Rescuer says NJ dolphins may be dead

January 19, 2009 11:29:00 AM PST
The head of a marine mammal rescue group says he's afraid the last five dolphins who have been staying in two Jersey shore rivers since June may be dead. Bob Schoelkopf, co-director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, says increasing ice in the Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers, coupled with the fact that no one has seen the dolphins since Thursday, indicates they may have perished.

Schoelkopf says when he last saw the bottlenose dolphins last Tuesday, they looked emaciated and weak.

"I don't think they're alive anymore," he said Monday. "They haven't been seen since Thursday, and the ice started freezing then. We probably won't see them until the spring when they wash up somewhere.

"The last time I saw them, they were in such a weakened condition, so thin, that I can't see how they would have survived," he said.

A spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has jurisdiction over the animals, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Monday afternoon.

Schoelkopf has been the loudest voice calling on federal wildlife officials to authorize an intervention to get the dolphins out of the river and back out to sea.

But NOAA says trying to coax or scare the dolphin from the river is risky and probably won't work. The agency says it believes the dolphins are trying to expand their habitat - something that shouldn't be interfered with even if it means letting them die.

A pod of 16 dolphins showed up in the two rivers in June, thrilling onlookers as they frolicked in the waves and gorged themselves on plentiful bait fish.

But Schoelkopf almost immediately began calling for a rescue attempt, citing the 1993 case of four dolphins who drowned in the Shrewsbury when ice closed in on them and a rescue attempt that he considers too late actually chased them under the ice.

Dolphins must surface periodically to breathe air.

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