Feds decline help with N.J. dolphins

Image: Michael White
New Jersey State trooper Michael White warns boaters to stay clear of a group of bottlenose dolphins swimming in the Shrewsbury River on July 2, in Sea Bright, N.J. Mel Evans / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Federal wildlife officials rejected an offer by four marine mammal groups from Florida to help rescue a group of wayward dolphins whose six-month stay in two New Jersey shore rivers is leading to worries they won't survive the winter.

Teri Frady, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has jurisdiction over the animals, said Friday that the offer was not needed.

"We are not seeking help to mount an intervention and would not authorize others to mount such an attempt at this time," she said in an e-mail.

The Marine Mammal Conservancy, a research and rescue group based in Key Largo, Fla., and three similar organizations had offered to come to New Jersey and remove the remaining dolphins from the Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers.

"I have no doubt that we could do this successfully," said Robert Lingenfelser, who is president of the Conservancy that claims a 63 percent success rate in saving stranded marine mammals. "We want to help, and we know how to help."

Nine bottlenose dolphins were counted earlier this week. Two of the original group of 15 died earlier this year.

Mammal tug-of-war
The dolphins are at the center of a tug-of-war between federal wildlife officials, who've said they plan to leave the dolphins alone unless they appear to be in imminent danger, and animal rescuers who want them either removed or coaxed out of the river and back out to sea.

Rescuers worry that waiting too long could lead to a replay of a 1993 incident in which four dolphins died after lingering in the river. Ice eventually closed in on them and they drowned.

The water temperature in the two rivers Friday was 35 degrees, down from the high 60s when the dolphins first showed up in early June.

In addition to his own group, Lingenfelser said he has commitments from as many as 30 rescuers from other groups, including the Orlando-based Ocean Embassies, which has dolphin transport boxes; Harbor Branch Oceanographic, a marine mammal rescue group from Fort Pierce, Fla.; and Dolphins Plus, another Key Largo group.

Bob Schoelkopf, co-director of New Jersey's Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, welcomed Lingenfelser's offer of help.

"They are very good," he said. "They know what they're doing with these animals. It's better than just leaving them alone to freeze to death."