Dolphin makes big splash in Newtown’s toxic waters

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For the first time anyone can remember, a dolphin made waves in the polluted waters of Newtown Creek last week, creating a minor uproar as conservation groups attempted to prevent the animal from coming to further harm.

The common cetacean was spotted by a teacher from the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School in Bushwick March 2.

The next day, the New York Post reported a similar-looking dolphin had been sighted in the East River near the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The teachers contacted the waterways watchdog group Riverkeeper, which reported the sighting to the U.S. Coast Guard so it could alert mariners navigating the river.

John Lipscomb, who has run Riverkeeper’s patrol boat for eight years, said the sighting was unprecedented in the creek, which ranks among the most polluted waterways in the country.

“I’ve been in there once or twice or sometimes three times a month, full days since 2002, and I’ve never seen anything like that,” he said. “We see some signs of life which are optimistic but never any big marine mammals.”

Lipscomb believes the dolphin spotted off the Navy Yard was the same animal and hopes the Coast Guard warning was heeded.

“What we don’t want is some workboat to come in there at Mach 1 and run the freaking thing over,” he said, noting the creek’s remoteness makes it hard to tell if the animal has left. “That thing could be in there doing a Sea World routine and it’s not sure that anyone would see it.”

The excitement over the dolphins reached a peak last Thursday, when the Breaking News Network reported police had been dispatched to the Brooklyn Navy Yard to rescue a dolphin. The NYPD did not respond to requests for comment by press time Tuesday.

The Riverhead Foundation, a marine animal rescue group based on Long Island, is also eager for more information about the dolphins.

“We kind of spoke to the police and said you guys kind of need to get us involved,” said Kim Durham, the foundation’s animal rescue director. “If anything’s going to go on with these dolphins, if they’re deemed in need of rescue %u2026 we’re the only people who literally have a tank.”

Durham said the foundation was looking for any further information on the dolphin sightings, hoping to determine if there is more than one animal and “if there’s heavy bird activity, anything that would indicate the dolphins are chasing fish, because that’s pretty much the only reason dolphins go anywhere.”

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Updated 5:48 pm, October 10, 2011
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