Dolphins found in Monmouth Co. rivers

June 26, 2008 3:37:31 PM PDT
The latest visitors to the New Jersey shore are doing what many tourists do: splashing around in the waves with the kids, and feasting on seafood. But also like many tourists, these ones are getting hassled by the locals, and for that reason, the group of a dozen or so bottlenose dolphins has to go.

Between 12 to 14 dolphins - including at least three calves - have been frolicking in the Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers over the past two weeks, the likely result of a wrong turn inland following schools of bait fish on their journey along the coast.

The dolphins have been drawing crowds along the banks of both rivers, not to mention a flotilla of boats and kayaks that has descended on the area to catch a glimpse of them.

Wildlife officials and volunteers, including the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, are worried that the dolphins could be injured or killed by heavy boat traffic in the narrow waterways, particularly with the Independence Day holiday approaching.

They're working on a plan to coax the dolphins back out to the open waters of Sandy Hook Bay and then the ocean.

"As beautiful as it is to see them, they don't belong here," said Dan Montano of Long Branch, who took his boat out to see the dolphins on Tuesday. "It gets crazy here on weekends; the whole area is inundated with boats. I just hope they can get out."

Capt. Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the state police, said the force's marine unit has been trying to keep boaters away from the dolphins until a rescue plan is approved.

"We're just trying to maintain a perimeter and keep people from getting too close to them," he said.

Boaters can be fined as much as $25,000 for harming or harassing dolphins.

Officials with the stranding center did not return numerous calls seeking comment Wednesday.

Wednesday morning, a group of six dolphins splashed, leapt and dove in the middle of the Shrewsbury River, a narrow waterway between Sea Bright and Rumson. Most boaters kept a respectful distance even as they snapped photos, but some seemed oblivious. A gold powerboat roared at a high speed directly over the spot where the dolphins had surfaced just seconds earlier; fortunately, the dolphins surfaced a few yards away shortly afterward.

Two kayakers drew to within about five feet of the dolphins a few times, paddling away just before a state police boat with flashing lights arrived to shoo marine traffic away.

"It's kind of exciting to see them out here," said Marco Dacillo, a host at McLoone's Rum Runner, a Sea Bright restaurant on the Shrewsbury River where the dolphins have repeatedly appeared.

"We saw nine of them, and three babies. But there's a lot of jet skis and boats."

Kari Martin of the Clean Ocean Action environmental group said the dolphins do not outwardly appear to be stressed.

"They're swimming together, which is a good sign," she said. "But they're not making their way back out to the ocean. There have been several of this species before in the river, not always with good results."

In 1993, authorities tried to remove dolphins that had spent the summer and fall in the river. When the river froze, attempt to shoo the animals out to sea only chased them under the ice, where several drowned.