RECAP: Dolphin swims into Gowanus Canal, meets its end

RECAP: Dolphin swims into Gowanus Canal, meets its end
Photo by Paul Martinka

A male dolphin that was trapped in the notoriously filthy and toxic Gowanus Canal is dead.

The cetacean, which was spotted swimming in the canal at 9:30 am on Friday and appeared to have a bleeding dorsal fin, began bobbing up and down near the Union Street bridge between Bond and Nevins streets in the early afternoon after spending nine sludge-covered hours in the disgusting waterway.

The mammal was coming up for air every few seconds before it passed away at about 6 pm, breaking the hearts of the dozens of concerned onlookers who gathered in the freezing cold to catch a glimpse of the doomed creature from the banks of the canal and cheered whenever he would show his snout, letting him know he wasn’t alone at his time of death.

“I think he knew he was surrounded by people who wanted to help him,” said Aida Rodriguez of Carroll Gardens. “It gave him a bit of energy.”

Rodriguez, who claimed she wanted to jump into the frigid waterway to save the creature, could not hold back tears as she came to terms with what had happened.

“This is just terrible,” she said as she broke down in tears. “It’s heartbreaking.”

Brooklynites fearing for the dolphin's life risked frostbite to catch a glimpse of the wayward cetacean.
Photo by Paul Martinka

The exact cause of death is not known at this time.

The dolphin sighting made international headlines on Friday, and Brooklynites headed down to the federal Superfund site to see the six- to seven-foot long creature that weighed between 200 to 250 pounds swimming in a soupy, water-esque substance that is contains the germs that could give swimmers gonorrhea.

“It’s an incredible sight,” said Tiffany Collings, who left her Park Slope clothing store job to check out the dolphin. “You don’t usually see a lot of wildlife in the Gowanus Canal.”

Rescue workers had hoped that their finned friend would somehow make its way back out to sea once high tide came in, fearing that any human assistance before then would only make matters worse.

“An intervention on our part can be detrimental to the animal,” said Julika Wocial, a marine biologist from the Riverhead Foundation, the rescue organization that received a call from a citizen who spotted the dolphin at the entrance to corpse of a waterway near Hamilton Avenue. “It’s a very normal and standard procedure that we wait through more tide cycles before we attempt to do anything.”

The dolphin isn’t the first sea mammal to get caught — and die in — Brooklyn’s nautical purgatory.

The stranded dolphin was coated in the Gowanus Canal’s famous sludge.
Photo by Paul Martinka

In 2007, a baby minke whale, affectionately called “Sludgie,” was swimming in the canal after it was separated from its mother during a Nor’Easter. It died after apparently hitting some submerged rocks near an oil facility at the end of Clinton Street.

The Gowanus’ sister-filthy-inlet, Newtown Creek, also attracted a dolphin, nicknamed “Slimey,” in 2010. That dolphin is believed to have miraculously survived.

Today’s dolphin does not have a nickname, although a twitter account, @gowanusdolphin, had been created on its behalf.

That account has died along with the dolphin.

The dolphin sighting and death came a day after the federal government held two public meetings in Carroll Gardens and Red Hook to discuss its half-billion dollar plan to clean up the grotesque waterway that is, no more than ever, clearly no place for marine mammals.

The cleanup will commence after a two-year design phase, and will take at least until 2022 to complete, Environmental Protection Agency officials said.

Rescuers were waiting for the evening’s tide to come in before attempting an intrevention with the dolphin, but it passed away before they could act.
Photo by Paul Martinka

People who spot large marine wildlife in the Gowanus Canal or Newtown Creek, are urged to call the Riverhead Foundation at (631) 369–9829.

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at twitter.com/souleddout.