Bottlenose dolphins make a rare visit

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Boaters on Long Island Sound floated across a unique sight last summer: a pod of about 200 bottlenose dolphins.

The first reported sightings in June occurred off Hempstead Harbor outside Glen Cove, N.Y., according to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. Daniel Donatelli had just finished conducting man-overboard rescue drills in Hempstead Harbor when he came across the pod.

Long Island boaters were amazed to encounter a pod of about 200 dolphins in Hempstear Harbor.

“We were headed south back into the harbor, the dolphins were swimming north. The captain cut the engine and we just floated, surrounded by nearly 200 gorgeous dolphins,” says Donatelli, who is president of Residents For a More Beautiful Port Washington. “There were at least 10 other boats doing the same thing.”

Serge Papasergiou, who lives in Sea Cliff on Long Island, was also in the harbor practicing man-overboard drills with other members of his yacht club. About a dozen people were aboard his 1993 Taswell 49 cutter rig sailboat when, heading back into the harbor, they saw what Papasergiou thought was merely jumping fish.

“It took us a while until we realized they were dolphins, we were out there amazed by them, just watching them for at least an hour and a half,” he says.

Papasergiou has been sailing in the Sound for 30 years, and says it was his first time seeing bottlenose dolphins in the area.

Carol DiPaolo, also a resident of Sea Cliff, got a different perspective: seeing half the pod at once. DiPaolo was at a friend’s house on a cliff overlooking the harbor when she spotted them.

“At first I just thought they were giant bluefish,” says DiPaolo, who has been working with the citizen-based Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor, a non-profit group that works toward improving water conditions for a more sustainable environment.

“It was so gratifying to see this magnificent pod of healthy dolphins,” she says. “This, coupled with the improvement in diversity of species in the past 15 years, we hope are all good signs.”

In fact, the pod could be an indication of improvements in the Sound, according to a NOAA Fisheries spokeswoman.

“We think the recent coastal travel of bottlenose dolphins is a sign they are attempting to expand their ranges of population, re-occupying ecosystems that are preferable to them — ecosystems which have improved water quality and food supply,” says Teri Frady, chief of research communications for the NOAA Fisheries Science Center.

Still, gawking boaters should take note: the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 established a 50-yard protection zone for dolphins, requiring boaters to keep their distance, according to NOAA. (www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/laws/mmpa)

For information on Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor, e-mail cshh@optonline.net.

This article originally appeared in the Connecticut & New York Home Waters section of the December 2009 issue.