Img_0888When the dolphins are out, “It’s just boats, boats, boats parked out there,” says Ruben Nagy of McLoone’s Rum Runner.

Amid rising concern about their safety, a pod of dolphins will be led out of the Shrewsbury River toward open water before the Independence Day holiday if they don’t leave on their own, redbankgreen has learned.

Bob Schoelkopf, director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, says federal and state marine agencies yesterday came up with a plan to “extricate” the dozen or more bottlenose dolphins out of concern that a flotilla of recreational vessels arriving for the holiday would seriously endanger them.

“Unfortunately, there’s a narrow window of opportunity,” Schoelkopf says. “We’re expecting 20,000 or so boats on the water [in the vicinity], so that’s a problem.”

Past efforts to save animals trapped in the waterway haven’t yielded positive results, Schoelkopf says. He cited a 1993 effort to remove dolphins that had spent the summer and fall in the river; an attempt to get them out ahead of a freeze only resulted in the mammals swimming under the ice, where they drowned.

“They’ve never had a happy ending before,” he says.

He declined to say what measures would be taken to induce the dolphins to leave, fearing that amateurs might attempt it on their own.

The National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Coast Guard and marine operations of the New Jersey State Police and state Fish & Game agency are expected to participate in the effort, along with several nonprofits, such as Schoelkopf’s center.

The daily appearances of the dolphins in the Shrewsbury between Rumson and Sea Bright since Father’s Day have been a delight to customers at McLoone’s Rum Runner restaurant, employees say. The animals often frolic just a few hundred feet from the eatery’s outdoor patio, giving patrons quite a performance.

“I keep joking that they’re Tim McLoone’s trained dolphins — shows at 7 and 9,” says restaurant staffer Ruben Nagy.

But the waterway is frequently crowded with boats and jet skis carrying gawkers, raising concern among onlookers and the marine conservationists alike.

“It’s just boats, boats, boats parked out there,” Nagy says. “The Coast Guard comes in and drives them away. They’re doing a great job, but they can’t be here 24 hours a day.”

Many of the watercraft operators are mindful, says Schoelkopf, but “a small percentage of them feel they’re on vacation and they shouldn’t have to move.”

Schoelkopf says it’s unknown why the dolphins are in the river, but he speculates they were heading south from Sandy Hook Bay and made a wrong turn, getting trapped. “In their minds, they’re going south, but don’t know they have to go north again” to reach the open sea.

And despite their apparent playfulness and health, he says the animals are likely stressed out by confusion, and thus not eating enough to remain healthy.

The Cape May County Herald has a story and video of dolphins in the waters off the Wildwoods and Cape May. Every year, it seems, about 600 dolphins return to the area to calve.

Email this story