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MERR’s dolphin count preceded with several strandings

BY CASSIE GOTTO
July 11, 2013

Volunteers at the Marine Education Research and Rehabilitation Institute have been busy responding to a number of strandings along Delaware beaches this season.

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A total of 14 dolphins, 5 sea turtles and one whale were attended to by MERR volunteers so far, including a number of young bottlenose dolphins. The number of bottlenose may sound high, but is actually not uncommon in May and June.

An increased storm-surge off the coast led to the push of many of the dolphins to the coastline.

As many of the dolphins were severely decomposed when they washed ashore, determining the cause of death was difficult.

These are a few of the many efforts performed by MERR to collect and analyze data on the local dolphin population, including its annual Dolphin Count, this year to be held on Saturday, July 20, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Volunteers will be stationed at pre-designated observation points running from Fenwick Island to Woodland Beach.   

Results from this count will help to determine population stability in Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in this region.

“We conduct this on a local level and then compare it with past numbers and number of other stranding organizations in the Northeast region that monitor bottlenose dolphin,” said MERR executive director Suzanne Thurman.

This will be the 13th year MERR has coordinated the event, and enlists the help of more than 100 volunteers along the state’s coast.

“Volunteers enable us to provide coverage that we normally wouldn’t have the power to do,” Thurman said. “They are integral in making this a success.”

Thurman said last year’s count brought in exceptionally low numbers, but that was due to lack of visibility and surface water conditions.

“In general, we count about 300 to 400 dolphins during the morning,” she said. She added that this year’s event will be dedicated to the memory of Liz and Lew Dumont. “They have been loyal dolphin counters since the program’s inception,” Thurman said.

All are welcome to participate in the count. For those interested in becoming an official dolphin spotter for the morning, contact MERR Institute at (302)228-5029 or email merrinstitute@gmail.com.

MERR is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to the conservation of marine mammals and sea turtles and their habitat.  MERR is on-call 24/7 to provide response for marine animals that have stranded due to illness, injury or death, wherever they might occur throughout the state of Delaware.