By COLLEEN CURRY
Beachgoers were not the only ones invading the Jersey Shore this weekend, as a pod of bottlenose dolphins was seen swimming and jumping up and down the Shrewsbury and Navesink Rivers.
But authorities are concerned that gawkers in watercraft may get too close to the pod of deep-sea mammals.
“The juveniles in the pod have never before seen land, and the boats and jet-skis are very threatening to them,” Bob Schoelkopf of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine tells redbankgreen.
Boats and beachgoers alike crowded the edge of the river near McLoone’s Rum Runner, where the dolphins congregated most of Saturday afternoon.
“It’s very unusual for this time of year,” said Maggie Czarnezki, an employee of Sands Beach Club. “We just noticed them today, and we have no idea why they are here.”
A Sea Bright resident who’d been watching the mammals from his riverside home told redbankgreen he’d counted eight of them. “They swim up and down the river” between the Rumson-Sea Bright bridge and the Route 36 span from Highlands to Sea Bright, and sometimes venture ito the Navesink, he said.
Schoelkopf, though, said there are somewhere around 12 or 15 animals in the pod, which has been in the vicinity for about a week.
“We can never get a solid count because they’re never all above water at once,” Schoelkopf said.
And while he doesn’t know why they’re here, “they’re not stranded, they are free swimming,” he said.
The onlookers drawn by the unusual appearance is of concern to authorities. Over the weekend, the New Jersey State Police were on the scene, patrolling in two boats to keep jet skis and other vessels away.
“We don’t know if they’re confused or what, but they seem to get more confused by all the vessel traffic,” said Sgt. Robert Pohida of the State Police Newark Marine Station, which was handling the situation. “We’re going to try and keep the boats a safe distance from them, and then just wait and see what happens.”
With the nearing of the Independence Day holiday, experts are particularly concerned. The National Marine Fisheries Service and other authorities, including Schoelkopf’s nonprofit operation, have a conference call scheduled for 1p today to draw up an action plan.
In the meantime, “the National Marine Fisheries Service Law Enforcement Branch is up with them and will be issuing summons for harassment to dolphins which can be up to $25,000 fine per boat,” Schoelkopf said. “This means whenever the dolphins have to divert their path or turn around to get away from the boats, that is harassment.”
The dolphins, he said, “are unfamiliar with vessels, and they are just getting more confused. So we’re asking that people look from land, and keep boats out of the water.”