I wasn’t sure how to approach this blog post. How could I help some dolphins swimming in the Navesink River near Rumson, NJ? But something struck me as I heard some of the details of their plight.
Evidently, they’ve been swimming in this area since about October, 2012. OK, so for three months they’ve had a food source and enough room to survive. During the cooler months, boat traffic on the Navesink is greatly reduced. But obviously, Atlantic bottlenose dolphins belong, well, in the Atlantic!
Their problem is twofold right now… first, the Navesink river runs east-west, and forms a tee with the Shrewsbury River which runs north-south. So to get back to the Atlantic, they need to swim a couple of miles east to where the rivers meet. From there they need to hang a left and swim north to Sandy Hook, then east out into the Atlantic. The problem is these dolphins want to swim south. South is warm. South has warm water and great sea food (isn’t that why we all move there?). So when they get to the Shrewsbury, they turn south instead of north. This brings them into Spring Lake and Monmouth Beach on the wrong side of the peninsula, trapped, with no way back to the ocean.
So, the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, headquartered in Brigantine, NJ, wants to find a way to “nudge” them in the correct direction. But to do this, they need a permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The weather service to you and me. Unfortunately, NOAA has not been as forthcoming with this permit. This was a surprise to me. I guess issuing permits to the Stranding Center probably keeps every amateur marine biologist on the beach where they can do little harm. (On a side note, the episode of Seinfeld where George tells his girlfriend he is a marine biologist is still one of my favorites, but I digress.) Evidently, NOAA believes that the river has become their natural habitat. I dunno. I’ve lived here 20 plus years, and it is only in the last year or three that I’ve heard of dolphins in the Navesink River for this long. Usually they come, eat, party, and move south for the winter like the rest of New York/New Jersey. (Why I’m still here is still a mystery.)
The second part of their problem is ice. Ice is starting to form on the river and the areas where the dolphins can surface to breath are getting smaller. Remember the killer whales up north a few weeks ago? All they were left with was a small (for whales) hole in the ice to surface and breath. The pod was taking turns breathing, kind of like when two scuba divers are down to one air tank and they have to share a regulator until they get to the surface. A rescue mission was underway to break the ice, but it happened naturally and they escaped to open water on their own. That won’t happen, I assure you, in the Navesink.
These dolphins aren’t to that point yet, but can’t we see the writing on that wall? In a month we may have people racing their ice boats on the Navesink! I’m told dolphins don’t do too well when the water temperature drops below 50 degrees (F). It’s now in the low 40’s.
I remember once in a college physics class a professor got a 5 gallon bucket and filled it with ice and warm water. He mixed it all together and asked the class a question. “What is the average temperature in this bucket?” The class was perplexed… you had 50 degree water and zero degree ice. And how much of each? How could you figure out the average temperature not knowing exactly how much of each was in the bucket? His answer was simple… you have a combination of liquid water and solid ice coexisting together. The average temperature has to be 32 degrees (F).
Hmmm. The Navesink River is starting to look like that bucket in my physics class.
In dolphin terms, it’s cold. And betting that the winter will warm up from this point is a bad bet. Would you bet your life on it? The dolphins have to, right now, unless they can find that mysterious path back to the Atlantic Ocean.
They’re cold, their food is probably disappearing, they’re lost and I’m sure confused. They need help.
As far as the photography here, a little disclaimer on my part. These aren’t great pictures. People who know me know I absolutely HATE the cold. Anything below 50 is arctic weather to me. So to get off my nice warm sofa, by my fireplace, put on heavy boots, Under Armor, sweatshirt, heavy coat, hood, gloves, etc. to go stand on a bridge in the middle of 20 degree weather for an hour, scouting dolphins, is NOT my idea of a fun day. These pictures aren’t my best by any stretch. But they don’t need to be in this case. They just need to make a point. If they, in fact, make that point with anyone, then they are great pictures. They tell a story. And that’s something that shutter speeds and aperture openings don’t convey.
While I was out shooting these pictures, the Asbury Park Press was doing a story on the dolphins and the controversy surrounding their removal. In the video accompanying this article you can see a bundled up “me” in the background with the gray and black coat… proving I was, in fact, in the cold. (See their article, here: http://www.app.com/article/20130125/NJNEWS/301250111/Disagreement-about-dolphins-in-Navesink ) Since I’m not a photojounalist, I don’t have to remain neutral. Good, because I’m not. NOAA needs to do the right thing and allow these dolphins to be rescued. Years ago, I swam with two dolphins at The Dolphin Research Center in Marathon Key, Florida. It was an amazing experience. These animals are truly breathtaking.
While I was writing this blog post, another dolphin was struggling for its life in the Gowanus River in New York. It was trapped in the toxic Gowanus at low tide and could not get out. Unfortunately, despite efforts to rescue the dolphin, the disgusting river proved to be too much for the dolphin and it lost its life overnight. That dolphin’s situation made the decision on if to help much easier. Fortunately, these dolphins are not in the same situation. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be helped.
Call NOAA. Let them know that I couldn’t bring the dolphins back to my house to sit in front of the fireplace and watch my high def TV. So we need to let the Stranding Center help them get back to the Atlantic before ice makes that impossible. Every cold day matters.
Besides, George Costanza isn’t here to help.