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A wayward bottle-nosed dolphin that has made the East River home for the past week has attracted a steady stream of admirers and curious onlookers, who ooh and aah as it leaps from the water.

When it jumps in a graceful arc, there are excited shouts of "There he is!" and "Hey, Flipper!"John Soto, a security guard, is one of the dolphin's most devoted admirers.

Ever since it was spotted in the East River June 20, he has been on the esplanade from sunrise to sunset in the vicinity of 96th Street to watch the creature he has named "Dolfie."

"I got my binoculars, a nice bench and I've been watching her every single day," said Soto. "This is my vacation spot right here."

The 5-foot-long dolphin on Monday stubbornly resisted marine biologists' efforts to herd it out of the murky river waters to open sea by banging on pipes in the water.

The experts don't know why the creature won't leave the small area in the river south of Wards Island, said Sam Sadove, the research director at the Okeanos Ocean Research Foundation Inc. on New York's Long Island.

He said it's possible the dolphin's sonar is impaired.

Another theory is that the sonar is working but "is picking up changes in the water that make it think there is a barrier," he added.

Based on tests on the water Monday, marine biologists determined that the animal could remain in the river for up to three to four weeks without serious impact.

But if the dolphin becomes stressed, its chances of survival decline.

"It can die very quickly. It's just like a human in shock with changes in color, pallor and breathing rate," Sadove said.

Nelson Hernandez, an 11-year-old who wants to be a marine biologist when he grows up, is also concerned the river could mean death for the dolphin.

"They say the water is dirty so he might be dying. This water may be polluting his body," said the youngster as he leaned over the esplanade railing to see the animal better.

Gregory Rivera, a doorman who lives in the neighborhood, pointed with amazement at the dolphin when he spotted it for the first time. "There it is! See him? Right there."

Myram Pochynok, a New York Telephone employee munching on pizza during his lunch break, also joined the excitement, saying:

"It's one of the best things to hit the East River. You usually see all kinds of other stuff floating in the water. It's nice to see something that belongs there."

Dolphins certainly belong in the water but not in the East River's water, marine experts said. And Sadove said the foundation will continue its efforts to drive the dolphin to sea as soon as it has assembled the necessary equipment.