Data shows river sees most dead marine animals
BRIGANTINE, N.J. (AP) -- First came a harp seal that strayed from the Sandy Hook Bay into the Shrewsbury River and died. Then came a harbor porpoise. And a loggerhead turtle. And three common dolphins, all found dead. Still more dolphins died in ...
BRIGANTINE, N.J. (AP) -- First came a harp seal that strayed from the Sandy Hook Bay into the Shrewsbury River and died.
Then came a harbor porpoise. And a loggerhead turtle. And three common dolphins, all found dead.
Still more dolphins died in August, September and October. Two harbor seals, too.
All told, 17 large marine animals were found dead or dying in the Shrewsbury River over the past year. Just two survived.
New Jersey has 127 miles of coastline and more than 100 rivers and creeks. Yet one in 10 marine strandings or deaths occurs in the Shrewsbury and an adjacent tributary, the Navesink River, making them the single deadliest spot for large marine animals in the state, a leading rescue group said.
Bob Schoelkopf, co-director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, thinks it's because the river runs from north to south, and feels like the ocean to these animals -- who don't know its a dead end.
"They go into the bay area and enter the mouth of the river and they feel like they're following their natural instinct to go south, but there's no place to go at the end of it."
From April 1, 2008, through Friday, the center responded to 175 deaths or strandings of marine animals in New Jersey. The Shrewsbury River's total is the highest for a single site in the state.
But two leading marine mammal scientists caution that those numbers may be misleading. They say it is entirely possible many of the animals -- particularly those that live far offshore like common or white-sided dolphins -- could have died in the ocean and that their bodies floated into the river with the tides.
"It would be a real stretch to say there's something odd about this area that's causing mortalities," said Trevor Spradlin, a marine mammal biologist for the for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers are where a group of 16 bottlenose dolphins spent half of last year, touching off an emotional battle between rescue groups like the Stranding Center, who wanted the dolphins coaxed or scared out of the river, and federal wildlife officials, who felt it was too risky and decided to let nature take its course.
So far, it has. Of the original group of 16, three are confirmed dead, and two that were found within the last week and a half are suspected to have been part of the group. (DNA tests are pending, but results could take as long as four weeks.)
Teri Frady, an NOAA spokeswoman, said teeth and tissue samples from dead bottlenose dolphins found in the Shrewsbury on April 7 and 11 will be compared with DNA taken from four live dolphins in the river last summer.