Experts Try to Lure Dolphins Back to Ocean

A dozen dolphins wander into a river where they could die, experts warn.

June 27, 2008 -- While most people on the East Coast only see dolphins in an aquarium or zoo, one New Jersey town has a dozen dolphins getting along swimmingly in a local river.

But experts say that the longer the wayward dolphins stay, the more danger they face from whirling boat propellers.

And the warnings are growing with the popular Fourth of July holiday only a week away. Thousands of boats are expected to descend on the Sea Bright, N.J., waterfront.

"They won't stand a chance, I don't think," local boater Adam Hilsen said of the dolphins.

Marine experts are scheduled to begin work this morning to try and save the dolphins. They will try to send negative sounds and vibrations — mimicking a predator — under the water, hoping the dolphins will flee.

For three weeks, the dolphins, including three calves, have been trapped between the Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers after taking a wrong turn from the Atlantic Ocean.

No one is certain why the pod of bottlenose dolphins — one of the most common dolphins — swam up the lazy river, but it's likely they were finding food when they distractedly lost their way.

"It's possible the dolphins may have been following a school of fish or food source into the river," said Felicia Nutter, a veterinarian from the Mammal Marine Center in Sausalito, Calif.

Visitors began gathering, cameras in hand, about two weeks ago to watch the dolphins play. And it seems the entire town has fallen in love with the frolicking mammals.

"Everybody is becoming obsessed with 'dolphin watch,'" visitor Betty Stevens said.

The dolphins have come close to leaving the Sandy Hook Bay, but each time they are only moments away from freedom, the group turns around at a nearby bridge.

Experts blame vibrations from the bridge's traffic and current construction for the dolphins' abrupt turn-around.

This is not the first time dolphins have been stranded in these shallow waters. In 1993, three dolphins spent the summer and fall in the same river. Ultimately, the dolphins were scared by a rescue attempt and drowned after being trapped under ice.

But residents of Sea Bright are hoping for a happier ending for these beloved dolphins.

"[We're] hoping and praying that they make it into the ocean," resident Debbie Perkins said. "That's their home and that's where they belong; where they're safe."