Dead dolphin near Bon Jovi's house

April 18, 2009 8:44:45 PM PDT
Since winter closed in on a family of dolphins that had been living in two rivers, many observers felt the animals were living on a prayer. On Saturday, the body of another dead dolphin was spotted in the Navesink River just outside the Middletown home of rocker Jon Bon Jovi. If it's confirmed to be part of the group of 16 dolphins that had spent half of last year in the Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers, it would be the sixth to have died.

"We're closing in now on half the population that was there last year now being dead, and I fully expect we'll be seeing even more," said Bob Schoelkopf, co-director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, a nonprofit organization based in Brigantine that tries to rescue and rehabilitate stranded animals.

Schoelkopf had been the strongest proponent of an intervention to remove, coax or scare the dolphins from the rivers, citing two previous instances when groups of dolphins wandered into them, were left to their own devices and died. He said the Shrewsbury runs from north to south and feels like the ocean to the animals, which don't know its a dead end.

On Friday, the stranding center said the Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers, which meet near the mouth of Sandy Hook Bay, were the deadliest spots in New Jersey for large marine animals, with 17 having been found dead or dying there since April 2008. The rivers accounted for nearly 10 percent of the 175 stranding or death calls the center responded to over that period.

Saturday's dead dolphin is the third to surface in the past two weeks. DNA test results are pending on the previous two to determine whether they were part of the pod that created such a stir last year.

The dolphin was spotted in the river behind Bon Jovi's home in an exclusive area where multimillion-dollar homes predominate and where the rock star has hosted political fundraisers for Democratic presidential candidates Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama. Police Lt. John Maguire said the dolphin appeared to have been dead in the water for quite a while.

Schoelkopf added the dolphin's dorsal and pectoral fins had worn down to a pulpy mush, making it difficult to immediately verify whether it was part of the river pod. A bottlenose dolphin's dorsal fin is a unique identifier, almost like a human's fingerprints.

The dolphins were at the center of a tug of war between rescue groups, who wanted them removed from the rivers, and federal wildlife officials, who said that would be too dangerous and decided to let nature take its course.

Teri Frady, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, which has jurisdiction over the animals, did not immediately return a message seeking comment Saturday night. She had said Friday that her agency was committed to acting when it believes an animal is in imminent danger but did not consider the river dolphins to be sick, endangered or out of a typical habitat.

A NOAA scientist said Friday "it would be a stretch" to say there is something about the Shrewsbury that is killing marine animals, adding it is likely that some of the offshore, deep-water dolphins that were found dead there probably died in the ocean and floated into the river with the tides.

The fate of the remaining 10 dolphins is unknown. But the owner and several workers at a restaurant on the banks of the Shrewsbury reported seeing between three and five of the bottlenose dolphins leave the river and head out to the open waters of the bay on Jan. 15, just before the river froze over.

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