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Warm ocean attracting dolphins to local waters
By REGINA SCHAFFER Staff Writer, (609) 272-7211
Press of Atantic City


An ominous-looking fin broke the calm on the 13th Street beach in Ocean City on a recent weekend. The ocean emptied. The tourists ran.

"Shark!" yelled two little girls running from the water.

Close. It was a dolphin. And there are lots of them cruising along the beaches this year.

This summer's warmer, generally nicer weather has brought together the ingredients that dolphins love, according to local dolphin watchers - warmer and calmer waters, improved water quality and large schools of bait fish.

Jeff George, owner and president of Atlantic City Cruises, which runs daily dolphin-watching trips, estimates there has been a 25 percent increase in the number of dolphins in the water this summer. The Atlantic bottlenose is the most common dolphin spotted, he said.

"We were seeing 25 to 30, now we're seeing as many as 40 to 50" a day, George said.

And that's good news for a business that promises tourists a dolphin sighting or a free second ride.

"It creates a really great excitement and a buzz on the boat, when they see the large numbers they've been seeing," George said.

Capt. Jeff Stewart, owner of Cape May Whale Watcher, agrees.

"May and June were just disasters last year," Stewart said. "This June, I can't even talk about how good it was. We're way up on dolphins this year."

That can also be a problem. To control their own population, adult male dolphins will often kill newborn males by ramming them in the stomach with their sharp bottlenose, said Bob Schoelkopf, director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine.

A dead baby dolphin washed ashore in Ocean City just two weeks ago, killed by an adult male, he said.

Local cruise operators said the average ocean water temperature has risen this summer with the warmer weather, and that is something that dolphins look for.

"The temperature is ideal for bathers, but also perfect for the dolphins," George said. "If it's too warm or too cold, they move to find the right temperature."

"Last year, we had a very unusual weather year, cold water," Stewart said. "Dolphins like waters 50 degrees or warmer. Our same dolphins come back here year after year - 550 call Cape May their summer home.

"This year, because of the temperature, we got a lot of small bait fish that the dolphins eat. They're eating little weakfish like crazy."

The abundance of dolphins this summer is also bringing them closer to the shoreline - tricking unsuspecting visitors into thinking there are sharks in the water.

George said that is because the surf is a little more dolphin-friendly this year.

"With the ocean being as smooth as it is, with very little wave action, the dolphins will be right along the beach," he said. "They love the waves, they love the surfin' there. Plus with schools (of bait fish) 50 feet out from where the swimmers are, it's going to look like a lot of fins."

But with more dolphins comes added caution.

Schoelkopf said at least two or three dolphins get caught in netting each year, and boats strike half a dozen or more. New Jersey is a birthing area for dolphins, he said, and curious newborn bottlenose are not acclimated to boat traffic.

He urged boaters to use caution.

"There is more out there then just your boat," Schoelkopf said.

[ 07-12-2004, 02:20 PM: Message edited by: NIGHTSTRIKES ]
 

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Two weeks ago at dusk there were bass crashing bunker, I put everything in the middle of them even chasing them down the beach. Not full blitzes but every now and again you would see a big back or bunker jumping for it's life. On the third night I saw an awesome sight. A porpoise was cruising by and came over to check out the scene, all within casting distance when up to my chest.
After he confirmed "food" he took off about a 1/4 mile and told the group. Now ten of them came in and surrounded the school, again all in casting distance. It was an incredible display of nature. They would stay down forever, over 5 minutes before surfacing. I had one actually ride a wave right in front of me scaring the crap out of me.

I guess 20/15 vision helps because I tried pointing this out to some beachgoers, some saw it, others thought I was crazy. :D

Big 15+# bass still in the surf, I know some are bigger but just haven't hooked up with them. Castmaster in the early morning took a 36" 15# on Saturday.
 

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Last year we had one in a local river by me for 2 months.... The usually consistent small weakfish bailout fishing was non-existent last year. Coincidence, I think not.
 

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A few weeks ago I was fishing on a head boat out of Belmar, when I hooked into a cable about 6' long and about 3\4" round. The captain blew the horn for us to move, but I was gratually trying to get this da*n thing in. I couldn't bring it to the top so I just held it there until we stopped. As we were moving, with me holding my spool as tight as possible, a shark fin about a foot tall came to the top of the water thinking it was some kind of bait or something. That would have been a he!l of a fight on my six and a half foot med.action pool
 
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