By Jessica Taylor
October 2, 2020
The fall is an exciting time, especially for the Outer Banks Center for Dolphin Research. It’s when we typically see large groups of dolphins in the sound, likely due to an influx of coastal dolphins mixing with our well-known seasonal residents.
Many dolphins come into the sound for food, and in the fall, they exploit the abundant food source that the sound provides until the water cools. It’s also the time of year for our largest annual fundraiser, the Outer Banks Shrimp Cookoff.
The idea for the Outer Banks Shrimp Cookoff was formed more than a decade ago during a Wednesday night sailing cruise from Colington Harbor. It started as an effort for local restaurants to raise funds for what was then a new nonprofit to promote environmental conservation in the Outer Banks.
Going into our 11th year of this fundraiser, we have raised money for research vessels, boat engines, and boat fuel necessary for continuing our research. It has also provided funding for outreach supplies and the publication of scientific posters and papers to teach others about dolphin conservation in the Outer Banks.
Every year, people gather at Ocean Boulevard Bistro and Martini Bar in Kitty Hawk to sample the area’s finest shrimp creations, bid on silent auction items donated by local businesses, enjoy music played by a local master of ceremonies, and learn about promoting dolphin conservation.
As we all know, 2020 is a different kind of year, and the event will adjust accordingly. Instead of a cookoff, there will be a Shrimp Crawl. Local restaurants will still compete to prepare the best dishes, and a silent auction will take place virtually. For a cost of $25 per ticket, people can visit up to five local restaurants for a shrimp dish during the first weekend of November. The Outer Banks Shrimp Crawl will showcase the creativity and talent of the area’s finest chefs, while providing a safe atmosphere for a fundraiser that supports local dolphin research.
The annual shrimp event routinely raises $7,000 to $8,000, which represents approximately 70% of the center’s fundraising budget. The event is doubly important this year, as the center was unable to apply for outside grants. Many of its grant applications are based on outreach projects for the public, which were not possible amid COVID concerns.
The need to better understand our local marine mammals is as immediate and pressing as ever. Bottlenose dolphins are important indicators of environmental health and are key to gauging the health of the sound and coastal environments on which much of our local economy depends. The Outer Banks Center for Dolphin Research studies our local dolphin population through boat-based surveys in which we photograph distinctive markings on the dolphin dorsal fins, a technique known as photo-identification.
Every year, we are closer to determining long-term trends in the health and population size of our local dolphins. Even though we won’t gather this fall, people can still enjoy wonderful food and support local dolphin research by visiting some of the restaurants that have made the center’s efforts possible for the last 11 years. Contributions will help support research to unravel the mysteries of the charismatic marine mammals that frequent our waters.
For further information on the fundraiser, visit the center’s website, obxdolphins.org, and the shrimp cookoff/crawl blog, obshrimp.com.
Biologist Jessica Taylor is president of the Outer Banks Center for Dolphin Research. She has a Bachelor of Science in marine science from Rutgers and master’s degree in environmental management from Duke University. She has participated in field research studies of bottlenose dolphins, humpback whales, Steller sea lions and predatory fish in Florida, South Carolina, New Jersey, Alaska and Australia. In 2008, she incorporated the nonprofit Outer Banks Center for Dolphin Research, which is dedicated to conservation of bottlenose dolphins on the Outer Banks. For more info, visit obxdolphins.org.