BALTIMORE (WJZ) — It’s a sign that summer is on its way. Dolphins, which were once a rare sighting in the Chesapeake Bay, are returning again.

They made a surprisingly big appearance last year.

Researchers at the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science on Solomon’s Island seek out the Bay’s smallest life, and its largest.

Last summer, they unexpectedly heard dolphins.

That led other scientists to go looking, and counting, by studying their unique dorsal fins:

“They have I.D.’d over 500 individuals, and we think probably many more are coming into the Bay, so probably thousands coming into the Bay,” said Dr. Helen Bailey, with the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science.

Sightings last summer prompted the university to start a dolphin watch web site, and a map showing where people were seeing dolphins.

“It seems, like us, they like being in the Bay in the summer,” Dr. Bailey said. “This month, they’re really picking up. We’ve had 16 already this month throughout the Bay.”

Huge groups swim off Ocean City every year, and in the past, few came into the Bay.

But that’s changing, and Dr. Bailey said it’s all about the food supply.

“Mostly dolphins follow the fish, they’re probably following food,” she said.

As dolphin numbers increase, so does hope for a healthier Chesapeake Bay.

“That’s certainly the hope. You have better water quality. You have better fish stocks and you start seeing the dolphins,” she said. “And it’s wonderful to see the whole food chain right through. Now we’re getting from fish, right up the top predators.”

Researchers are asking people to report dolphins sightings to the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science. Click here if you would like to report a dolphins sighting.

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