Marine mammal grants awarded

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service in partnership with the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium has awarded two grants in support of bottlenose dolphin conservation and marine mammal stranding response in the Gulf of Mexico and Southern Atlantic regions.

Geo-Marine, Inc. in Plano, Texas, partnered with Applied Research Associates in Vicksburg, Miss., and Chicago Zoological Society in Chicago were awarded the competitive grants.

Geo-Marine, Inc. and Applied Research Associates received a $53,000 grant, which includes $13,000 in matching funds, to raise awareness of the importance of protecting marine mammals in the Southeast United States through the creation and distribution of smartphone applications (apps).

The apps will identify species of mammals or turtles by asking a series of questions, and according to the answers, it will give directions on how to assist the stranded animal.

Katherine McHugh, Randall Wells and Brian Balmer, all of the Chicago Zoological Society, along with Lars Bejder of Murdoch University in Australia and David Lusseau of the University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom, received a grant for dolphin conservation research in Sarasota Bay, Fla.

The $111,000 grant, along with more than $250,000 in matching funds from the Chicago Zoological Society, will support a two-year project that aims to find out if and how human interactions with bottlenose dolphins contribute to the dolphins searching for food in an unnatural manner. The project will also describe and classify potential sources of food that humans directly or indirectly provide to dolphins and bring public attention to the harmful effects of interacting with dolphins.

Human contact with dolphins can be harmful in more ways than creating unnatural feeding habits. The dolphins can become tangled in or ingest fishing gear and can be seriously hurt or killed by boating accidents. The more dolphins are exposed to humans and boats, especially when they are rewarded with food from the humans, the more likely they are to approach again.