By Jessica Taylor / Correspondent
January 1, 2021
As the new year begins, I’m reminded of how thankful I am for the many people who contribute to the Outer Banks Center for Dolphin Research and make it possible to accomplish our mission to conserve bottlenose dolphins on the Outer Banks.
When I moved here nearly 14 years ago, I never could have imagined managing a nonprofit organization. My passion for dolphin research and love of coastal North Carolina led me to the Nags Head Dolphin Watch, which at the time also functioned as a research center. After my first year as a naturalist and mate aboard the dolphin tours, the owner helped my husband and I get started on creating a nonprofit organization before moving back to Pennsylvania. We incorporated the Outer Banks Center for Dolphin Research in 2008 and received our 501(c)(3) status from the IRS and General Authorization Permit from the National Marine Fisheries Science Center. And, thus, the center’s mission began.
Building a nonprofit organization and conducting meaningful research to promote conservation seemed like a daunting task in 2008. It wasn’t long, however, before we gained volunteers to help us in the field. These essential contributors have given their time, talents and insight to make our research, fundraising and outreach programs successful. They are integral to our organization.
Each spring, we hold trainings to teach new volunteers how we conduct our field research, refresh veteran volunteers on field protocols, review boating safety, and train volunteers to teach others about dolphin conservation. Over the years, we’ve had overwhelming support for our dolphin surveys, but our volunteers know that one day out on the water is never like another.
If the stars align to give us light winds and fair skies, we may see anywhere from 100 dolphins to zero. (Seventy were seen one beautiful summer day in 2019.) Weather can turn fast and there have been countless times of racing back to the dock, fleeing from wind, rain, or waterspouts, past groups of dolphins whose members we are longing to see but couldn’t stop to observe.
Other times planned excursions may not happen at all due to storms or a boat engine that won’t start. But as anyone who has come out on a dolphin survey and spent time with these truly amazing animals knows, one good day out on the water is worth any number of unexpected delays.
Funding is always a daunting task for nonprofits and 2020 was one of our most challenging years. But thanks to the dedication of our board of directors and with support from local restaurants and businesses, our largest annual fundraiser, the Outer Banks Shrimp Cookoff, was able to continue. (Congratulations to this year’s winners: Sandtrap Tavern, Mama Kwan’s Tiki Bar & Grill, Two Roads Tavern and Freshfit Café!) Adopt a dolphin sponsors as well as sales of T-shirts and our illustrated “Onion” books based on the life of an Outer Banks bottlenose dolphin also provided important funding for research this year.
Outreach is another goal and partnerships with the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island and Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head have helped us with school programs to benefit local Dare County students. Collaboration with the local Coastal Studies Institute has provided us with lab space for our interns to process our photo-identification data and conduct independent research projects that will aid them in accomplishing their goals in the future.
Although 2020 gave us challenges, we have many things for which we are thankful. Going into 2021 and beyond, there is more to learn about the Outer Banks dolphins, more mysteries to unravel, and more to teach others about understanding dolphins and our marine environment.
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.