely energetic and playful so I make sure to get some playtime in with her each day!

Stay tuned to the blog this week to meet more of our amazing staff!

The Interspecies Internet: A TED Talk Featuring Diana Reiss and Our Dolphins


Diana Reiss, renowned cognitive psychologist and dolphin researcher, recently filmed a TED Talk featuring our pod of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins! 

Diana Reiss with dolphins

Researcher Diana Reiss with some of the National Aquarium’s dolphins. Photo courtesy of the New York Times.

Diana joined Neil Gershenfeld, Director, MIT Bits and Atoms Lab; Peter Gabriel, singer, songwriter and producer; and Vint Cerf, credited as co-founder of the internet and currently CEO of the Association for Computing Machinery, the world’s largest and most prestigious scientific and educational computing society. Watch their full talk here: 


The main objective of creating an “interspecies internet” would be to promote increased choice and control for animals through the use of technology. This concept for an interactive internet effectively links people to other animals through live or online experiences. It would create a new network and set of technologies that would carry science, welfare and conservation-related information, ideas and messages into the future.

Diana specifically touched on the cognitive intelligence of dolphins and how they communicate – a topic she’s been researching here at the Aquarium!  To learn more about Diana’s recent discoveries while working with our dolphins, check out this interview she recently recorded with our CEO John Racanelli for A Blue View.

The next big piece of this “interspecies internet” will involve the creation of a touchscreen keyboard. Diana will then study how our dolphins interact with this keyboard, using the information gathered to add to the conversation about these amazing animals and how they communicate.

Tell us your reaction to this idea of an “interspecies internet” in the comments section! 


2013 Dolphin Count Results Are In!

Staff from the National Aquarium Animal Rescue program were joined by volunteers today for the annual Maryland Dolphin Count. This year, 113 dolphins were sighted!

national aquarium dolphin count 2013

Volunteers of all ages braved the rain to help record dolphin sightings at four locations along the Eastern Shore of Maryland – three beach locations in Ocean City and at the Assateague State Park Day Use Area.

national aquarium dolphin count 2013

In Ocean City, our team also spotted numerous pelicans and osprey diving for fish!

pelicans ocean city maryland

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.

national aquarium dolphin count 2013

We want to send out a big thank you to all those who joined our team today!

Click here for more information on National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program and how the general public can assist with rescue efforts!

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