Source AP ©

Many dolphins can be killed by heavy boat traffic as July 4 approaches

The latest visitors to the New Jersey shore are doing what many tourists do: splashing around in the waves with the kids and feasting on seafood.

But they are also getting hassled by the locals, and for that reason, the group of a dozen or so bottlenose dolphins has to go.

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 fish.

The dolphins have been drawing crowds along the banks of both rivers, not to mention a flotilla of boats and kayaks.

Wildlife officials worry that the dolphins could be injured or killed by heavy boat traffic in the narrow waterways, particularly with the U.S. national 4th of July holiday approaching. They are 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 them. "It gets crazy here on weekends; the whole area is inundated with boats."

Capt. Al Della Fave, a state police spokesman, said the force's marine unit has been trying to keep boaters away until a rescue plan is approved. Boaters can be fined as much as $25,000 for harming or harassing dolphins.

On Wednesday, six dolphins splashed, leapt and dove in the Shrewsbury River, 10 miles (16 kilometers) north of Asbury Park. Most boaters kept a respectful distance even as they snapped photos, but others were oblivious. One powerboat roared directly over the spot where the dolphins had surfaced just seconds earlier.

Two kayakers came within 5 feet of the dolphins several times, paddling away just before a state police boat with flashing lights arrived.

Kari Martin of the environmental group Clean Ocean Action said the dolphins do not 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, attempt to shoo the animals out to sea chased them under the ice, where several drowned.

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