The National Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP) last week conducted its annual dolphin count along the coast in Ocean City and Assateagu, USA amid concerns over the stress of an unusual mortality event that has lingered on since last summer.
The National Aquarium Animal Rescue Program last Friday was joined by a large group of volunteers for the annual Maryland Dolphin Count and the numbers revealed a significant decline over the number counted during the 2013 event, but aquarium officials are not alarmed. Last Friday, around 50 volunteers of all ages came out between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. to help record dolphin sightings at four locations, including the Assateague State Park day-use area and in Ocean City at 40th, 81st and 130th streets.
During the sessions, a total of 53 dolphins were counted at the four locations, which was a lower number than last year, likely due to limited visibility caused by fog. Last year, 113 dolphins were counted during the event, which is in the normal range. In 2012, just 31 dolphin sightings were recorded, representing the lowest total in recent years.
The annual dolphin count helps marine mammal specialists capture a snapshot at dolphin populations, reproduction rates and ocean health. Looking at the population numbers over the years can help determine the health of the coastal ecosystem as well as the abundance of prey. Prior to the annual dolphin count on the beach last Friday, a fundraiser was held at Seacrets on Thursday during which nearly $3,000 was raised for the National Aquarium Animal Rescue Program.
What is alarming for MARP officials and their colleagues up and down the east coast is the continued unusual mortality event that has plagued the dolphin population since about this time last year. Around mid-July 2013, the number of dolphin strandings up and down the coast from New York to Florida spiked dramatically, causing NOAA Fisheries to declare an unusual mortality event.
While there were some live strandings, most were found dead and often badly decomposed. The epidemic reached a crescendo late last summer and into the early fall, but National Aquarium Animal Rescue Program Stranding Coordinator Jennifer Ditmar said this week the mortality event has not abated and is still under investigation.
“The Unusual Mortality Event affecting bottlenose dolphins is still open and active unfortunately,” she said.
Full story: The Dispatch