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Is the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin population still facing health issues?

Photo courtesy: MERR Institute


Last year, the Marine Education, Research and Rehabilitation Institute counted less than 300 dolphins during its annual dolphin count off the Delaware coast. 



A healthy Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin typically lives 45 to 65 years.


MERR Executive Director Suzanne Thurman said this particular dolphin population is still trying to bounce back from an unusually high mortality rate in recent years.


“It would make sense that we’re still seeing the effects of bottlenose dolphins’ unusual mortality of 2013 which really lasted through 2015,” Thurman said. “A large number of dolphins died as a result of a virus that was very contagious and swept through the population. So to see the count go down was not surprising, particularly in terms of the some of the younger dolphins.”


Some dolphins are still suffering from the effects of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill and exhibit ill health to this day. Many have lung conditions or show signs of severe stress. Suffering mothers have given birth to stillborn calves or had pregnancies that do not reach full term.


“If dolphins are experiencing some sort of demise or illness or reaction to toxins in the marine environment, that’s a heads up for humans to pay close attention to ocean health and how that may be impacting swimmers and recreaters and those who interact directly with the water or indirectly with fishing and things of that sort," Thurman saiad.


Results from MERR’s annual dolphin count this Saturday will help them identify the species’ population stability in the region. The group said it does not anticipate a significant increase over the 278 it counted a year ago.


Volunteers will be looking for dolphins at stations from Fenwick Island to Woodland Beach over a two hour period Saturday morning. MERR asks those who wish to volunteer to sign up early so they can coordinate their location. Data collection will happen at over 36 sites along the coast.


To volunteer for the count, contact MERR by phone at 302-228-5029 or email at