Hey guys, I’m Claire and this semester I’m working with the Outer Banks Center For Dolphin Research (OBXCDR) under my mentor, Jess Taylor. The organization was founded in 2008, by Jess, and it is committed to the conservation of bottlenose dolphins here in the northern Outer Banks.
The dolphins that our research focuses on are the coastal ecotype that mainly inhabits the estuarine waters of the Roanoke and Croatan sounds in the summer months, June through August. To keep track of the population here, OBXCDR photographs the dolphins’ dorsal fins, which are unique to each individual (notches and chunks are taken out throughout a dolphin’s lifetime). Photos are then uploaded to FinBase, a national database developed and sponsored by NOAA to protect and manage our nation’s dolphin population. Photos are collected on dedicated surveys, which happen twice a month, or on the Nags Head Dolphin Watch tours, which only operate during the tourist season. Each time a sighting occurs, we also collect various environmental data such as surface water temperature, wind speed, direction the group is heading, activity state, location, etc.
Now this brings me to my research! I’m studying all the data acquired from 2008 to 2014 to see if there is an upper temperature threshold for the dolphins in the sound (basically seeing if the water ever gets too hot for the dolphins). Although this seems like a simple enough question, not a whole lot is known about whether there is a correlation between water temperature and dolphin numbers.
A lot of my research involves looking at spreadsheets and doing statistical analyses, but I also get to do the fun stuff, like going out on daylong surveys looking for dolphins and photographing them. They really are a charismatic bunch—they love to play and swim in the wake of the boat, sometimes they even jump out of the water or swim on their backs! I also volunteer at local events like the March of Dimes or the organization’s annual fundraising event, the Shrimp Cook Off (all you can eat shrimp for only $20!). There, I get to teach people about dolphins in general as well as my research. It’s a very rewarding experience that I’ll be very sad to leave come December, but who knows, maybe I’ll come back to volunteer next summer!