DeaddolphinA dolphin found dead on the eastern bank of the Shrewsbury River at the foot of the Highlands-Sea Bright Bridge Thursday morning was a member of the original pod of 16. (Photo courtesy of Robin Dowd)

One of the original 16 dolphins to take up residence in the Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers early last summer was found dead yesterday just yards from the gateway to Sandy Hook Bay.

The Associated Press says the nonprofit Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine collected the carcass of an adult Atlantic bottlenose dolphin eight feet long and weighing between 400 and 500 pounds. A necropsy is planned.

According to a Highlands resident, the dolphin was on a small beach on the Sea Bright side of the Shrewsbury adjoining a construction site where the anchorage of the new Highlands-Sea Bright Bridge is now being built.

Its death comes on the heels of the deaths of two dolphins in Sandy Hook and Raritan bays earlier this week. Those animals were not part of the pod that’s been in the rivers since at least June, marine experts said.

Robert Schoelkopf, co-director of the stranding center, said the animal was discovered late yesterday morning. “We’re very interested in seeing the results [of the necropsy] to see if it had been eating and, if it was, we want to see what it was eating,” Schoelkopf told the AP.

The death is the latest shrinkage in the group. Two juveniles from the pod died in September and October, and at least two others were unaccounted for.

The animal’s death is likely to further stoke calls for intervention by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has jurisdiction over the animals, to herd or lure the pod out of the rivers to the bay or ocean.

And the discovery of the carcass just 100 yards or so from the channel to the bay may also bolster talk that the presence of construction barges and noise from pile driving has prevented the pod from making a run for open waters.

But NOAA scientists insist there is no evidence that the pod is being deterred from leaving the rivers, where they have had their fill of prey.

Nor have the dolphins exhibited any signs of stress, say the NOAA scientists said last week in a two hour conference call on the issue. They contend that efforts to drive the dolphins out will likely result in strandings and deaths.

Luring, they say, is an untested method that probably won’t work because there’s no reason to believe the dolphins want to leave.

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