A wayward dolphin found swimming Friday in the murky waters of Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal died in the early evening after the NYPD and marine biologists from the Riverhead Foundation tried to help it.
The common dolphin, an adult about 7 feet long, stopped breathing about 6 p.m. under the Union Street bridge, said Robert DiGiovanni, the foundation's director and senior biologist.
The animal had moved south to that location just moments before. At the time, the foundation said on Facebook that its experts were investigating whether there was a safe way to extricate the animal from that location.
But after what was mostly a nonintervention strategy by the foundation, the dolphin's death sparked a flurry of angry emails and calls.
DiGiovanni said he spent hours Friday evening explaining what happened to upset callers.
"A lot of times they don't see all the work that goes on to come up with a decision," he said. "What we're doing is following a plan . . . that would give an animal the most chance of survival."
Marine biologists decided that intervening would stress the animal and perhaps kill it, DiGiovanni said. The dolphin was able to move around and biologists hoped it could find its way out of the urban canal, he said.
"It's very hard for people to watch and not say, 'Why aren't you jumping in?'" he said.
DiGiovanni said he was also concerned about the safety of his team in the canal's polluted waters.
The foundation plans to retrieve the dolphin's body to conduct a necropsy, he said.
On its Facebook page, the foundation said the dolphin was initially spotted at 9 a.m. Dolphins usually travel in groups, but this one's solo appearance was cause for worry. The sighting drew animal lovers, local residents and workers.
Many were concerned about the dolphin's chances of survival in the deadly waters of the canal, where industrial waste had been dumped for decades. The Gowanus Canal was declared a federal Superfund site in 2010.
The dolphin was also bleeding from one of its fins, DiGiovanni said. He said they were "superficial wounds," probably from churning or scraping against whatever was at the bottom of the canal.
He said the dolphin's health was not clear from its body.
"It was moving around," DiGiovanni said. "We couldn't say it wasn't in good body condition, but we also couldn't get a good look at the animal because of the turbidity associated with the water."
Foundation experts, along with NYPD harbor and emergency service units, had planned to see if the 7:10 p.m. high tide would help take the dolphin out to deeper waters.