CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — A local man who was enjoying a morning of fishing at Dutch Gap Conservation Area was briefly wowed by a rare dolphin swimming.
On Wednesday, Eric Harper was fishing from one of the five fishing piers in the 810 acre park located at 341 Henricus Park Road in Chester, just south of the James River, when he saw a single, small, gray dolphin swimming around. He captured on video the sea mammal blowing through its spout and then dive down in the water flashing its dorsal fin.
“Hey! I just saw a dolphin!” he shouted to other people fishing on the pier in disbelief.
While the others on the dock thought it was probably a fish, the fact that Harper saw the dolphin blow air and water, verified to him the category of animal he had seen.
The blow is the sound you hear, and the spray of water you see is produced when the dolphin forcefully breathes out and clears away any water resting on top of his blowhole, according to whales.org. The water spray is not coming from the dolphin’s lungs; it is just water sitting on top of its head around the blowhole being blown away before he inhales.
“People gonna think I’m crazy,” Harper said to himself as he continued to film the water. “But I know what the hell I saw and I hope I caught it.”
Indeed, dolphin sightings at Dutch Gap Conservation Area, which includes a 2.5 mile tidal lagoon water trail which allows exploration by kayak or canoe, are rare. Tidal waters bring residential freshwater as well as migratory fish from the Chesapeake Bay, according to Chesterfield County’s website.
But Mark Battista, Chesterfield County naturalist, said a dolphin in the Dutch Gap Conservation Area is generally unheard of, being so far from Chesapeake Bay.
“I’ve never heard of dolphins going up this far,” Battista said. “We’re 80-ish river miles from the [Chesapeake] Bay. We had manatees four or five years ago. But that’s pretty rare.”
David Malmquist, director of news and media services at Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester Point, Virginia confirmed Harper’s video is indeed a dolphin, based on exhalation from the blow hole and the size and shape of dorsal fin.
He said dolphins in the Dutch Gap Conservation is unusual but not unprecedented.
“Dolphins are fairly common in Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries during summer, but the further up-Bay and upstream you go into fresher waters, the less likely you are to encounter one,” Malmquist wrote in an email.
A Virginia Institute of Marine Science report explains bottlenose dolphins are found in temperate and tropical oceans worldwide.
On occasion the inshore type will enter estuaries and rivers. In Virginia, the inshore form ranges the entire ocean coast, within one mile of shore, and the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries from late spring into the winter.
Stranded bottlenose dolphins have been reported as far north as the Potomac River. In 1980, a lone, apparently healthy, Tursiops was observed 15 miles up Cypress Creek, a James River tributary.
Anyone who sees a dolphin in the region can report the sighting to the group Chesapeake Bay Dolphin Watch, which logged the most sightings so far in the waterways this year during the Fourth of July weekend. In 2021, the Dolphin Watch logged 1,423 sightings.
If you want to report a dolphin sighting, you can click on the link: Chesapeake Dolphin Watch