Wednesday, September 27, 2023

A Dolphin Storm Chaser Visits Baltimore

CBM, Dolphin Spotted In Baltimore’s Inner Harbor After Ophelia

A lot of unexpected things have turned up in the Baltimore Harbor, but it’s not every day a dolphin turns up along the urban waterfront.

A Harbor Point employee sent a photo of a dolphin just off its campus to the folks who run Mr. Trash Wheel, the city’s solar-powered trash interceptor. The photo, shared on Facebook, is getting a lot of attention.

The National Aquarium in Baltimore is keeping an eye on the situation, but has had no other reports about this dolphin yet, says Kate Shaffer, stranding response and triage manager.

Not Baltimore Harbor
DolphinWatch, the citizen science dolphin research program run by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) is aware of the report and photo. Project Coordinator Jamie Testa tells Bay Bulletin that dolphin sightings in the Patapsco River have become increasingly more common over the past two years.

Testa says, “Several have been downriver from the tunnel and/or in creeks to the south like Stoney Creek and Rock Creek and most of the sightings were from July.”

Indeed, DolphinWatch told us earlier this summer that there were more dolphins being spotted further north than usual in 2022 and the first part of 2023.

We asked both Testa and Shaffer whether it’s possible the dolphin could have wandered up to the Inner Harbor as a result of Tropical Storm Ophelia, which brought gusty winds, inches of rain and storm surge to the Chesapeake region.

(Last week we reported on flamingos that wandered far afield of their southern habitat in the wake of Hurricane Idalia. A pair was even found in the Potomac rivershed in Pennsylvania!)

As for the dolphin sighting, Shaffer says, “It is possible that increased water levels could allow animals to access areas they would otherwise not be able to access.”

Testa says dolphins tend to generally “do OK during storms”, so the storm may have been only one of several contributing factors.

It’s not the only dolphin sighting at the Baltimore Harbor in the past few years. You may remember in 2019 that a couple of Port of Baltimore employees captured video of a dolphin calf in Canton. That turned out to be a young Risso’s dolphin, an unexpected visitor to the harbor. According to the National Aquarium, Risso’s dolphins, also called gray dolphins, prefer deeper offshore waters.

Could it have been related to the storm? It's possible, I suppose, but I doubt it. There are just more dolphins in the Bay in the past few years, and they poke into all kinds of different habitats to see if there's something there they want, mainly food. I suspect this one was disappointed and headed out past the bridges pretty quickly. 

I wonder if the photos have enough detail to identify the dolphin should it return in future years. I would be kind of neat to have a dolphin returning to Baltimore year after year, the way Chessie the Manatee returns to the Bay repeatedly.

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