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Making Waves: Episode 24 (April 15, 2009)


...Meet the Bay Hydro II, the newest addition to NOAA's fleet ...And a new report documents the first cases of a tropical fungal skin infection on bottlenose dolphins in the coastal waters of North Carolina

It's Wednesday, April 15th. Those stories are coming up today on Making Waves from NOAA's National Ocean Service...

(Bay Hydro)

If you were in Baltimore's Inner Harbor today, you might have caught a glimpse of a new state-of-the-art research vessel named Bay Hydro II, the newest addition to NOAA's fleet.

The vessel was in the harbor for a traditional dedication, sort of a nautical welcome to the fleet - complete with the traditional breaking of a champagne bottle and a cannon salute from the USS Constellation, the last all sail warship built by the U.S. Navy.

It's mission: to collect oceanographic data in the Chesapeake Bay region to help ensure safe navigation and to help protect the environment in our nation's largest estuary.

You can think of Bay Hydro II as NOAA's eyes to the seafloor of the Chesapeake Bay. Information collected by the vessel will be used to update NOAA nautical charts and help coastal managers, biologists, planners and policymakers better understand the Chesapeake Bay.

It's a pretty important mission. The Chesapeake Bay's shoreline (including its islands and tidal wetlands) is over 11,600 miles -- more shoreline than the west coast of the United States.

And it's a major transportation artery in the U.S. It's home to four of the nation's busiest commercial seaports in cargo you know what four? I'll tell you at the end of the podcast. It's a trivia question.

Bay Hydro II will also serve as a hydrographic emergency response unit in the Chesapeake, equipped to provide emergency survey assistance following an Atlantic hurricane or shipping accident that threatens the normal flow of maritime commerce. That helps to minimize delays in shipping, which costs the economy billions of dollars each year - and, of course, getting the shipping lanes open means that supplies can get to hard-hit regions.

The Bay Hydro II joins NOAA's hydrographic fleet of three large NOAA survey ships and six mobile navigation response boats. And you might be wondering what hydrography is...well I'll tell you.

Here's the textbook answer: Hydrography is the science that deals with the measurement and description of the physical features of bodies of water and the land areas that are affected by those bodies of water.

What's important to know about hydrography is what it does for us: hydrographic surveys are used to support nautical charting, port and harbor maintenance (for things like dredging), coastal engineering (for controlling beach erosion, for example), coastal zone management, and offshore resource development.

No matter what the hydrographic survey is used for, the one thing they all have in common is measuring water depth. Most surveys also look at the nature of the sea-floor material (whether it's sand, mud, rock, for instance) because this is usually important to know for anchoring, dredging, structure construction, pipeline and cable routing, and fisheries habitat. And the main use of the hydrographic survey is nautical charting.

And you can download and view nautical charts produced by the Office of Coast Survey at


Now we're going to travel down the eastern seaboard to North Carolina to tell you about a new NOAA study published this month about skin lesions on bottlenose dolphins. While the Office of Coast Survey is mainly concerned with hydrographic surveys in our coastal waters, this next story comes from the ocean service's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. This office is mainly concerned with providing scientific information and tools to our nation's coastal managers. And these tools and information help us to better balance protecting our ocean and coasts with our social and economic needs.

This story starts way back in 2005 when a live bottlenose dolphin was found stranded on the shores of North Carolina. While the dolphin appeared to be in fair health, there were white and gray ulcerous growths on the skin along its back. Then jump forward to May 2008. Once again, an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin with a growth of white and gray nodes over a large portion of its back was spotted swimming in the waters off the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

And most recently, in August 2008, another dolphin was found dead on the North Carolina coast, its skin cracked and ulcerated with the same type of gray and white skin infection.

Well, in a study appearing in the April issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Disease s, an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the National Ocean Service, NOAA Fisheries, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and the University of Tennessee put the pieces of the puzzle together. When analyzing the third case - the dolphin found in August - they confirmed what they suspected ... this dolphin had a chronic fungal skin infection called lobomycosis.

Reports of this type of infection in both humans and dolphins are relatively common in the warmer coastal waters of South America. Cases of lobomycosis have also turned up in waters off southern Florida and the Texas Gulf Coast. But expanding northward.

The new report is part of a larger effort by NOAA to investigate the different types and range of skin disease in dolphins along the eastern U.S. coast. Unfortunately, different types of skin disease are often seen in stranded and free-swimming marine mammals like dolphins all along the U.S. coast. And lesions are often related to bacterial, viral or even fungal infections.

So the research team is now looking into the underlying causes of the skin lesions found in North Carolina, and they're also trying to figure out how factors like water temperature, salinity and coastal land-use might be influencing the infections - are these factors making the infections more prevalent or more severe, for example.

To aid in their pursuit, the research team is now working on a new way to document various types of skin lesions in dolphins based on photographs - a visual classification system.

While it will take a while to develop this new system, it is expected to allow NOAA researchers to more quickly and accurately track and better understand the physical, chemical, and biological factors that influence skin infections in the wild.

Why is this important? Well, understanding shifts in distribution of marine pathogens like the fungus that causes lobomycosis helps scientists better understand current or future health risks that may exist for humans and marine life. It also helps coastal managers and researchers better understand what's going on in the ocean -- and forecast what some of the ecological impacts may be.

So what's learned through this long-term study will help ecosystem and public health managers develop more effective response strategies to threats posed by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other pathogens found in the ocean.


That's all for this week's episode. Now for a brief programming note: Making Waves is now going to come out every other week instead of every week. This change will make it possible to bring you more interviews with NOAA experts, which take a bit more time to produce. And it's going to come out on Wednesdays - it used to come out on Fridays.

So the next episode will come out on April 29th. On the Wednesdays when there isn't a Making Waves, you can tune in to Diving Deeper, the Ocean Service podcast featuring in-depth discussions with NOS experts on a different ocean topic each episode. So now you can get your ocean fix once a week - and you can subscribe to the feeds for each podcast on our site to get them automatically delivered to your feed reader of choice. And you'll find that at

Oh, and the earlier in the podcast we noted that the Chesapeake Bay is home to four of the nation's busiest commercial seaports in cargo volume... those ports are in Philadelphia, Wilmington, Delaware, Baltimore, and Hampton Roads, Virginia.

If you have any questions or comments about this podcast, about our oceans, or about the National Ocean Service, you can E-mail us at And you can always get the latest ocean news at

Now let's listen to the ocean...

This is Making Waves from NOAA's National Ocean Service. See you on April 28th.