Dolphins have been
observed in river
since September 9
NMFS Northeast Region
N E W SEDITORS: Onsite press contact is TERI FRADY –Pager (508) 806-9485
Sea Bright, NJ— A specially trained and equipped team of experts will be in the water this morning attempting to capture and transport two bottlenose dolphins, believed to be a mother and calf, that scientists have been monitoring in the Shrewsbury River since September 9.
The team hopes to locate and move the pair to the open ocean, so that they can make a normal migration south for the winter. If the dolphins need medical care, they will be moved to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, a nationally recognized rehabilitation facility.
"This is a high risk operation," says Gregg LaMontagne of NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency that organizes responses to marine mammal strandings such as this one. LaMontagne is acting as regional coordinator of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network in the northeastern United States.
"We've assembled some of the most experienced people in the country for this kind of operation here today, but rescue and relocation puts significant stress on wild dolphins, particularly young animals, " cautions LaMontagne, "that's why intervening is a last resort."
"The clock is ticking from the minute we have contained the pair," says Larry Hansen a long-time stranding responder and former NOAA Fisheries dolphin biologist, who will lead the operational team. "The less time they are out of the water, the better," he says.
NOAA Fisheries provides coordination and oversight for the marine mammal stranding network, but the operations themselves are conducted together with various partners in the network, most of whom are volunteers. Today's operation includes more than 30 people representing nine different federal, state, private, and university organizations scattered across the United States.
The animals have been tracked through sightings made by volunteers and staff at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, NJ. The Marine Mammal Stranding Center is the only organization in New Jersey authorized to rescue and rehabilitate stranded marine mammals and sea turtles. Director Robert Schoelkopf has been updating the network on the animals' location and condition over the past two months, and will assist in the capture attempt along with several other MMSC staff members.
National Aquarium in Baltimore staff have been conducting aerial surveys in cooperation with the Civil Air Patrol and the Environmental Air Force in recent weeks, while scientific staff from the NOAA Fisheries James J. Howard Laboratory on Sandy Hook have been conducting sighting surveys on the water.
The team includes experienced marine mammal handlers; marine mammal veterinarians; NOAA certified divers; personnel from the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, NJ and the University of North Carolina, Wilmington; NOAA Fisheries staff from the Northeast Region, Southeast Region, Enforcement, and Headquarters offices; NOAA's National Ocean Service Center for Marine Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research; the U.S. Coast Guard; the New Jersey Marine Patrol; and the Monmouth Beach, Sea Bright, and Long Branch police departments.
Equipment assembled for the team includes six boats, custom-designed nets, acoustic devices, rafts, sampling equipment, veterinary instruments, specially outfitted transport trucks, inflatable rafts, and aircraft. Some equipment for the rescue has been loaned from the Chicago Zoological Society. Organizers have arranged various kinds of transport for use, depending on the condition of the dolphins; and for taking measurements and biological samples important to determining the animals' condition before making a decision about release.
One vessel will carry a capture net, and four other vessels will carry dolphin handlers who can assist with getting the pair into position for evaluation by veterinarians. The capture vessel, the NOAA Fisheries research vessel Monsoon, has been brought in from Charleston, SC for the attempt. It has been specially outfitted for live captures off the southeastern U.S. Two of the herding boats (called "chase boats") are being provided by NOAA Fisheries' James J. Howard Laboratory, and two are being provided by the New Jersey Marine Police. The MMSC zodiac will also be on site, and will begin the morning by attempting to locate and stay with the pair.