08/28/09 — Goldsboro resident gets rare lesson

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Goldsboro resident gets rare lesson

By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on August 28, 2009 1:49 PM

Richard Cooke and his fishing companions had an interesting learning experience in early August.

While fishing aboard Cooke's 29-foot Regulation, the captain's cousin, Rad Holton, reeled in a 27-inch dolphin. The catch doesn't sound too impressive stature-wise, but it proved enlightening.

The dolphin had a tracking tag.

"Rad was holding it when we noticed a black tag about six inches long," said Cooke, a dentist from Goldsboro. "We looked at it and found a tracking number and a Web site."

Once the anglers returned to the dock, they searched to discover what exactly they had caught. Cooke logged onto the Webpage and learned the dolphin was part of a study conducted by the Dolphinfish Research Program coordinated by marine biologist Don Hammond in Charleston, S.C.

Cooke's dolphin was one of 1,000 fish that were tagged and released in Marathon, Fla., earlier this year. The fish was free for 72 days and traveled 739 miles -- an average of 10.3 miles per day -- during its journey up the Atlantic Coast.

"It was really fascinating to learn about the research that is being done," said Cooke. "I knew that different groups were tagging billfish and even putting radio transmitters in some, but I didn't know that anyone was doing that with dolphin."

According to Hammond, less than three percent of all dolphin that are tagged are ever caught and recorded. So far in 2009, two tagged fish have been caught in North Carolina.

The tagged fish was particularly amusing to Cooke and his crew, who were not targeting dolphin on their trip.

"The funny thing is we were fishing off-shore near an old wreck for Wahoo," said Cooke. "We caught four dolphin that day, which is kind of strange because the best time of the year to catch dolphin traditionally is May and early June."

According to Hammond's data, some dolphin travel as much as 50 miles per day and have an expansive range. The record for the longest release-to-capture travel distance was established in 2005 when one tagged fish traveled 2,500 miles (straight line distance).

After the South Carolina Department of Natural resources completed its initial study in dolphin migration in 2005, Hammond created the Dolphinfish Research Program which has continued to collect data since 2006.

The record of Cooke's catch will add integral data to the program's maps and records. Fall and winter tag recoveries are especially important to Hammond's study, which will determine whether or not dolphin migrate to more southerly waters during the colder months.

Cooke and his fellow anglers were happy to help in the study.

"We fish whenever the weather is good (through) March-October and we have never come across something like this," said Cooke. "We actually thought about going back this weekend, but it doesn't look like the seas are going to cooperate."