HIGHLANDS, N.J. - Officials of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will meet this week to discuss how to deal with the potential mass stranding of as many as 12 bottlenose dolphins that have been in the Monmouth County's Shrewsbury and Navesink Rivers since June.

"We're pretty confident about what to do if it's just one" that beaches itself on the riverbank or in shallows, said Teri Frady, a spokeswoman for NOAA, which has jurisdiction over the animals. "But a mass stranding requires more preparation and resources."

The agency decided in late October that it would not intervene to try to coax the wayward dolphins out of the river unless they are in imminent danger. Two of the original pod have died; some are believed to have made their way back to sea. Bob Schoelkopf, codirector of the stranding center, has said that the dolphins may freeze to death in the frigid waters. There may be little rescuers could do in the case of a mass stranding, he said.

"If they end up like that, they're probably past the point of recovery," he said. Schoelkopf's facility has advocated moving the dolphins south.

The stranding center can't take injured or sick dolphins for any length of time, he said, because the center's tanks are unheated and the center is caring for stranded seals in those tanks. Area aquariums can't take more than a couple of dolphins, even if they survive a stranding, he added.   - AP