IMG_667172 NOAA’s Trevor Spradlin addresses the audience at an open seminar on the dolphins Tuesday night.

It was science versus passion as marine mammal experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
sought to explain last night why they don’t intend to evacuate five remaining
Atlantic bottlenose dolphins from the Shrewsbury River in advance of a
possible freeze.

But the effort failed, in the view of some of the 100 or so people who showed up for a seminar on the dolphins’ plight at Monmouth University.
Again and again, non-experts pressed the scientists to put aside their
hydrophonic measuring measuring devices and dolphin diet studies to just act — by luring, herding or carrying the dolphins out to sea.

“Are you saying the plan is basically to watch these animals die?” asked Victor Amato, chief law enforcement officer of the Monmouth County SPCA,
who said he’d had dolphins perish in his arms. “All the [prey] in the
world isn’t going to help these animals once that river freezes over.”

don’t need to see that,” snapped Scott Longfield of Fair Haven, when a
scientist displayed a bar chart in an attempt to answer one of his
questions. Like others, he insisted on action.

Noaafaceoff David Gouveia of NOAA, center, fielded questions from Karla LaVoie, left, and the SPCA’s Victor Amato, right.

As they have for months, though, the NOAA researchers said there’s
no indication that the dolphins need any help, and that giving it to
them could in fact kill them.

They noted that while three of the original 16 animals that took up residence in the Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers last June have died, eight others are unaccounted for and may have left the area.

They also noted that over the weekend, two of the pod members swam into Sandy Hook Bay but
returned to the river after two hours. NOAA officials said the dolphins appear
healthy and unstressed.

More basically, the scientists contend that the dolphins are wild animals that continually expand their habitat and can survive in cold waters — contrary to the insistence of several laymen who claimed that the dolphins are yearning for warm waters. NOAA researcher Aleta Hohn said dolphins live in oceans all over the world, including off the coast of Scotland.

“We might speculate, given their distribution around the world, that they can withstand colder temperatures, provided there’s enough prey,” she said.

Sue Barco, a marine mammal stranding expert from Virginia, recounted the six-year extended stay by a pod of dolphins in the Lynnhaven River in Virginia Beach, which has water temperature conditions similar to those in the Shrewsbury. In fact, the presence of two new dolphins that arrived in the Lynnehaven just before Christmas was confirmed Monday, she said.

But the members of the public who spoke appeared mostly concerned about a solid freeze-over, which NOAA officials acknowledged had not been seen in the Virginia example. They were unsatisfied by the assertion that NOAA has a contingency plan in place to help the dolphins if they strand themselves on beaches or appear trapped.

“Why aren’t you doing something before it’s an emergency?” asked Maura Kramer of Highlands, who said she’d seen “chunks of ice” in the Shrewsbury during the last week of December, shortly before a pregnant bottlenose was found dead on the Sea Bright side.

With the deepening cold of winter, “there may be deaths,” said David Gouveia, marine mammal program coordinator, NOAA Fisheries Service, Northeast Region.”It’s a wild population, but that’s what happens in wild populations.”

One NOAA expert characterized the split as a disagreement over
whether the agency’s mandate is to “save every individual” dolphin or
to protect the stocks of wild marine animals. The agency, he said, sees
its duty as the latter.

Earlier yesterday, a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
official wrote to NOAA head William Brennan imploring him to take up
offers from nonprofit stranding-assistance groups that have offered to
move the dolphins out of the river.

The dolphins, “who may be more intelligent than human beings and
certainly are every bit as emotional and family-oriented as we are,
will slowly die as winter progresses,” wrote PETA Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch.

The plea follows similar ones issued by Congressman Frank Pallone and U.S. Senator Robert Menendez.

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