The Potomac-Chesapeake Dolphin Project studies the common bottlenose dolphins that visit the waters near the mouth of the Potomac River. This area is rich with history, has a vibrant local community, and impressive wildlife. Read below to learn more about our field site.

Location

The Chesapeake Bay, whose watershed spans ~64,000 square miles and is home to over 17 million people, is our nation’s largest and perhaps most iconic estuary. In fact, it was John Smith’s 1608 writings about the Chesapeake that lured many English settlers to North America. Our current research focuses only on a small portion of this expansive estuarine system, an approximately 37 km² area near the mouth of the Potomac River. Click on the top left corner expandable icon to see some of the locations of our dolphins sightings, our transect lines (area we cover), and the pound nets in the area. Clicking on a dolphin name or icon will bring up information about the sighting!

Research Base

Nestled back in the woods off the shores of the Northern Neck of Virginia, our research base is our home when we are down south for data collection. We can accommodate a team of up to 5 people, but this is limited more by space on our research vessel rather than our accommodations. If the weather is good, we hope to spend very little time here; we want to be on the water! However when the wind is howling and the rain is pouring, we cozy up for some hot drinks and data entry. 

Our research base, back in the woods of the Norther Neck of Virginia. Photo by Desirae Cambrelen.

Our research base, back in the woods of the Norther Neck of Virginia. Photo by Desirae Cambrelen.

The set up when we can't get out on the water: data entry in the sunroom. Photo by Kate Jin.

The set up when we can't get out on the water: data entry in the sunroom. Photo by Kate Jin.

Research Vessel

Smith Point Marina marine gas station. Photo by Meg Wallen.

Smith Point Marina marine gas station. Photo by Meg Wallen.

Our research vessel is a center console 2008 May-craft 1800 Skiff fitted with a 90 hp Yamaha 4-stroke engine. Her name, Ahoya, combines Georgetown University's mascot (Hoya) and the maritime saying Ahoy! So far she has been a reliable little boat, and has proven herself a few times in rough seas. She is simple. No fancy stereo or the like, but she is fully equipped with the latest safety gear (thanks West Marine!), and has plenty of storage, a durable build, and great deck space which is a huge plus for photographing dolphin dorsal fins. She can handle a crew of five people, but that gets a bit crowded; we prefer four. When she is not in use, she resides on her slip at Smith Point Marina, which provides easy access to our field site and gas, or might be at Jett's Marine getting serviced. During the winter months, we keep her safe in a garage at Georgetown University.

Meg Wallen (left) and Eric Patterson (right) heading out from Smith Point Marina to the study area to run transects. Photo by Desirae Cambrelen.

Meg Wallen (left) and Eric Patterson (right) heading out from Smith Point Marina to the study area to run transects. Photo by Desirae Cambrelen.

Wildlife

While we focus our research on dolphins, our field site is rich of other wildlife, most notable many impressive bird species. Below are a few shots we were able to capture from our research vessel, in between dolphin surveys.

An osprey (Pandion haliaetus) sitting atop its nest on one of the channel markers in the Little Wicomico River. During our 2015 field season, we were greeted everyday by the side to side head-bob of this beautiful guy. The pair had two chicks. If you look closely, you can see the head of one. Photo by Eric M. Patterson

An osprey (Pandion haliaetus) sitting atop its nest on one of the channel markers in the Little Wicomico River. During our 2015 field season, we were greeted everyday by the side to side head-bob of this beautiful guy. The pair had two chicks. If you look closely, you can see the head of one. Photo by Eric M. Patterson

Brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) sitting on the posts of pound net. These tricky birds sometimes look like dolphins diving, even to the trained eye! Photo by Eric M. Patterson

Brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) sitting on the posts of pound net. These tricky birds sometimes look like dolphins diving, even to the trained eye! Photo by Eric M. Patterson

A bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) soaring overhead right in front of our research base! During our 2015 field season, this bird and its mate had a nest somewhere in the trees nearby. We saw this beauty after a survey with >40 dolphins! Little did we know the next survey that day would have even more! Needless to say, it was a crazy day. Photo by Meg Wallen

A bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) soaring overhead right in front of our research base! During our 2015 field season, this bird and its mate had a nest somewhere in the trees nearby. We saw this beauty after a survey with >40 dolphins! Little did we know the next survey that day would have even more! Needless to say, it was a crazy day. Photo by Meg Wallen