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Dolphin count numbers show Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin holding up after deadly virus

Photo courtesy: MERR Institute

Volunteers counted fewer dolphins surfacing in Delaware waters during this year’s annual dolphin count compared to previous years, but that doesn't mean the population is in trouble.

They tallied 246 dolphins between Woodland Beach and Fenwick Island this year. In 2016, they counted 285.

Suzanne Thurman, the executive director of the Marine Education Research and Rehabilitation Institute said the MERR Institute had seen a small uptick in the numbers in the last three years, and she’s not sure what this year’s drop could mean for the population.

"I like to be optimistic. And it’s not a drastically low number so I’m not alarmed. The visibility was relatively good during the count, because that can be a big factor in terms of whether we’re actually seeing the dolphins that are out there," Thurman said.


Back in 2013, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared an Unusual Mortality Event for the species, which means they called for a reason to investigate an unexpected uptick in strandings. They determined a virus caused a decline in the population.


Thurman says before the virus hit, MERR volunteers would see as many as 450 dolphins during the annual count.

Now, she said, they haven't seen a big enough increase in the species' numbers to say it has bounced back from the virus yet.


"The dolphins haven't had time to bounce back after the 2013 UME because we have to wait for the young ones to reach sexual maturity," Thurman said.

"So what these numbers mean to me is basically that the population is holding its own at the new lower population numbers."


She said MERR volunteers only responded to five dolphin strandings along the coast this year, which is not necessarily a good thing. It could mean there are fewer dolphins out there.

The dolphin count is an informal population census that MERR shares with NOAA to look at trends in the data for the species.

This is the 14th year MERR has done the dolphin count in Delaware. Thurman says they received a lot of response from volunteers who wanted to participate, leading them to cap participation at 100.

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