Dolphins spotted in New York’s Bronx River

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Nick Banko stopped during a bike ride in New York’s Starlight Park on Monday afternoon when he saw something unusual in the Bronx River.

Two dorsal fins circled in the water not far from him. They disappeared briefly under the water surface and then reappeared.

Banko said he couldn’t believe what he was seeing: dolphins.

“I was like, ‘Wait, let me go to the dock and come closer,'” said Banko, 22. “When I did, it was like they almost felt my presence. Both crossed the surface of the water and showed their fins again.”

Banko quickly took a video of the dolphins and then posted it to Instagram with a caption in all caps.

“Okay now I need some answers, if you are from the Bronx and know this park please explain to me why I have dolphins in the…park.. Shocked me.”

A few days later, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation announced his encounter Twitterwhere it has been viewed more than 2 million times.

“It’s true – dolphins were sighted in the Bronx River this week!” NYC Parks published. “This is great news – it shows that decades of efforts to restore the river to a healthy habitat are working. We believe these dolphins made their way naturally to the river in search of fish.”

“We encourage you to welcome these dolphins to the BX!” a park spokesman later wrote in a statement. “Make sure they are comfortable during their visit by giving them space and not disturbing them.”

Two days later, two more dolphins were spotted in Brooklyn, although no one is sure if they are the same pair. People immediately started sharing videos of them on social media.

“We need a bigger canoe!” remarked one man on Twitter.

“There was no wildlife in the Atlantic Ocean [Long Island] and NJ when I was a kid,” another Twitter user posted. “Now there are seals, dolphins and yes, sharks, not to mention ospreys and other birds. Environmental protection has achieved enormous successes.”

One person suggested that New York dolphins probably sound different than other dolphins.

“FUN FACT: the dolphins communicate with each other using a series of clicks and whistles with a distinct Bronx accent,” he wrote.

“I know I’m one of those plain Kansas guys, but you have dolphins in your river and that’s not normal, is it?” added a man from Wichita.

According to wildlife experts, dolphins occasionally emerge to feed on Atlantic bunkerfish in New York City’s waterways. They were more commonly seen in New York Harbor, where the Hudson River meets the salty waters of the Atlantic off the lower tip of Manhattan. Sightings as far north as the Bronx are rarer.

“You don’t see them every day, but we saw a few in 2017,” said Adriana Caminero, a municipal park ranger at NYC Parks, recalling when students at a youth development program snapped photos of a lone dolphin in the Bronx River.

Over the years, more dolphins have been sighted in the New York City area.

In 2012, a bottlenose dolphin was spotted in the Hudson River near West 120th Street, and in 2013, a couple of dolphins were spotted swimming in the East River. New Yorkers have also seen a humpback whale in the Hudson, and a fisherman caught a shark there in 2015.

Two days after Banko captured video of the dolphins in the Bronx, several people spotted two dolphins swimming in Whale Creek near the Grand Street Bridge in Brooklyn, prompting the Newtown Creek Alliance to release a photo and short video to post the marine mammals on Instagram.

“It’s a good sign to see dolphins in our waters — it’s a sign that the river is much healthier today than it was in the past,” Caminero said, noting that it took years of activism to follow the Bronx River Clean up and clean up decades of pollution.

Most people mistake the 23-mile waterway for a freshwater river, she said, but it’s more brackish farther south as it becomes part of the Long Island Sound. The river is restocked with fish by NYC parks every year, Caminero noted.

“I’ve personally seen schools of bunkerfish at Starlight Park — they’re a staple for dolphins,” she said. “So it’s actually not uncommon for them to be drawn there.”

After the dolphins were sighted in Whale Creek, people feared they could be poisoned by toxins, oil and sewage in the water. Adjacent Newtown Creek is a Superfund property that will not be rehabilitated until 2032.

“It’s crazy the state hasn’t cleaned up that creek,” one Queens resident wrote on Instagram.

“This is scary because of their safety/health (toxins, pollution) and beautiful at the same time,” another person wrote.

Both recent dolphin sightings serve as a reminder of the importance of keeping waterways clean to increase wildlife activity, said Willis Elkins, executive director of the Newtown Creek Alliance.

“Despite improvements in water quality around New York City over the past few decades, we still have a long way to go to clean up historic toxins and eliminate the billions of gallons of sewage overflows that pose a real risk to humans and marine life alike,” he said .

Although major improvements have been made in the Bronx River, there is still work to be done, Caminero added.

“Here in New York City, it’s really important that we dispose of our trash properly because even something small can get washed up into our waterways,” she said. “Abandoned fishing gear can also be dangerous – fish and other animals can become entangled in fishing lines.”

She encourages those who wish to view wildlife in or out of the water in New York City to keep their distance from the creatures.

Although the dolphins may have moved on, there are other ways to see animals in the wild, she noted. City park rangers will invite the public to a free seal-watching expedition at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx on Saturday.

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