Between 12 to 14 dolphins -- including at least three calves -- have been frolicking in the Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers for the past two weeks, the likely result of a wrong turn inland following schools of bait fish.
The dolphins have been drawing crowds along the banks of both rivers, not to mention a flotilla of boats and kayaks.
Wildlife officials and volunteers worry that the dolphins could be injured or killed by heavy boat traffic in the narrow waterways, particularly with July Fourth approaching. They're working on a plan to coax the dolphins out to the open waters of Sandy Hook Bay and then the ocean.
"As beautiful as it is to see them, they don't belong here," said Dan Montano of Long Branch, who took his boat out to see the dolphins on Tuesday. "It gets crazy here on weekends; the whole area is inundated with boats. I just hope they can get out."
Thunderstorms forecast for Monmouth County Thursday night and Friday could scare the dolphins out of the river, said Bob Schoelkopf, director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine. The group is leading efforts to try to get the dolphins out of the river.
If the storm doesn't chase the dolphins away, a team of about 40 animal rescue and environmental officials from as far away as North Carolina and Massachusetts will try to shoo them out of the river next week.
"The problem is, it's a deep river, and they might just dive and go right under the boats," Schoelkopf said.
The dolphins look healthy so far, but have not been observed feeding much, Schoelkopf said. They could become weak if they don't eat and start drawing on their fat reserves.
Wednesday morning, a group of six dolphins splashed, leapt and dove in the middle of the Shrewsbury River, a narrow waterway between Sea Bright and Rumson about 10 miles north of Asbury Park. Most boaters kept a respectful distance even as they snapped photos, but some seemed oblivious. One powerboat roared directly over the spot where the dolphins had surfaced just seconds earlier; fortunately, the dolphins surfaced a few yards away shortly afterward.
Two kayakers came within about 5 feet of the dolphins several times, paddling away just before a state police boat with flashing lights arrived to shoo away marine traffic. Boaters can be fined as much as $25,000 for harming or harassing dolphins.
"It's kind of exciting to see them out here," said Marco Dacillo, a host at McLoone's Rum Runner, a Sea Bright restaurant on the Shrewsbury where the dolphins have repeatedly appeared. "We saw nine of them, and three babies. But there's a lot of jet skis and boats."
Kari Martin of the environmental group Clean Ocean Action said the dolphins do not outwardly appear to be stressed.
"They're swimming together, which is a good sign," she said. "But they're not making their way back out to the ocean. There have been several of this species before in the river, not always with good results."
In 1993, authorities tried to remove dolphins that had spent the summer and fall in the river. When the river froze, an attempt to shoo the animals out to sea chased them under the ice, where several drowned.