Banko said he couldn’t believe what he saw: dolphins.
“I said to myself, ‘Wait a minute, let me go to the dock and get closer,'” said Banko, 22. “When I did, it was like they almost felt my presence. Both went through the surface of the water and dropped their fins again.
Banko quickly took a video of the dolphins and then posted it to Instagram with a full caption.
“OK NOW I NEED SOME ANSWERS IF YOU ARE FROM THE BRONX AND KNOW THIS PARK PLEASE EXPLAIN TO ME WHY I WERE DOLPHINS 🐬 IN THE… PARK .. HAD SHOCKED ME”
A few days later, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation broke up his meeting Twitterwhere it has been viewed over 2 million times.
“It’s true – dolphins have been spotted in the Bronx River this week!” NYC Parks posted. “This is great news – it shows that the decades-long effort to restore the river is working as a healthy habitat. We believe these dolphins have naturally made their way to the river in search of fish.”
“We encourage you to welcome these dolphins to the BX!” a park spokesman later wrote in a statement. “Make sure they feel comfortable during their visit by giving them space and not disturbing them.”
Two days later, two more dolphins were sighted in Brooklyn, though no one is sure if they were the same pair. People immediately started sharing videos of them on social media.
“We need a bigger canoe!” one man commented on Twitter.
“There was no game in the Atlantic Ocean [Long Island] and NJ when I was a kid,” another Twitter user posted. “Now there are seals, dolphins and yes, sharks, not to mention ospreys and other birds. The environmental movement has achieved tremendous success.”
One person suspected that New York dolphins probably sound different from other dolphins.
“FUN FACT: The dolphins communicate with each other through a series of clicks and whistles with a clear Bronx accent,” he wrote.
“I know I’m one of those simple Kansas types, but you have dolphins in your river and that’s not normal, is it?” added a Wichita man.
Dolphins occasionally show up to feed on Atlantic bunkerfish in New York City’s waterways, according to wildlife experts. They’ve been seen more often in New York Harbor, where the Hudson River meets the salt water of the Atlantic Ocean off Manhattan’s lower tip. Sightings as far north as the Bronx are less common.
“You don’t see them every day, but we did see a few in 2017,” said Adriana Caminero, a city park ranger at NYC Parks, who recalls when students in a youth development program took photos of a lone dolphin in the Bronx River .
Over the years, there have been other dolphin sightings in the New York City area.
In 2012, a bottlenose dolphin was spotted in the Hudson River near West 120th Street, and in 2013, a pair of dolphins were spotted in the East River. New Yorkers have also seen a humpback whale in the Hudson, and a fisherman caught a shark there in 2015.
Two days after Banko made a video of the dolphins in the Bronx, several people witnessed two dolphins swimming in Whale Creek near the Grand Street Bridge in Brooklyn, prompting the Newtown Creek Alliance to release a photo and short video of the marine mammals on Instagram.
“It’s a good sign to see dolphins in our waters — it’s a sign that the river is much healthier now than it was in the past,” Caminero said, noting that it took years of activism to clean up the Bronx River after decades of pollution and dumping.
Most people think of the 23-mile waterway as a freshwater river, she said, but further south the lake is brackish as it becomes part of the Long Island Sound. The river is replenished with fish every year by NYC Parks, Caminero noted.
“I’ve personally seen schools of bunkerfish in Starlight Park — they’re a staple of dolphins’ diets,” she said. “So it’s actually not unusual for them to be pulled there.”
After the dolphins were spotted in Whale Creek, people feared they could be poisoned by toxins, oil and sewage in the water. The adjacent Newtown Creek is a Superfund site that will not be cleaned up until 2032.
“It’s insane that the state hasn’t cleaned up this creek,” one Queens resident wrote on Instagram.
“This is scary because of their safety/health (toxins, pollution) and beautiful at the same time,” another person wrote.
Both recent dolphin sightings are a reminder of the importance of keeping waterways clean to increase wildlife activity, said Willis Elkins, executive director of the Newtown Creek Alliance.
“Despite improvements in water quality around New York City over the past several decades, we still have a long way to go to clean up historic toxins and eliminate the billions of gallons of sewage overflow that pose a real risk to both humans and marine life,” said he. .
While major improvements have been made to the Bronx River, there is still work to be done, Caminero added.
“Here in New York City, it’s very important that we dispose of our garbage properly because even something small can end up in our waterways,” she said. “Abandoned fishing gear can also be dangerous – fish and other animals can become entangled in fishing lines.”
She encourages those who want to see wildlife in or out of the water in New York City to keep their distance from the creatures.
While the dolphins may have moved further, there are other wildlife-watching opportunities, she noted. City park rangers will treat the public to a free seal-watching expedition on Saturday at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx.