Thursday, August 02, 2007

Virginia volunteers are ready to tackle dolphin count

Three people sat quietly under beach umbrellas, binoculars pressed to their faces. They searched the coastline for even the slightest glimpse of a dorsal fin.

"We've got dolphins approaching from the north. Not in our area yet," said Marian Childress, 65.
"Looks like a big group," replied her husband, Gentry Childress, 63.

Two dolphins became three, then four. Marian Childress recorded the sighting on a sheet of paper.
All along the Virginia coast Saturday, staff members and volunteers with the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team were doing the same as part of the team's 15th annual dolphin count.
Marian Childress scans the water off 88th Street in Virginia Beach on Saturday during the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team’s dolphin count.

About 20 posts were set up along beaches.

The count gives researchers an idea of how many dolphins are along the coast and where they are distributed.

"You sort of get a bit of a snapshot of what the coast looks like in terms of dolphin activity," said Mark Swingle, the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center's director of research and conservation.

About 40 people monitored roughly 20 observation posts along beaches of the lower Chesapeake Bay and southern Virginia coastline.

An added 35 or so observers were spread among several boats, mainly along the Eastern Shore.
They logged dolphin activity in five-minute intervals, also noting how many neonates, or newborns, they saw.

John Spillane, left, and Anne Groth watch for dolphins near 39th Street at the Virginia Beach oceanfront.

The Childresses and fellow Virginia Beach resident Gib Hooker were stationed on the beach just off 88th Street near Fort Story.

The dolphin counters had no time to relax or soak up the rays.

The area around Cape Henry is typically the busiest of the observation posts.

Groups of as many as eight bottlenose dolphins swam by. The Childresses and Hooker, 64, spotted about 50 dolphins in the first hour alone.

"Scientists on the East Coast who study dolphins call this 'Dolphin Disneyland,' "Marian Childress said.

Hattie Brown Garrow, (757) 222-5116,

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"