In a Sign of Cleanup Success, Dolphins Are Living and Giving Birth in the Potomac
The body of water that George Washington once called "the nation's river" used to host dolphins in the 1800s, but it had gotten so heavily polluted by the 1960s that wildlife struggled to survive and President Lyndon Johnson called it a "national disgrace." Fifty years of cleanup efforts have paid off, however, and now more than 1,000 bottlenose dolphins have been counted in its waters.
"People actually forgot that there were dolphins in the river because they hadn't been seen since the 1880s and because the river was in poor condition, people weren't seeing them," Potomac Conservancy spokesperson Melissa Diemand told NBC4, as The Smithsonian reported.
Perhaps the most exciting moment for dolphin recovery came in August, when researchers observed one dolphin giving birth in the river. This isn't only big news for the Potomac: It's the second wild bottlenose dolphin birth documented in all of scientific literature, according to the Potomac Conservancy.
Jacoby was following a group of about 50 dolphins in the Potomac River near Lewisetta, Virginia, when she noticed a cloud of blood and shortly afterward a small calf with a "slightly bent and wobbly fin" surfaced and then swam alongside its mother. (At birth, calves' fins are typically completely flopped over to one side).
She is careful to emphasize that what she witnessed is evidence of a birth, as it's difficult to know definitively whether the birth happened right then or very recently. Nevertheless, she says that the newborn was tiny enough and far enough up the river that she feels certain it was born in the Potomac – and that other dolphins are giving birth in the Potomac too!
In an interview on The Kojo Nnamdi Show, experts said the return of the dolphins is likely a positive sign for the health of the river.
"Well, the dolphins wouldn't be coming here if there wasn't something to eat," Potomac-Chesapeake Dolphin Project Director Janet Mann said. "They have to eat a lot of fish, so that means that the fish populations have to be healthy."
Fulfilling my childhood dreams & producing a dolphin show today on @wamu885. 🐬 Listen at 12:30.… https://t.co/wfbg6COVPt— Julie Depenbrock (@Julie Depenbrock)1570462452.0
Mann said the dolphins' presence was not necessarily a sign of warmer waters caused by the climate crisis, since they had been observed in the river in the 1880s. However, warmer temperatures might mean they stay in the river for longer periods of time.
However, the climate crisis is impacting the dolphins in another way. Potomac Conservancy Director Hedrick Belin told Nnamdi that the greatest threat to the river's health is pollution from runoff, and this is worsened by increasingly heavy rainstorms. He mentioned one rainstorm this summer in which almost four inches fell in less than an hour.
"Each rainstorm we have here in the metro region delivers a toxic stew of fertilizer, street oil, plastics in our local streams," Belin said.
But in one respect, researchers have tried to keep the dolphins above the political fray. They are named for political and historical leaders, including former presidents, Congressmembers, Supreme Court Justices and activists, and Mann told The Washington Post that they make sure to draw names from both parties.
"These are the nation's dolphins, in a sense," said Mann.
- To Save Its Bottle Nose Dolphins, New Zealand Banned Swimming ... ›
- 6 Dolphins Stranded on SoCal Beaches in 14 Days - EcoWatch ›
- Brazil's Amazon River Dolphin Faces Extinction After Fishing Moratorium Ends ›
- Singapore Will Plant One Million Trees by 2030 - EcoWatch ›
- Australia to Build the World's Largest Solar Farm to Power Singapore ›
- Giant Water Battery Cuts University's Energy Costs by $100 Million ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Tara Lohan
In 1999 a cheering crowd watched as a backhoe breached a hydroelectric dam on Maine's Kennebec River. The effort to help restore native fish populations and the river's health was hailed as a success and ignited a nationwide movement that spurred 1,200 dam removals in two decades.
Transmission lines from the Churchill Falls generating station in Labrador. Douglas Spott / CC BY-NC 2.0
Atlantic sturgeon were brought to the brink of extension in the 20th century and are now are listed as an endangered species. NOAA
Near Happy Valley-Goose Bay on the Churchill (Grand) River downstream from Muskrat Falls. Douglas Sprott / CC BY-NC 2.0
Construction of the Site C dam in British Columbia in 2017. Jason Woodhead / CC BY 2.0
The Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island is the first U.S. offshore wind farm. Dennis Schroeder / NREL / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
We pet owners know how much you love your pooch. It's your best friend. It gives you pure happiness and comfort when you're together. But there are times that dogs can be very challenging, especially if they are suffering from a certain ailment. As a dog owner, all you want to do is ease whatever pain or discomfort your best friend is feeling.
The excess carbon dioxide emitted by human activity since the start of the industrial revolution has already raised the Earth's temperature by more than one degree Celsius, increased the risk of extreme hurricanes and wildfires and killed off more than half of the corals in the Great Barrier Reef. But geologic history shows that the impacts of greenhouse gases could be much worse.
- Earth Is Hurtling Towards a Catastrophe Worse Than the Dinosaur ... ›
- Are We Doomed If We Don't Curb Carbon Emissions by 2030 ... ›
- Humans Release 40 to 100x More CO2 Than Volcanoes, Major ... ›
By Teri Schultz
Europe is in a panic over the second wave of COVID-19, with infection rates sky-rocketing and GDP plummeting. Belgium has just announced it will no longer test asymptomatic people, even if they've been in contact with someone who has the disease, because the backlog in processing is overwhelming. Other European countries are also struggling to keep up testing and tracing.
Meanwhile in a small cabin in Helsinki airport, for his preferred payment of a morsel of cat food, rescue dog Kossi needs just a few seconds to tell whether someone has coronavirus.