EXPERTS TO PLAN FOR MASS STRANDING

Dolphins120608Dolphins in the Shrewsbury River on Saturday, as seen from the Highlands side. (Photo courtesy of Robin Dowd)

The Associated Press reports that federal wildlife experts will confer this week about what to do if the remaining dolphins plying the Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers strand themselves.

The meeting will include officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency with jurisdiction over the animals, and the nonprofit Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine.

Stranding center founder Bob Schoelkopf has been advocating that NOAA take action to prevent the 12 remaining Atlantic bottlenose doplhins from becoming trapped under ice in inland waters.

But NOAA scientists concluded in October that trying to drive or lure the animals out to sea was impractical and dangerous. Moreover, they said the dolphins may be able to survive icy conditions short of a solid freeze-over, which would likely kill them.

Now, though, it appears that NOAA is preparing for another type of crisis: a mass stranding. From the AP story:

“We’re pretty confident about what to do if it’s just one” that beaches itself on the riverbank or in shallows, said Teri Frady, a spokeswoman for NOAA, which has jurisdiction over the animals. “But a mass stranding requires more preparation and resources.”

Schoelkopf tells the AP that there may be little rescuers could do in the case of a mass stranding. “If they end up like that, they’re probably past the point of recovery,” he said.

More:

The stranding center can’t take injured or sick dolphins for any length of time, he said, because the center’s tanks are unheated and the center is caring for stranded seals in those tanks. Area aquariums can’t take more than a couple of dolphins, even if they survive a stranding, he added.

An earlier report from the AP said a group of the dolphins was seen swimming near the Route 36 bridge between Sea Bright and Highlands on Saturday. Schoelkopf said the animals looked like they wanted to go under the bridge and back out to the open waters of Sandy Hook Bay.

But he said some of the young dolphins appeared hesitant to go under the span, where noisy repair work is going on above.

“It looked like they were really trying to get out,” Schoelkopf said. “I have a feeling it might be a problem with the juveniles afraid to go through” the channels under the bridge.

“They were moving around erratically, and there was some tail-slapping, which is a sign of aggravation,” he said.

The Asbury Park Press, meanwhile, reports today that nine dolphins were counted in the Shrewsbury and Navesink yesterday, giving rise to “cautious optimism that at least some of the dolphins made it underneath a bridge undergoing noisy repair work and back out to sea.”

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