Disagreement over Dead Dolphins
Do we help our fellow Mammals? As a SCUBA Diver there are times just like in Hawaii where the SCUBA Diver helped untangle the Dolphin from fishing line, that we are asked for help. Clearly the interaction between Donna and the Dolphins was special. Just like when our pets come and ask for help, do we listen?
Donna Van Cleve describes herself as a “best friend” to the three bottlenose dolphins that have been swimming in the Navesink River since the summer.
So it brings tears to her eyes to think that these aquatic allies could meet their demise by a deadly combination of icy waters and bureaucratic red tape.
A Brigantine rescue group says it has been advising a federal agency for months that the dolphins have been in the river and may need help getting out. But National Marine Fisheries Service, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, won’t grant permission for the group to rescue them.
And it baffles residents like Van Cleve, of Middletown, who has been watching her flippered friends since the summer when they came up to her sailboat and started interacting with her.
“I don’t understand why they can’t help us,” Van Cleve said. “It’s really a heartache.”
But officials with NOAA say the dolphins aren’t stranded and human intervention might do more harm than good.
“I completely understand people are nervous seeing animals in there and the temperatures being so cold,” said Maggie Mooney-Seus, a spokeswoman with NOAA.
“We don’t want to risk the animals’ health. With the history of people trying to move dolphins, the success rate isn’t high. It tends to cause more injury and problems than help.”
The Navesink River is a normal habitat for the dolphins, which officials surmise entered the waterway in pursuit of a meal.
Mooney-Seus said the creatures will likely stay in the water as long as there is available food. The federal agency has heard from area fishermen that there are bait fish in the river for the dolphins to eat, she said.
And, she said, fishermen report to the agency that the dolphins are moving freely about the river and aren’t being impeded by ice on portions of the river.
“While there are people that disagree, it is better to leave the dolphins on their own,” she said.
And there are groups that do, in fact, disagree. But without the authorization of NOAA, anyone who tries to move the dolphins could face penalties under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.
“That’s not what I preferred. They’ve been advised of this incident for months on end,” said Bob Schoelkopf, founding director of Marine Mammal Stranding Center, the Brigantine nonprofit group that responds to marine mammals and sea turtles in distress. The center has worked with NOAA in the past to rescue dolphins with mixed success.
Schoelkopf’s group is referring callers to NOAA and a website where the agency listed 29 frequently asked questions.
Schoelkopf said he has heard contradicting information from fishermen on the availability of food for the dolphins. The marine mammals need about 25 pounds of fish per day per creature, he said.
But he warns residents who have talked of trying to feed or rescue the dolphins themselves against doing so. They could face stiff penalties if caught, and might end up chasing the dolphins further up river, where they could get trapped under ice and drown.
There have been plenty of instances of dolphins visiting the Navesink and nearby Shrewsbury rivers, many of which ended in dolphin deaths, Schoelkopf said.
In 1997, a mother and calf found in the river were netted, but neither survived. The mother had a perforated lung from a previous injury and the calf died while rescuers attempted to rehabilitate it.
Another time, Schoelkopf said his team requested permission to herd about four or five dolphins out of the river. But a storm came up before they were able to and the dolphins disappeared, found dead the next spring. Officials suspect they were caught beneath the ice.
That all just adds to the worry Van Cleve has for her chummy creatures, which she visits every day near their normal hangout west of the Oceanic Bridge.
But Friday, she and other dolphin watchers only spotted one fin diving in and out of the water.
“I keep telling myself NOAA is going to come. They’re going to get out,” she said. “But I know they’re not.”