Marine mammal experts this week warned anyone seeing dolphins in any of the area’s bays not to fret — the aquatic mammals are just enjoying a delicious feast of fish before heading back to sea.
“We get reports numerous times throughout the summer months of dolphins that are being sighted in the inland bays, including Rehoboth Bay, Indian River Bay and Little Assawoman Bay,” said MERR Institute Executive Director Suzanne Thurman. ”They go in through the Indian River Inlet and, in most cases, they go in there to feed. They’re following the fish in on the current.”
MERR stands for the Marine Education, Research & Rehabilitation Institute Inc. The institute is a non-profit stranding response and rehabilitation organization dedicated to the conservation of marine mammals and sea turtles.
Thurman said the dolphins will take advantage of the shallow waters in the bays to feed.
“Since it’s tidal, as the tide goes out, the fish will often get trapped on the sandbars. The dolphins will artificially strand themselves to roll up on the sandbars to eat the fish and then roll themselves back into the water.”
Once they are done eating, they will head back to the ocean, said Thurman.
People can enjoy the show but should always keep their distance. Federal law mandates a minimum distance of 150 feet from marine life on land and 300 feet in the water.
“If they are idling their motor and the dolphins come close to them, that’s different. But definitely do not pursue the dolphins. That is very dangerous in the shallow waters.”
Thurman also said boaters should try to be cognizant of the possible presence of dolphins and sea turtles while in the bays.
“They stay near the surface and get hit by the blades of the motors, which is also, in most cases, a fatal injury, and, of course, also damages the propeller.”
While dolphins are generally easily sighted, thanks to their fins breaking the surface of the water, sea turtles can be a little more difficult to spot.
“Sea turtles will sleep on the surface of the water, so they sometimes might [show as] a break in the water pattern or something that looks like a lump on the water.
“Of course nobody wants to hit a sea turtle. It’s usually completely accidental. Just keep a careful eye on the water — especially if it’s choppy, when it’s harder to see.”
Thurman said people are always welcome to contact MERR regarding any aquatic mammals or sea turtles that may be in distress or just to report a sighting.
For more information about the MERR Institute, visit www.merrinstitute.org. To reach MERR about a sighting or animal in distress, call their 24-hour hotline at (302) 228-5029.