Jackson_rayRay Jackson points to the area in the Shrewsbury where he saw eight to ten dolphins feeding all day Monday.

Pete Pawlikowski saw a couple of them Monday morning as he headed over the Oceanic Bridge to work at the Oceanic Marine, the business he owns near the Rumson anchorage of the bridge. The Navesink River was at high tide.

A couple of hours later, Ray Jackson saw what he estimates were eight to ten of them back in the Shrewsbury River off McLoone’s Rum Runner in Sea Bright. They stuck around for a least six hours, says Jackson, who called the cops to let them know the dolphins were back in feeding grounds they first visited back in mid-June.

That report and others had marine experts mulling the possibility that what remains of a pod once pegged at 16 strong was finally getting ready to leave the inland rivers and head back out to sea before they get frozen in.

Or have they already?

DolphinhauntsAt the juncture of the Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers, above left, and on the lee side of the Oceanic Bridge, seen from Rumson, there was no sign of dolphins Tuesday afternoon.

Yesterday, searching from land along the Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers from Sea Bright and Rumson, redbankgreen saw no sign of them in the places they were most visible since early in the summer.

That’s not conclusive, of course; the dolphins have been known to travel as far west in the Navesink as the waters off Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank, where they were spotted by boaters on Sept. 30. And with their numbers down, they’re easier to miss.

But our search raises the question: if no one sees them leave, how will we know if they’ve made it safely back out to Sandy Hook Bay and the Atlantic Ocean for their winter migration south?

Already, two have died, and roughly half the remaining pod has vanished. Marine experts said Friday that had no idea where they went.

Pawlikowski, whose boat and kayak rental business got a nice boost from dolphin watchers this summer, is eager for positive news.

“You’d hate to see them all die,” he says.

Today’s Asbury Park Press reports that a team of marine experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plans to go out, perhaps as early as today, to begin stepped-up monitoring of the animals.

That’s to lay the groundwork for an effort described last Friday to lure or drive the dolphins back into the bay and beyond, if conditions are right and they haven’t left on their own.

We’ll keep you posted.

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