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Report Sightings to DolphinWatch App

Photo courtesy of Kathleen Sherman

Many Chesapeake Bay visitors have had the pleasure of spotting dolphins leaping out of the waters while enjoying activities on the bay. Researchers at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science created a mobile- and web-based application that allows visitors and residents to report these dolphin sightings.

A recent study released by UMCES’ Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in Solomons used sighting reports from its citizen-science Chesapeake DolphinWatch app and acoustic data to track dolphins in the bay in an effort to understand their seasonal movements. Understanding the movement of this charismatic, protected marine mammal can help aid in conservation and management efforts for the species in the bay, a body of water with high levels of marine traffic, planned construction, and military activity.

“I started the Chesapeake DolphinWatch Project because we had received anecdotal sightings of dolphins in the bay. We realized instead of just being occasional visitors to the bay, they were actually frequently in the bay, and we wanted to find out when the dolphins are coming here – where, when, how, and why are they coming into the bay?” said Helen Bailey, marine biologist and research professor who began the DolphinWatch program at UMCES.

She created the online tracker so people could easily report their sightings and view other people’s sightings so they could find out where dolphins have been seen.

From more than three years of verified sightings from the Chesapeake DolphinWatch app, 1,788 individual bottlenose dolphin sighting reports have been officially confirmed by UMCES scientists (typically from corresponding photographs and descriptions). The app allows community-based scientists to report sightings of dolphins including the time, date, GPS location, number of animals observed, and pictures and video of the animals throughout the bay.

Bottlenose dolphins are migratory marine mammals that live in both open-ocean and coastal habitats, but had previously not been considered to be regular visitors to the Chesapeake Bay. While dolphins are highly studied, little was known about their movement in the US’ largest estuary.

“What we really needed was as many eyes on the bay as possible so we can find out where the dolphins are going, and we thought that engaging members of the public could really play an important role because most people know when they spot a dolphin,” Bailey said.

Data received from sightings was coupled with acoustic detections of dolphin echolocation clicks from the middle region of the Chesapeake Bay, allowing scientists to confirm the peak in bottlenose dolphin presence during the summer.

“We found that the dolphins occurred all over the Chesapeake Bay, even past Annapolis,” said graduate student Lauren Rodriguez.

This article was provided by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

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