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Mary Cirincione photographs dolphins during a research survey. - photo by Photo provided by The Dolphin Project

Peach Hubbard is passionate about protecting wildlife and nature in general.
One of the ways she does that is through the Dolphin Project. Her involvement with the group began 12 years ago, when she moved to the area from Roswell, after marrying a Savannah native.
“We got involved with the sea turtle project, and then we discovered the Dolphin Project. We felt like we could do that basically from our backyard, and we’ve been hooked ever since,” she said. “The more I learn about dolphins, the more I see how wonderful they are and how they need to be protected. It’s become a passion.”
Hubbard serves as president of the project, which is the longest-running, all-volunteer group of its kind. Its work focuses on education, research and legislation to promote awareness and protection of the sea mammals. It has about 250 members.
Hubbard said the main focus is research. Once a month, a team works on dolphin identification, which includes counting and photographing. She said each team is comprised of four to eight people, depending on the size of the boat.
“We photograph the dorsal fin, which is comparable to a fingerprint for a human. It’s amazing. The more you look at those fins, the more unique they are,” Hubbard explained. “We are always looking for skippers with boats, photographers with 300mm lenses or larger, team leaders and assistant team leaders.”
After a day of research, data and photographs are sent to Duke University and added to the Mid-Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin Catalog and Ocean Biogeographic Information Systems. Scientists use the global databases to conduct research and health assessments.
“These surveys are serious research, but they are also serious fun because you get to meet people who are like-minded from all over the country,” Hubbard said. “You don’t have to be a marine biologist to do this.”
To join the group, a person must complete two hours of training and some on-the-water training.

The next training is March 21, at 10:30 a.m. at the Richmond Hill Library.

Hubbard said the training addresses many false assumptions about dolphins.
“We aren’t friends with these wild animals,” she said. “These are not Flipper. These aren’t brainwashed, captive dolphins. These are wild animals, they have very sharp teeth and they can bite you. They can be aggressive. Don’t ever touch a dolphin ever. You never know what kind of disease they may be carrying.”
She said disease can pass from dolphins to humans because they are both mammals. The danger is not just to humans. Interacting with dolphins can harm the animals. For instance, feeding dolphins teaches them to beg, which can result in mothers not teaching their young to hunt.
“They need fresh, live prey in order to survive,” She said. “Like all mammals, they need fresh water, and [their fresh water] comes from live prey. If you give them dead fish, hot dogs or chips, it’s not good for them and makes them sick.”
Not only are there health issues to be concerned about, but it also is against federal law to be too close to a dolphin. Legal consequences of touching, feeding, pursuing or harassing dolphins includes fines, prison and boat confiscation, depending on the severity of abuse.
The Dolphin Project has partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other environmental organizations to protect dolphins and other sea creatures from abuses such as those connected with offshore drilling.
Hubbard said sonar and seismic testing, which are used to hunt for oil, kills thousands of whales and dolphins.
“Every 10 seconds 24 hours a day for up to 12 years, it pings the bottom of the ocean floor. The sound severely damages the hearing of whales, dolphins and fish. A deaf dolphin is a dead dolphin. If they can’t find their prey, find each other and can’t ward off danger, they can’t survive,” she said.
“We need to take action to protect our environment and wildlife, especially here on the coast. The environment is so fragile. We can make a difference. It’s been proven before. We need to protect the treasures we have here.”

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