Wayward dolphin makes splash in polluted NYC canal

COLLEEN LONG Associated Press Published:

NEW YORK (AP) -- A wayward dolphin swam into a polluted canal on Friday, and marine experts watched to see if it would head back out to the ocean on its own or would need help.

The deep-freeze weather didn't seem to faze the dolphin as it splashed around in the Gowanus Canal, which runs 1.5 miles through a narrow industrial zone near some of Brooklyn's wealthiest neighborhoods.

Bundled-up onlookers took cellphone photos, and a news helicopter hovered overhead.

The dolphin, which appeared to be about 7 feet long, surfaced periodically and shook black gunk from its snout in the polluted water.

The New York Police Department said marine experts with the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation were waiting to see if the dolphin would leave the canal on its own during the high tide, which lasts from about 7:10 p.m. until Saturday morning. If not, they planned to lend a hand on Saturday.

The foundation, based in Riverhead, on eastern Long Island, specializes in cases involving whales, dolphins, seals and sea turtles.

The filthy canal was named a Superfund site in 2010, meaning the government can force polluters to pay for its restoration. For more than a century before, coal yards, chemical factories and fuel refineries on the canal's banks discharged everything from tar to purple ink into the water, earning it the local nickname The Lavender Lake for its unnatural hue.

The dolphin likely entered the canal from the Atlantic Ocean through the Lower and Upper New York Bays and into the Gowanus Bay, which leads to the canal. It's about 20 miles from the canal to open ocean.

It may seem strange, but it's not uncommon for sea creatures to stray into city waters -- though they don't often swim away alive.

A dolphin was found dead last August near Long Island, south of the canal. Another washed up in June in the Hudson River near Manhattan's Chelsea Piers sports complex.

In 2007, a baby minke whale that briefly captivated the city wandered into the Gowanus Bay and swam aimlessly before dying.

Two years later, a humpback whale took a tour of the city's waters before leaving New York Harbor safely. The 20-foot whale was first seen in Queens before it headed for Brooklyn, took a swing through the harbor and headed toward open waters near the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.