Dock of the Bay

Vol. 8, No. 42
Oct. 19-25, 2000
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Anne Arundel County Hunts a Killer:
Stalking Rabies

Out there in the woods, a killer lurks. It's not human or animal or, according to some, even alive. Nor can it be seen. But, experts say, it can be stopped.

In Anne Arundel County and up and down the East Coast - from Florida to the Canadian border - the hunters are closing in. Armed with an extraordinary new weapon, from the air and on the ground, the hunters chase it out of towns and across vast stretches of wilderness. Ultimately the killer is surrounded, corralled, squeezed - first into a corner, then out of this world.

The hunters are teams of epidemiologists, veterinarians, public health officials and wildlife experts. The killer is rabies; the weapon, a vaccine.

Last August, Carolyn Stearns, of Deale, faced the killer. During a quiet walk on the waterfront, she and her dog were attacked and bitten by a rabid raccoon. The raccoon was beaten off by neighbors, but both victims endured weeks of treatment.

That attack underscores a chilling statistic: In 1998, Anne Arundel County saw 73 reported cases of animal rabies, leading the state. Most were rabid raccoons. The disease has ravaged Maryland wildlife and alarmed residents since sweeping through the state in the mid 1980s.

Now raccoon rabies has been stalled in part of Anne Arundel County - the Annapolis peninsula - and its hunters, the Anne Arundel County Health Department, are expanding their reach to Gibson Island.

Their weapon is sandwich-sized fishmeal bait impregnated with Raboral

V-RG, a genetically engineered oral vaccine that targets the strain of rabies found in raccoon populations in the eastern United States.

Spread by air over wilderness or placed by hand in populated areas, the pungent bait attracts nearby hungry raccoons. When a raccoon bites into the bait, a packet containing liquid Raboral

V-RG ruptures, releasing the vaccine into the animal's mouth.

Baits are spread in October, when raccoon families are out foraging in preparation for their winter sleep. For the Annapolis peninsula project, health department staff spread one bait for every 2.5 acres. This third annual round of baiting began this week, by helicopter and on foot.

Only one rabid raccoon was found on the Annapolis peninsula last year, after two years of spraying. In past years, Anne Arundel County has led the state in reported rabies cases, many on or near the peninsula. Like Annapolis Neck, natural water barriers make Gibson Island a good place to control the disease and evaluate results.

Elsewhere, hunters are flush with success.

"Rabies is so low it's invisible if not removed entirely," said Dr. Kenny Mitchell of Florida's Pinnellas County Department of Health, who started a baiting program five years ago in the densely populated coastal county after a sudden rabies outbreak.

Other states using Raboral V-RG in oral vaccine programs include Ohio, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont and Virginia. In Texas and Canada, another variety of oral vaccine is used to fight the canine rabies strain spread among wild coyotes and foxes. While the vaccines differ, the method are the same.

Raboral V-RG was developed in Europe to fight fox rabies. It delivers its punch by way of the vaccinia virus - once used to wipe out smallpox - which has been grafted with just enough genetic information from the rabies virus to trigger immunity.

Oral vaccines like Raboral V-RG have shown such promise in large-scale wildlife inoculation programs that public health officials are predicting - although cautiously - the eventual elimination of the disease from the United States and even the planet.

"If we can put up effective barriers then pull those barriers in, we can eliminate the strain instead of living with it," said Dr. Donald Lein of Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

-Don Kehne

In Passing: Douglas Dodd, 1947-2000

Doug Dodd would have been tearing up rockfish on our Bay Weekly-Bill Burton fishing expedition last weekend - had he not been lured away by the Potomac River. Last spring, Dodd and his wife Mary bought their dream home at Colonial Beach, and since then, they've been spending every weekend in early retirement on the big river.

We missed Doug on our wildly successful day of fishing. We liked his irrepressible smile, as if he were waiting for the bang from the joke he'd just laid. We liked the way he let work and worry go for the pure pleasure of being on the water. We liked him for giving Darcey Dodd, our writer, 'paid leave' from the family business, Western Shore's Mechanical, to learn the trade of journalism. In fact, we liked his whole family. Daughter Danielle, son-in-law Randy and grandson Randy Jr. had fished with us. Father William and mother Virginia had appeared in our pages in the 1999 story on lottery winners, "Struck by Luck."

In a word, Doug Dodd was one of the Bay Weekly family. Without him, we'd be less than we are.

So we join the Dodd family in mourning the man of their family. For Tuesday, October 10, while fishermen on our trip were dining on their rockfish and bluefish and trout, Doug Dodd, 53, fell to a massive heart attack, at his home, with his wife of 33 years at his side.

Family have asked that donations be made to the Potomac River Conservancy (703/276-2777), to enhance and protect his beloved river.


Q's and A's about Autumn's V's

Those vees of migrating birds are a lovely sight as they slide across the pale blue sky in these crisp, crystal-clear days of early fall. Sometimes they fly in perfect lines, straight as an arrow. Other formations are still shaping up, the lines a bit wobbly, with maybe a lone straggler frantically flapping its wings as it tries to catch up.

