Hi there! My name is Shelley Dearhart, an Educator at the South Carolina Aquarium. I am reporting to you all this evening, not from Charleston but from Pascagoula, MS where it is currently a rather nice 78 degrees and 10:41 in the evening, 11:41pm EST. I’m writing after a long drive from Charleston, South Carolina to Pascagoula where we have finally ended our journey for the day at a Comfort Inn. I am here volunteering with a crew from the NOAA Marine Lab at Ft. Johnson in Charleston. I applied to volunteer with Charleston researchers for the summer studying bottlenose dolphin abundance and fecundity in local waters. I was selected to help with their studies and began working with this group in May.
As the tragic events in the Gulf began to unfold, research efforts were redirected to the dolphins who would soon be encountering this contaminated environment. The researchers I am working with have already been out to the Gulf several times and have put in so much time and effort to help with this project. I feel extremely fortunate to join them on this trip. The purpose of the research is to identify which dolphins are in the area and are they staying—in a nutshell, what are they doing? In previous trips they have collected biopsy samples to assess contamination levels before and after dolphins are encountering the oil. Researching this type of information is helpful in determining ways to better help and protect the dolphins. In order to participate with this project, I had to complete an online training course through Safety Unlimited. This was a 24 hour course that prepares individuals working in potentially hazardous areas how to protect themselves and stay safe. After all of the training was complete, we hit the road—which brings us to Pasagoula this evening, finally.
Tomorrow we will wake up to meet with some local researchers working to rehabilitate animals affected by the oil and then head down to Grand Isle, Louisiana where we will settle for the next 8-10 days. I am a little unsure of what to expect when we begin our surveys. I obviously know the oil is out there, but I think actually seeing it will be a rather humbling experience. I have been told many dolphins are in our survey area, Barataria Bay, and there have been some sperm whale sightings. Tomorrow will be our first day on the Louisiana coast and Wednesday will be Day One on the water, weather dependent.
I look forward to keeping y’all posted on what we are experiencing out here. I hope you all follow along! Until next time, Goodnight everyone!