January 17, 2007
Dolphins Fight For Life In Northwest Creek
The fate of eight or nine stubborn dolphins swung in the balance as of Monday, the narrow channel between Barcelona Neck and Northwest Landing the only way out of a deadly trap.
About two dozen of the mammals entered Northwest Creek over the weekend, part of a larger contingent that appeared in Gardiners Bay last week.
The shallow creek lacks the necessary resources to sustain the dolphins, and four died Saturday. With 1000 bystanders looking on, a team from the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation and volunteers from the local police department tried to shock the dolphins out of the creek by making noise but the effort was unsuccessful. The dolphins also resisted several attempts to herd them through the narrow channel back out to open waters.
The count had decreased by Monday morning. "We think some swam out during the night," said Larry Penny, East Hampton Town Director of Natural Resources.
Town Harbormaster Bill Taylor estimated perhaps a dozen of them swam off to safety, with around nine still in the shallow waters.
The Riverhead Foundation set up a special microphone in the water, and students from nearby Stella Maris School took turns listening to the dolphins communicate.
Fourth grader Jennifer Hall said, "It was really cool. I heard squeaks and clicks." The students were given pamphlets with information on the dolphins and the work of the Riverhead Foundation.
Biologists said there has been a trend on the Northeast coastline this winter thus far of dolphins swimming into shallow water, some beaching themselves.
As of press time Tuesday, the Riverhead Foundation was readying for another effort to herd the remaining mammals through the channel.
"It didn't work Saturday but the winds are a little higher today and the tide is a bit higher," said Chuck Bowman, president of the foundation. Though he held hope that some of the dolphins had made it out, he acknowledged "there may be more up in the south end of the creek, or they may be dead and we haven't found them yet."
It is somewhat rare but not unusual for dolphins to enter local waters. Marc Wein, a Shelter Island-based sailor, said he saw a school of about 30 six years ago. "A local fisherman told me he hadn't seen any in 25 years before that," Wein said. "They come for the buffet," he theorized. "They saw a school of fish swim [into the creek] and they followed them in."
Old-timers from Sag Harbor report sighting dolphins in Gardiners Bay from the breakwater rocks fairly regularly in the old days.