Wednesday, September 11, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

I appreciate your continued calls and emails on the recent matters under discussion in the column. This week, I’d like to place the politics and the various issues we are involved in under a temporary moratorium and speak to something very local and very personal to many of us.

Bottlenose dolphins are such an iconic feature of the Lowcountry, they cannot be separated from any discussion of our estuarine system or those things about our rivers that each of us feels strongly about. These majestic marine mammals seem to embody much of what we like about our rivers. They are playful, curious, and always seem to be having a good time. Any threat to these lovely creatures is something we all take very seriously.

Last Saturday, Mary and I were a little late meeting some good friends at the sandbar. When we arrived, we were met with the distressing news that a baby dolphin, obviously dead, had recently floated by the sandbar. I’d just been briefed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), that some of our local dolphins had been infected with what amounts to measles, and were likely about to suffer considerable losses. With that in mind, we call the DNR, whose officers arrived within ten minutes. They assessed the situation and asked if they could secure the carcass to our dock until they contacted NOAA and the SC Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Of course, we agreed.

The next day we were contacted by a young woman named Jennifer, who worked with the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. We learned that she had a master’s degree in marine biology from Coastal Carolina and had been with MMSN for some time. She explained that the rare disease that appeared to have infected the small dolphin was sweeping the east coast. What it might be was currently unknown but appeared to be some form of virus. She explained that there was much concern among her colleagues as the dolphins in our area tended to organize into what appeared to be family or small community groups, which would be vulnerable to the virus when or if it arrived in our estuary. This is not to say that all the dolphins exposed to the disease would die, but they would certainly be affected.
With some effort, we managed to help Jennifer get the young dolphin into the bed of her truck to be taken back to the lab for a full necropsy. She assured me that when they had definitive answers to our many questions, she would give us a full report. It goes without saying that when I have a report, you will have a full report as well.

We are, of course, distressed that these lovely mammals are in some jeopardy. If there is a bright spot, it would be that our DNR has some of the best marine scientists in the business, as well as a well developed network of government and academic resources to address this potential disaster. As it so happens, some of these scientists work at the end of Sawmill Creek Road in Greater Bluffton at the Waddell Mariculture Center, under the able leadership of my friend, Al Stokes.

In fact, the 6th Annual “Taste of Waddell” has been scheduled for Sunday, November 10th from 3-7 p.m. This is always an entertaining, informative and well-attended event put on by the “Friends of Waddell” headed up by my friend Dave Harter, who also is the president of the Hilton Head Island Sportfishing Club. For more information, please email Dave at