Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘East Brunswick’

A Memorable Visit: The Bottlenose Dolphin in the South River

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015
South River Dolphin will be Remembered by Many

by David Wheeler, Executive Director

South River Dolphin Photo by David Wheeler

This time of year, many beachgoers thrill to the sight of pods of bottlenose dolphins swimming past, each animal porpoising over the moving sea’s surface before it disappears back under the surf for another few moments. Recent weeks have brought some lucky New Jerseyans the chance to watch seemingly never-ending pods of dolphins swim past, one after another like some Atlantic Serengeti.


About the last place you might expect to see a bottlenose dolphin is a stone’s throw from the commuters speeding past on eight traffic lanes of Route 18 on the Old Bridge – East Brunswick border in the central heart of the state, a good 20-minute drive from the nearest bay coast. Here, amidst the parking lots and criss-crossing thoroughfares and working-class stores, crowds of families and couples and kids young and old lined up two deep, day after day, last week along a narrow bridge over the South River. All to watch a wild bottlenose dolphin from a closer vantage point than most of us will ever get outside of an aquarium or amusement park.


Every 50 seconds or so, an anxious murmur gave way to gasps, fingers pointing, cell phone cameras clicking, and cries of “There it is!” The dolphin breached the surface for just long enough to get its necessary air – a second, two at most – before vanishing again. For several days the dolphin returned, as the media reported on it and the crowds grew larger.


Photo of the crowd by David Wheeler


While the dolphin swam underwater, talk amongst the visitors ranged from awe – “I saw it Mom!” and “He’s bigger than I thought!” – to curiosity – “Are they supposed to be here?” and “Where will it come up next?” – to emotion – “I can’t believe we’re lucky enough to see this!” and “It’s beautiful!”


But the discussions also presciently invoked fear and concern – “Is it sick?” “Stranded?” and “Shouldn’t it be with the other dolphins?”


As it turned out, the dolphin was indeed sick. It was dying. Trained volunteers tried to shepherd it out to more accommodating waters, but the dolphin couldn’t make it back out to the open water from its final resting place.


The dolphin was considered to be emaciated, and will be studied with a necropsy. We have no insight yet on whether the dolphin suffered from morbillivirus, a disease which has claimed the lives of hundreds of bottlenose dolphins in recent years along the East Coast.


My son and I watched the dolphin on a Friday evening, not long before dusk. Later that weekend I learned that the dolphin had died the very next day.


Yet in spending its last few days as it did, the dolphin became an unexpected guest for a local inland community that never anticipated such a marine visitor – but cherished the chance to greet it. All told, the dolphin spent much of a week in its retirement home upstream in the South River, in the shadow of Route 527 to the steady hum of Route 18 traffic, visited and admired by many hundreds of people.


Just like past New Jersey visitors, similar to the Trenton beluga whale and the Merrill Creek Reservoir snowy owl, the South River dolphin found an out-of-the-way place that it could call home, albeit temporarily.


The South River dolphin has finally moved on – but it will be remembered.


David Wheeler is the Executive Director of Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

Road Closed: Salamander Crossing

Friday, March 20th, 2015
Road Closures Help Amphibians Migrate to Vernal Pools to Breed

Conserve Wildlife Foundation is excited to celebrate Amphibian Awareness Month during March 2015! Follow us on social media and be sure to check your email (sign up for our list) for weekly stories on the amphibians of the Garden State and our work to protect them. 

By: Lindsay McNamara, Communications Coordinator

Yellow Spotted Salamander © Lindsay McNamara

Yellow Spotted Salamander © Lindsay McNamara


On the night of March 14, Conserve Wildlife Foundation Communications Coordinator Lindsay McNamara attended the first closure of Beekman Road this season. Beekman Road, in East Brunswick, New Jersey, is closed to traffic about two or three nights for six to twelve hours each spring by Friends of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission (Friends of EBEC). Friends of EBEC organizes these road closures to maintain local biodiversity.


In the woods on either side of Beekman Road, vernal pool habitat exists. Vernal pools are temporary woodland ponds that fill with water during the winter and spring and dry out in the summer. These vernal pools are extremely important for a number of amphibians in the area. Spotted salamanders, wood frogs, green frogs, spring peepers, Fowlers toads and chorus frogs all rely on the vernal pools for breeding.


Some amphibians, like spotted salamanders and wood frogs are entirely dependent on the vernal pools for breeding. They leave their winter hibernation spots in upland forests and migrate (often in large groups) to the vernal pools. Research suggests that these species follow the same migratory paths each year, often traveling distances of as much as 1,000 feet from their hibernation spots.


At the vernal pool, mating occurs, eggs are deposited by the females, and the adults leave the habitat and venture to the surrounding woods. The adults spend their summer in these wooded areas before slowly retreating back to their winter hibernation areas, and the natural cycle begins again.


Unfortunately, the migrating amphibians need to cross Beekman Road to get from their hibernating spots to their vernal pool breeding grounds. Road kills during this journey significantly reduce salamander and frog populations and can lead to local extinctions at breeding ponds.


Friends of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission has worked together with a number of partners to close Beekman Road to traffic during nights when amphibian migration is extremely likely. These road closures help protect migrating salamanders and frogs as they move across Beekman Road to their breeding vernal pools.


Friends of EBEC consider a number of variables before they decided to close the road. A wide range of factors trigger salamander migration including the amount and timing of rainfall, the date, the temperature of the air, the temperature of the ground, the availability of open water on the vernal pools, the depth the salamanders are migrating, soil moisture and many others. Interestingly, studies have shown that males typically migrate first and arrive at the vernal pools before the females. It seems females need a higher average air temperature to stimulate their movement than the males.


Volunteers are encouraged to come on these rainy nights to help the amphibians cross the road. Bring your friends, your family and don’t forget a flashlight, to the next road closure of the season! Updates are posted on the Friends of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission’s blog.


These road closures are a great way to protect local biodiversity and educate New Jersey residents about wildlife in their state. Conserve Wildlife Foundation, in partnership with the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program, lead a number of Amphibian Crossing volunteer programs across New Jersey. Join us!


Learn more:


Lindsay McNamara is the Communications Coordinator for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.