By SUE MORGAN
Save the airfare and the money you would have blown on souvenirs if it’s a dolphin show you want, Sea Bright is the place to be.
Since June 15, when a pod of 15 to 20 Atlantic bottlenose dolphins first flashed their fins in the Shrewsbury River, growing pods of spectators have been gathering along the riverbanks to catch a glimpse of the unexpected visitors before they swim out to sea.
While the dolphins feast on the menhaden believed to have lured them into the waterway, human visitors are fueling an economic boon and public relations campaign completely unforeseen by town leaders, said Mayor Maria Fernandes, giving a boost to riverside eateries such as McLoone’s Rum Runner, Gaiters and Something Fishy.
One Ocean Avenue restaurant and lounge, the Riverside Café, even advertises on its roadside marquee that patrons can watch the dolphins from its outdoor deck.
“As far as Sea Bright goes, we love them,” Fernandes said during Tuesday night’s Borough Council meeting. “It’s brought positive press and a lot of attention to the town.”
The media attention has been like chum on the water, luring many first-time visitors and others who’ve bypassed this tiny spit of a town for decades. One man from north Jersey told redbankgreen he’d made his first visit to Sea Bright in 30 years specifically to see the dolphins, even though such sightings are common down in his usual summer destination near Wildwood.
“I figured I’d stop by,” he said.
Calls from media and the curious have come from as far away as Florida and Georgia, Fernandes said, noting that many first-time visitors have journeyed to the community to see the dolphins. Before leaving, they check out the town’s eateries and shops.
“A lot of people are coming to see us,” Fernandes said. “Who needs Sea World? Save your money.”
Still, swimmers, boaters, and even spectators need to follow federal regulations aimed at protecting the marine mammals, whose true home is the ocean, the mayor noted.
“We don’t want people to swim near them, feed them, throw things at them,” Fernandes said. “(The river) is their home, not ours.
A 50-yard no-enter perimeter has been established around the pod; boaters ad jet skiers who enter it risk $10,000 fines. Watercraft operators should also comply with no wake zones and slow down upon spotting any of the marine animals, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Several thousand boats are expected to crowd the Navesink and Shrewsbury rivers on July 3, when Red Bank and Rumson present simultaneous fireworks shows, and on July 4, when Sea Bright puts on its Independence Day fireworks display.