These days we watch in wonder at one of the miracles of nature. The vees are an inspiring sight, but they raise questions, too.

Q Why the vee?

A The lead bird, a powerful individual, cuts the wind and makes flying easier for the two on each side. The same thing works back along both sides of the vee.

Q Which species fly in the vees we see?

A Mostly waterfowl, ducks and Canada geese. Shore birds, such as plovers and sandpipers, are smaller and fly at lower altitudes, so they don't need a windbreaker ahead of them. They don't form vees.

Q Where did they come from, and where are they going?

A Many of them summer in the Arctic and subarctic and fly to the southern states, Mexico and South America.

Q How do they know where to go, and how do they find their way back in the spring?

A Just like Columbus, they rely primarily on the North Star, the only star that stays in place all night. They fly away from the North Star in the fall and toward it in the spring. A back-up system seems to be a concentration of magnetite, an iron ore, in their brains, so that they can detect the strength and direction of earth's magnetism. (Columbus used magnetite, too, in the form of a lodestone compass.)

Q How do we know about magnetite in birds?

A Biologists have found it in the brains of pigeons, explaining the directional skill of carrier pigeons. Also in the bobolink, known as a long-distance flyer. A British researcher maintains that humans carry magnetite and can detect earth's magnetism, possibly explaining long-distance migrations of primitive peoples in prehistoric times.

Q Do migrating birds ever make a mistake and fly the wrong way?

A Absolutely. A stormy fall in the 1940s caused a European robin-like bird called the fieldfare to wind up in Greenland, where it established a permanent colony. And milder winters and a wrong turn in the 1940s and 1950s caused a little warbler called the blackcap to settle in England instead of migrating to Africa.

Q How long does it take the birds to make the trip?

A Days or in some cases weeks.

Q Do they stop en route to eat and sleep?

A Generally yes, so stopover areas in wetlands and shorelands are essential. But plovers and sandpipers must fly nonstop to Africa. A little warbler called the blackpoll (which weighs only 12 grams - about as much as two nickels) flies four or five days nonstop to South America. In preparation, it eats a lot and triples its weight over two or three days. It starts out as just a little ball of fat.

Unlike airline pilots, some birds can "sleep" while they are flying at night, by shutting down about half of their brain activity and flying on a sort of automatic pilot system. Scientists don't yet know how this works.

-Richard Dudman

Dudman is the retired Washington bureau chief of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, his newspaper for 31 years. In one of his famous reporting adventures, he was captured by enemy forces in Cambodia while covering the Vietnam War in 1970 and held for 40 days. He lives and writes in Ellsworth, Maine. The article above appeared as an editorial in the Bangor Daily News.

Volunteers Helped Save the Bay at Boat Show

Oysters displaced crabs as the talk of the Bay at Chesapeake Bay Foundation's booth at the U.S. Sail- and Powerboat shows. There some 40 Bay-loving volunteers joined staffer Heather Hetzeck to spread the word of the Bay's plight.

The Foundation's State of the Bay Report 2000 rates the Bay's health as a 28 on a 100-point scale. The concern of citizens represented at the Boat Shows rose higher. Oysters scored the report's lowest grade, a mere 2, indicating their sorry state.

Armed with copious pamphlets detailing the Foundation's Bay-saving programs, the volunteers chatted about how each person can help to improve the health of the Bay. A micro-ecosystem of Bay life including oysters, crabs, eels and assorted small fishes lured people to the booth.

People happily shared their stories of the Bay's fitness. A southern Virginian remembers when his 82-year old mother said she would like to eat some oysters, and he could reply, "around here, everyone digs their own." That was 12 years ago and the last time he remembers oysters being dug.

"I miss the oysters. I miss eating them myself," noted another boat show-goer from Hillsmere. He recalled donning his diving gear and venturing to a nearby reef to "pick his own." That was at least a decade ago. Every few years he swims out to check, but as of yet, he has not seen a recovery.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation encourages Bay lovers to help with that recovery. Through their Oyster Corps, people on brackish water can raise oyster gardens. New gardeners go to workshops to learn how to grow oysters, then care for their crop for a year. Then the oysters are returned to mature in the Bay.

Other signs of health were reported by sailors from Southern Virginia who saw two dolphins playing at the mouth of the Bay. On another trip, they encountered a loggerhead turtle.

The Foundation's goal is to reach a Bay fitness index of 50 by the year 2010.

-Kathy Flaherty

More Miles of Scenic Byways for Fall Touring

Close your eyes. Relax. Travel west from salty-air beaches and quaint fishing villages. Pass historic mansions and lighthouses, pastures dotted with black-eyed Susans, cool mountain streams and rolling mountains blushed with lush green forests where black bear once ruled.

Sound tempting?

For centuries Marylanders have traveled established paths across the state. These roads not only offer beauty and diversity but also have a story to tell. Many stories.

