By Mark Abrams

BRIGANTINE, N.J. (CBS) — The bottlenose dolphins are back along the Jersey shore, and the warm winter may have contributed to their early return.

Bob Schoelkopf, founding director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, NJ, says pods of bottlenose dolphins have been back in the area for weeks, and were active off the coast during the recent Memorial Day holiday weekend.

“We, essentially, never had a winter here,” he tells KYW Newsradio.  “We see the arrival of this species that we normally wouldn’t see until later in the season.  We’re expecting heavier number of sea turtles coming up. So, it’s just a very early summer season for us.”

Schoelkopf says the majority of the dolphins being seen now are female, and they already have begun giving birth or have newborns with them.

He says male dolphins generally join the pods later in the summer season when the young dolphins have learned to feed on their own.

Early risers who hit the beach in Brigantine or Atlantic City about sunrise often report seeing the dolphins not far from shore, heading out for a fish breakfast.