Bay Journal

Dolphins making a splash in rivers near Annapolis

Marine mammals rarely sighted that far up the Chesapeake Bay

  • By Whitney Pipkin on July 18, 2016
  • Comments are closed for this article.
Dolphins swimming in the Magothy River. Sightings have been made this summer in several rivers near Annapolis. (Chris Conner)

Dolphins are a frequent sight for summer beachgoers along the Mid-Atlantic coast, but they’ve been spotted recently far up the Chesapeake Bay – farther, in fact than many can recall seeing them in quite some time.

As I reported in the July issue of the Bay Journal, the marine mammals have become regular summer visitors to the lower Potomac River. Georgetown University professor Janet Mann and several students tallied 200 different animals there in a two-week span last year.

But migratory Atlantic dolphins have been making a splash recently in other parts of the Bay, offshore of Anne Arundel County, MD. Boaters and residents have seen them as far north as the mouth of the Magothy River and in a few other rivers near Annapolis.

Chris Conner, a Bay Journal board member who works in communications for the World Wildlife Fund, said he happened upon a pod of up to 50 dolphins while fishing in the mainsteam of the Bay near the Magothy River on June 30.

“I never thought I’d see these guys so far up in the Bay,” he wrote in an email.

John Page Williams, a senior naturalist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said he thinks the dolphins swam farther up the Bay than they normally do in pursuit of fish on which to feed

“They started appearing a couple weeks ago, and they’re turning up in the Upper Western Shore rivers — pretty much all of them,” said Williams, who spotted a half-dozen dolphins playing near Hillsmere Shores while out on a boat on July 12. 

Others have reported seeing dolphins in the West, Rhode, South and Severn rivers in recent days.

“We are seeing dolphins all through the Severn,” said Fred Kelly, the Severn Riverkeeper, who took their presence as a sign of better water quality, and more fish.

Williams said he grew up seeing dolphins every summer on the lower Potomac River, but he hasn’t consistently spotted them in northern parts of the Bay in decades.

It became clear that locals hadn’t seen dolphins in some time, either, when one of the first few that showed up in the Severn River a couple weeks ago was reported as a shark — along with warnings not to swim.

“We’re all cheered to find out it was a dolphin,” said Williams. “I think it’s a good sign.”

The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, MD, posted a video to Twitter of dolphins surfacing in the Rhode River near one of its field crews on Sunday:

Have you seen dolphins elsewhere in the Bay this summer? Let us know in the comments below, on Twitter @chesbayjournal or on Facebook.

About Whitney Pipkin
Whitney Pipkin writes at the intersection of food, agriculture and the environment from her home base in Northern Virginia. Her work for the Bay Journal often focuses on the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, and she is a fellow of the Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
Read more articles by Whitney Pipkin


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V Richardson on July 25, 2016:

My wife and I have seen dolphins from our dock the past three summers (usually July) off of Ragged Point, VA and Coles Point, VA (Potomac River) swimming in about 10 to 20 feet of water. A wonderful sight for sure!

Dennis McCarthy on July 29, 2016:

Saw two pods of dolphin (3-4 per pod) in front of Knapp narrows entrance to canal about four weeks ago. They swam near our sail boat for 15-20 minutes.

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