CNN Environment

Dolphin mouth

Keeping tabs on bottlenose dolphins

Volunteers do their part to keep the species alive

December 22, 1995
Web posted at: 5:10 a.m. EST

From Correspondent Sharon Collins

OFF THE COAST OF GEORGIA (CNN) -- To many people, dolphins are among the most lovable creatures in the ocean. But during the late 1980s, an estimated 50 percent of the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin population died. That tragic die-out is something a special group of volunteers is trying to keep from happening again.


Participants in The Dolphin Project are keeping tabs on bottlenose dolphins along the South Carolina and Georgia coasts. The specially trained volunteers spend several days a month searching for them in the open sea. (757K QuickTime movie)

"The whole point of doing the photo research is to establish what we call residency," says volunteer director John Schacke. "And that's to identify the population (of dolphins) that lie in these waters -- the homeboys -- as opposed to the transients." (162K AIFF sound or 162K WAV sound)

Dorsel fin

During the dolphin expeditions, each volunteer crew photographs as many dorsal fins as possible. The fin is like a human fingerprint. Later, the fin pictures allow researchers to identify families and understand behavior patterns.

Bill and Mary Deloache are just two of the volunteers who devote days at a time to their love of the dolphins. They say they've seen an overall decrease in the fish population, and fear that one day, the dolphins could disappear as well. Participating in The Dolphin Project is one way of doing their part to keep the playful creatures alive.


"This is one way, I feel if the dolphins start decreasing, you can bet everything else is gonna start decreasing," says Mary Deloache. "And we need to take care of it."

The Dolphin Project is the largest volunteer group collecting data for the National Marine Fisheries Service. It would cost the government tens of thousands of dollars to duplicate the effort of the volunteers. But these unpaid researchers seem to find reward enough in their priceless encounters.

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