Dolphins in the Big Apple

It’s been bad news down on Wall Street. But at the other end of New York City, off of the Bronx’s City Island, there was a heartening report: Dolphins were spotted and escorted through the western end of the Long Island Sound by the NYPD Harbor Unit, ensuring a smooth trip to the Big Apple. 

Dolphins were last seen off City Island two years ago, and according to Charles Bowman, president of The Riverhead Foundation, they were probably hunting for river herring (one more reason why we need to protect these fish – and why NRDC filed a petition just last week to list them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act). Last year, several dolphins were spotted in the East River. Their mere presence in the New York City Harbor is a great sign: it suggests that the water is cleaner and that there are more baitfish to be eaten.

These dolphins also can be found offshore in the deep, biologically rich submarine canyons and underwater mountains off our coast. These canyons, including the Hudson Canyon southeast of New York Harbor, lie on the edge of the continental shelf. In the cold depths of many of these canyons, brilliantly colored corals, sponges, and untold numbers of invertebrates are found and great schools of fish, like squid and herring, that dolphins and whales rely on. Without these ocean oases, we might never have the chance to see a number of marine mammal species near New York City.

A recent short film from NRDC called Ocean Oases explores these canyons and is narrated by ocean explorer Philippe Cousteau, Jr. as he stands in front of New York City Harbor—the very places these dolphins are swimming through.

So far, humans have hardly touched these deep canyons, which undoubtedly has allowed the life there to flourish. But that’s no guarantee they’ll stay safe. In a single pass, new “canyon buster” and “rock hopper” trawl fishing gear has the potential to destroy these fragile ocean landscapes, which nurture healthy fisheries. In addition, oil corporations are anxious to use seismic exploration to probe the canyons for undiscovered supplies. The noise from this seismic exploration can damage and confuse marine mammals, which are finely equipped to hear subtle vibrations in the ocean, in order to communicate with one another. And of course, any drilling in or near the canyons that could follow seismic testing risks a catastrophic spill affecting one of our most pristine and sensitive environments.

NRDC will continue fighting to protect this unique underwater world – and the dolphins swimming through it, just off our shores.