Dolphins_bridge2DolphinleapWith a clear shot at the Highlands-Sea Bright Bridge — the gateway to Sandy Hook Bay — the dolphins instead chose to extend their stay in the Shrewsbury River late Sunday afternoon.

Two weeks later, they’re still here.

The pod — or pods, depending on who’s talking — of an estimated 15 to 20 dolphins that showed up in the Shrewsbury River on Father’s Day continued shuttling back and forth between two bridges through the weekend.

All the while, they feasted on the ample supply of Atlantic menhaden in the waterway, according to a marine mammal specialist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

A NOAA spokeswoman told the Asbury Park Press yesterday that there was no change in the dolphins’ status. That status, according to earlier reports, was healthy and behaving normally.

From a NOAA press release issued Friday:

“The animals appear to be in good body condition, they are socializing, and do not appear to be in distress,” said Annie Gorgone, a marine mammal specialist from the NOAA Fisheries Service laboratory in Beaufort, N.C. who observed the dolphins today.

Experts are concerned, however, that one or more members of the pod, which is believed to include a couple of yearlings, might get struck by a boat or jet ski, especially as the number of vessels swells over the coming Independence Day holiday.

With help from the marine unit of the New Jersey State Police, they set up a 50-yard ‘don’t enter’ zone around the animals, and have repeatedly noted that violators may be subject to large fines and immediate vessel confiscation.

But enforcement of the zone hasn’t been continuous. Neither the NOAA boat nor a State Police boat that had been the water previously was out late yesterday afternoon.

Fortunately for the dolphins, more boaters seem to be giving them a wide berth than previously. For more than an hour yesterday, redbankgreen observed as the dolphins swam within a quarter-mile of the Highlands-Sea Bright bridge. Most of the motor boats reduced speed or cut power to let passengers gawk at the visitors, though one or two ventured well into the 50-yard perimeter. A kayaker and a jet skier also entered the zone.

Any notion that the boats were preventing the dolphins from making a northward run under the bridge into Sandy Hook Bay and out to their customary home in the ocean appeared to be dispelled, though, when the gawkers vanished for a time. The dolphins, within easy range of the passage, continued feeding before heading south again toward the Rumson-Sea Bright Bridge.

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