A common Atlantic dolphin (Delphinus delphis) surprised locals by turning up in the Gowanus Canal on Friday, January 25, 2013. The canal is known for its extremely polluted condition and is a designated Superfund site. The EPA estimates it will cost as much as $500 million to clean it up.
The dolphin was first spotted about 9:30 a.m. near the mouth of the canal, and eventually made its way to a spot near the intersection of Nevins and Union Streets, almost all the way to the beginning of the canal. The animal, a male estimated at 6-10 feet long and 200-300 pounds, appeared to onlookers to be ill or injured. Some reported noticing blood in the water or goop in the dolphin's eye, and it seemed to get itself stuck on objects in the water. Julika Wocial, a marine biologist from the Riverhead Foundation, which has official responsibility for marine mammal rescue in this area, said it was worrisome that the dolphin was by itself, since they usually travel in groups called pods.
To the frustration of many—at one point, an unidentified man got into the water and tried to pet the unfortunate creature—emergency responders and authorities who arrived on the scene declined to intervene, waiting instead to see if the animal would get out on its own at high tide, expected around 7p.m. Unfortunately, this was not the case, and the dolphin died around 5:30p.m. Any rescue attempt would have required approval from the National Marine Fisheries Service, because dolphins are a protected species.
Robert DiGiovanni Jr., executive director and senior biologist at the Riverhead Foundation, said that in his more than twenty years of working in the field he could not recall a dolphin swimming so far into the canal. The organization is conducting a necropsy to determine the actual cause of death.
In 2007, a 12-foot Minke whale died near the mouth of the Gowanus.