That Sweet Dolphin Smile
I live and work by the sea. Seeing dolphins is a common sight that I never tire of. Most of us have a soft spot in our heart for this endearing mammal that we’ve seen perform on TV, movies, or at Aquariums. Who hasn’t seen Flipper?
Thanks to an invitation by Pat Fair at Charleston’s National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), I’ve had the pleasure of joining a photo identification survey of our resident dolphins for an ongoing dolphin study. NOAA conducts a survey of our rivers, harbor, and coast each month. I joined Todd, Eric and Pat on board NOAA’s fabulous Zodiac boat. In September we patrolled the local Ashley, Wando and Cooper rivers (which feed into the Atlantic Ocean). It was sunny and the water was like glass.
Yesterday, we surveyed the Stono River to the mouth where the river empties out into the ocean. Boy was it cold out there! The sun refused to cut through the gloomy clouds and the water was gray and stormy. Once we were off the rivers and on the ocean, the waves got choppy. It felt like our big zodiac surfed in! I swear, after seven hours shivering on the water, it took me that many hours to get warm again. But it was well worth it because we spotted more than sixty dolphins. I have a whole new respect for the team that will venture out in the waters throughout the winter months.
Each time out, Eric amazes me by his ability to ID a dolphin in the time I manage to spot it. He identifies the notches on the dorsal fin as the dolphin glides up in a graceful arch for air. How sweet it is to see a young calf emerge alongside the mother! These experts have been doing this study for over fifteen years and know the population well. Photos of each dolphin were snapped for the formal identification process. This is an important, ongoing study to determine the health of our resident dolphin population.
Here’s the disturbing news: Pat Fair informed me that their studies reveal that nearly half of our Charleston area resident dolphin population has been deemed unhealthy or with disease.
Why is this important? Dolphins (marine mammals) are one of the best sentinel species. What is a sentinel species? This is a species that can provide advanced warning of environmental degradation, harmful trends, and disease. Threats to marine mammals ultimately are threats to humans. Dolphins are also excellent sentinel species because that sweet smile elicits our sympathy and our desire to protect them, and in turn, the oceans.
If you want to help protect dolphins you can:
1. Admire dolphins from a distance.
2. Purchase an EarthEcho Dolphin license plate (participating states).
3. Be an activist against dolphin slaughters worldwide.