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Dolphin Trapped in New York’s Toxic Gowanus Canal Dies Miserable, Filthy Death

An injured dolphin that accidentally wandered into one of the most heavily polluted waterways in the nation died a slow, cold, filthy death as rescuers didn’t dare enter the sludge-filled canal.

Gowanus Canal (Photo: Tamas Neltz)

Gowanus Canal (Photo: Tamas Neltz)

The 7-foot (2.1 m) short-beaked common dolphin became separated from its pod and made its way up the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, where it was first spotted at around 9:30 a.m. on Friday, according to the New York Times. The dolphin was visibly struggling to swim, both due to the highly toxic waters and from an apparent injury to its dorsal fin, where blood could be seen as the animal bobbed up and down in the canal.

Curious onlookers lined the Union Street bridge and other parts of the canal to watch the unfortunate creature as it slowly succumbed to the sludge-filled and poisonous waters of the Gowanus, which was listed as a federal Superfund site in 2010.

Toxic. (Photo: Missy S./Flickr Creative Commons)

Toxic. (Photo: Missy S./Flickr Creative Commons)

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency:

Completed in 1869, the Gowanus Canal was once a major transportation route for the then separate cities of Brooklyn and New York City. Manufactured gas plants, mills, tanneries, and chemical plants are among the many facilities that operated along the canal.

As a result of years of discharges, storm water runoff, sewer outflows and industrial pollutants, the Gowanus Canal has become one of the nation’s most extensively contaminated water bodies. Contaminants include PCBs, coal tar wastes, heavy metals and volatile organics. The contamination poses a threat to the nearby residents who use the canal for fishing and recreation.

The EPA recently announced a $500 million cleanup plan for the canal.

Gowanus Canal at low tide (Photo: Flickr Creative Commons)

Gowanus Canal at low tide (Photo: Flickr Creative Commons)

Because of the forbidding conditions, would-be rescuers could do nothing but watch helplessly as the dolphin slowly died.

“Unfortunately, all we can do is watch and wait for the tide to rise, so the animal can get out on its own,” Robert DiGiovanni, senior biologist at the Riverhead Foundation, told the New York Daily News. “It’s not safe for us to get people in the water.”

But the doomed dolphin eventually could struggle no more. CBS New York reports that around 5:30 p.m., it became wedged between a rock and a pillar of the Union Street Bridge. Witnesses saw it flop around and hit its head on the pillar. Then it stopped moving and floated on the surface.

Hardened NYPD officers broke down in tears after the animal breathed its last breath, ordering the gawkers to stand back and give the dead dolphin some privacy.

“Everybody across the street now,” they yelled. The officers weren’t the only ones crying for the poor dolphin.

“I was hoping someone would save him.” resident Chrystal Oliba told the Daily News.

“I am upset and angry,” Vickie Karp added. “Why didn’t they do anything?”

One man did try to do something, even if it meant placing himself at the mercy of the killer canal. As this video shows, a man braves frigid temperatures and poisonous waters to provide a few moments of comfort to the creature in its final hours.

This dolphin isn’t the first marine mammal to die after swimming up into the Gowanus. In 2007, a two-ton (1,800 kg)  baby minke whale got separated from its pod and struggled in the sludge-filled canal for two days before expiring.

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