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PROFESSORS STUDYING SHARK AND DOLPHIN POPULATIONS

January 31, 2001

The Georgetown County Environmental Protection Society (GCEPS) has awarded a $3,000 grant to Daniel Abel and Robert Young of Coastal Carolina Universitys Department of Marine Science for the continuation of their study of shark and dolphin populations in Georgetowns Winyah Bay and surrounding waters. The study was initiated last year with a $10,000 grant from GCEPS.

Since the study began last year, Abel and Young have caught and tagged a variety of sharks in Winyah Bay, including sandbar sharks, blacktips, Atlantic sharpnose, finetooth, and others. By comparing resident and migratory dolphin and shark populations, both in Winyah Bay and in the comparatively pristine North Inlet, Abel and Young, with the help of Coastal students earning undergraduate credit, have begun to establish baseline population data and will ultimately trace long- term habitation trends. This study is also allowing us to begin assessing the impact of humans on these predator populations, said Abel. Our data will be of interest to other researchers studying these species in the United States and abroad.

Dolphins are monitored using a video camera, according to Young. Dorsal fins are photographed from a small boat equipped with a high resolution 8mm video camera. The dolphin is caught on video and tagged according to the individual natural markings and the distinctive outline shape of the fin, said Young. With repeated weekly surveys of the area, a catalogue of fins is developed recording dates, location and behavior. Also, to establish habitat patterns, specific focus groups of dolphins are followed and studied.

Sharks, both juveniles and adults, are captured on longlines, identified, tagged and immediately released, according to Abel.

GCEPS is a local charitable organization whose purpose is to monitor, protect and enhance wetlands, bays, creeks, estuaries and rivers of Georgetown County. It is important that we try to determine the impact we humans have on our coastal resources so that steps can be taken to maintain a reasonable balance between Mother Nature and the human presence, said Brooks McIntyre, president of the organization.

Abel, senior instructor of marine science, joined the Coastal faculty in 1994. He earned a Ph.D. in 1986 from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego. Abel has published many scientific articles on sharks and tropical air-breathing fish, and co-wrote the recent textbook Issues in Oceanography, published by Prentice Hall in 2000.

Young, associate professor of marine science, joined the Coastal faculty in 1992. He earned a bachelors degree in biology in 1986 from the University of Virginia and a Ph.D. in biological oceanography from the University of Rhode Island in 1992. He has served as president of the South Carolina Marine Educators Association.