Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Dolphin 56 Visits the Jersey Shore

Dolphin 56 seen last summer off Island Beach State Park.

A celebrity dolphin known "Dolphin 56" has been spotted at the Jersey shore again. He is a wild bottlenose dolphin with a penchant for freshly caught fish and a reputation for sticking his nose into fishermen's boats. He will show off for food and play with anyone who will pet him.

His story goes back to August 28, 1979 when he was captured along with five other dolphins by a Seaworld researchers in Florida. The dolphins were marked with ID numbers on their tails (55-59). They estimated that #56 was about 12 years old, so he is a very adult 42 years old now.

It is a violation of the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act to feed wild dolphins, but people take the chance with dolphin 56 fish and he has learned to approach boats and beg for fish.

I have yet to spot him, but I joined his fan page on Facebook!

His sightings range from Florida to Long Island. The Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine has documented more than 80 sightings of Dolphin 56 in New Jersey waters in the last decade. He has been sighted as late as Thanksgiving some years, but it is not known where he winters. Like many older New Jerseyans, 56 is a snowbird, summering at the shore and heading south (probably to Florida) for the winter.

56 shows some signs of his age - he is missing half his teeth, has a fractured jaw and signs of a boat injury - but seems fat and healthy. The majority of bottlenose dolphins live to about age 30.

As beloved as 56 is, feeding wild dolphins can lead to fines up to $20,000 and one year in jail, and the practice only teaches dolphins to coming in too close to people, and leads to boat collisions. Giving bottlenoses the wrong type of food could also make them sick.

Just wave hello, take a picture and post your sighting online.

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