CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Near a North Padre Island neighborhood, people enjoy the gulf breeze and a visitor in the water, a dolphin with a friendly reputation. But, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said people are showing up to swim, jump on and ride the mammal, which is against the law.
“This particular dolphin has a chopped off fin so we call him 'Stumpy' and when we were out taking data, we saw four dolphins that fit that description as well,” said Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, Assistant Professor of Marine Biology, Dr. Dara Orbach.
Orbach has researched dolphins for over a decade. She has been at Texas A&M University Corpus since the Fall of 2019.
Right now, she is working on a three-year project to better understand environmental impacts on dolphins.
“Dolphins are very popular here and we have no idea what kind of impact we’re having and how sustainable this population is,” saidDr. Orbach.
Graduate students and 100 undergrad volunteers are helping collect data for the study. Brianna Hurst and Samantha Huiron say they have documented dolphins in the wild.
“First establishing how many there are and where there at is critical to see,” said student Samantha Huiron.
“We’re trying to capture photographs of bottle nosed dolphins here in the bay,” said Hurst.
Dr. Orbach began the research project in 2019 by collecting data a minimum of 4 times a year. She says its been 30 years since dolphins in the Coastal Bend were studied and the research is long overdue.
“The estimate from 30 years ago was 300 dolphins I think there’s over 1,000 dolphins in this population,” she said.
Orbach says the goal is to appreciate and respect dolphins in our area without crossing the fine line between humans and wildlife.
“So us being on the water doing this research is helping save these dolphins," she said.
This is an ongoing project and students are expected to continue gathering as much data as possible. Texas Parks and Wildlife and the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement says it will increase patrols to help protect dolphins. Those caught harassing them could face fines up to $100,000 or prison time.