In time for millennial autumn touring, 31 roads - accounting for 1,800 miles - have been named Maryland Scenic Byways. Bay Country hit the jackpot with the longest total mileage: seven routes, 317 miles.

"Each and every one of these scenic byways has its own unique story to tell and place in our state's history," said U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes on announcing the new byways. "With these designations, we are not only taking a major step forward to promote public awareness, we are also helping to boost tourism and improve the quality of life for the residents of our great state."

A work in progress under the State Highway Administration since 1988, Maryland Scenic byways has expanded from a 432-mile main scenic route from Oakland in Western Maryland to Ocean City with spur routes, to include local tourist attractions and complement the National Scenic Byways. Most Marylanders have a scenic route in their county.

Close to home, five Scenic Byways run through Anne Arundel and Calvert counties:

30 miles of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
Planned in the 1920s and built between 1942 and 1954, the Parkway is considered the ceremonial route into the nation's capital. This 30-mile, 30-minute tour carries you though Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties and Baltimore City. The Baltimore Civil War Museum or the National Aquarium could round out this excursion.

The Anne Arundel Colonial Tour.
Running through several parts of Annapolis on various roads, including routes 2, 468 and 256, the 40-mile, one-hour tour takes you through Annapolis, London Town, Shady Side and Deale, celebrating the region's maritime and colonial history. Side-tour to the Bannecker-Douglass Museum or Londontown House and Gardens.

The Western Shores Beaches Tour.
Running from Friendship in Anne Arundel south to Calvert's Route 263 and the Route 2/4 junction. This 17-mile, 30-minute tour follows the eastern edge of the two counties and the Bay. Quaint beach communities and the Chesapeake Railway Museum await you.

The Chesapeake Beach Scenic Drive.
Running through Anne Arundel and Calvert counties, this 20-mile, 40-minute drive highlights historic communities and areas along the way. Historic Lower Marlboro makes a nice stop.

The Calvert Maritime Tour.
The 25-mile, one-hour drive through Calvert County carries you from the Patuxent River via Route 231 to Route 2/4 and south to Solomons Island. Jefferson Patterson Park and the Calvert Nuclear Power Plant are likely stops.

To help navigate the byways, a map and a 191-page book describe the historical significance of the 1,800 miles of Maryland Scenic Byway. Each byway is marked with a large sign similar to the welcome signs at the state's borders. Below each Maryland Scenic Byways, a smaller sign indicating that specific byway with the famous black-eyed Susan logo.

"It's all about Maryland's heritage," says highway spokeswoman Lora Rakowski. "Each road either has historic significance or takes you to a historic site."

If you want to head out of Bay Country, try either of the two byways seeking National Scenic Byway status:

Maryland's section of the Historic National Road, the nation's first federally funded highway, which runs from Baltimore City to the western state line, a 170-mile, five-hour drive.

Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway, two Eastern Shore routes, one from Chesapeake City to the Bay Bridge; the other following Route 50/301 from Crisfield through Eastern Shore counties. A 178-mile. four-and-a half-hour drive.

Want mountains? There are two choices. Try the Catoctin Mountain Loop, a 52-mile, one-and one-half hours route through Frederick and Washington counties or the Savage River Road, a 23-mile, 30-minute ride through Garrett County.

History? Take the Civil War Battlefields for 85 miles and two hours through Frederick and Washington counties or the Religious Freedom Tour, a 150-mile, three-hour tour through Charles and St. Mary's counties.

Let the adventure begin on a Maryland Scenic Byways.

For the free Scenic Byways Map and book, call 877/Mdbyway.

-Connie Darago

Way Downstream ...

In Virginia, we're counting down the final days of overfishing the threatened horseshoe crab for conch bait. The U.S. Department of Commerce ordered the entire Virginia industry shut down by Oct. 23, after the state continued to defy harvest limits shared by Maryland and other mid-Atlantic states for the ancient pith helmet-like creatures ...

In Northern California, the spotted owl seldom halts clearcutting these days, but topless women apparently do. On Sunday, four women bared their souls in poetry chanted to loggers, and then they bared more than that. One of the women, Dona Nieta, who is know as 'The Tiger,' said, "I think it was quite effective because we stopped them in their tracks a couple of times. Poetry is powerful and, it turns out, breasts are pretty powerful, too" ...

In Finland, fishermen demonstrated last week at a 250-year-old festival that there's more than one way to pickle a herring. According to the Associated Press, the Finnish fishermen put 25 flavors of herring out for tasting, from garlic and chili to sherry and licorice ...

Our Creature Feature comes from Los Angeles, where a gorilla named Evelyn had an excellent adventure. Visitors to the Los Angeles Zoo were startled, to say the least, when they saw Evelyn running loose on the grounds last week. They were evacuated as zookeepers figured out what to do.

Evelyn, who weighs nearly 300 pounds, seemed happy just hunting lunch, especially apples and bananas. She was probably surprised when someone aimed a tranquilizer gun at her. The drug took hold while Evelyn was in a restroom. She was clever, but apparently Evelyn doesn't read: It was a men's room.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly