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Bottlenose Dolphins in the Shrewsbury and Navesink Rivers, NJ

  bottlenose dolphins
Bottlenose Dolphins
(Tursiops truncatus)
Photo: Emma Jugovich, NOAA

Coastal bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) are moving back into the northern parts of their range along the East Coast, and have again been spotted in the Shrewsbury River.

On Sunday, June 7th, NMFS staff at the NEFSC-Sandy Hook Lab was alerted to a group of bottlenose dolphins in the Shrewsbury River. A vessel survey was conducted and confirmed there were 5-6 dolphins in the group, and the animals were observed behaving normally.

It is still too soon to tell if any of the dolphins are from the group of 16 animals that took up residence in the river system last year from June to January and were the focus of intense public and media attention.

So far in June 2009, the dolphins have been seen sporadically in the area feeding and exhibiting normal behavior. A larger group of dolphins has also been sighted in nearby Sandy Hook Bay.

NOAA once again encourages everyone to learn about wild dolphins and participate in conservation efforts. That means responsibly observing them in their natural habitat by practicing the following:

  • Don't feed the dolphins
  • Don't approach closer than 50 yards
  • Use binoculars or telephoto lenses for best viewing
  • Move watercraft in a predictable manner
  • Reel in your fishing line and discard bait elsewhere if dolphins are present
  • Recycle fishing line

Coastal bottlenose dolphins are accustomed to human activities in their habitat, but encounters can be risky for both people and the animals. Also, federal law prohibits interference with the animal's natural behavior.

Feeding or attempting to feed wild dolphins is prohibited under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA) and implementing regulations. Violations can be prosecuted either civilly or criminally and are punishable by up to fines of $100,000 and/or up to a year in jail.

Coastal bottlenose dolphins migrate seasonally along the Atlantic coast ranging from as far north as Long Island in the summer to the Carolinas in the winter months.

The presence of the dolphins in the river systems should be a cause for celebration and not concern. Bottlenose dolphins historically frequented these waters long ago and may have left because the habitat could not support them. Both the menhaden fish stocks and the coastal bottlenose dolphin population appear to be rebounding, so it is not surprising to see fish and dolphins returning to their former habitat areas.

2008 Dolphins in the Shrewsbury/Navesink Rivers
Sixteen (16) bottlenose dolphins began to feed in the Shrewsbury River last year about this same time (June 2008), eventually taking up residence in the rivers for about seven months.

The 2008 dolphins were carefully documented and assessed by NOAA biologists who specialize in coastal bottlenose dolphins. They were in good health, and were observed eating and behaving normally.

Over the fall and onset of winter, 3 of the original 16 dolphins stranded dead and 8 animals disappeared. The last observation of the 5 remaining 2008 dolphins was on January 15, 2009, with eye-witness reports from local residents that the animals left the Shrewsbury River and swimming out into Sandy Hook Bay.

» Learn More about the 2008 Shrewsbury/ Navesink Dolphins

Updated: June 25, 2012

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