LACEY TOWNSHIP — The mystery of who shot a swan with a dart in Toms River — currently under the care of the Popcorn Park Zoo — has been solved.

Officials from the state Department of Environmental Protection shot the swan with a dart big enough to take down a deer — and meant to kill it, said DEP spokesman Larry Hajna. They'd gotten a call because the swan was acting aggressively, he said.

The swan was brought to the Forked River facility after the bird was found with what was thought to be an arrow in its wing. And the story went viral Thursday — but how it got shot and by whom wasn't clear.

Popcorn Park Zoo Director John Bergmann said the Zoo's veterinarian found a large dart with a "large barb that would be used on deer, never on something as fragile as waterfowl. This larger dart should never be used on an animal in the water as it would drown while it was being sedated,"

Toms River resident Beth Charles contacted New Jersey 101.5 to share her story about seeing two men in a small boat come to the lagoon at her home on Cable Drive on Silver Bay in Toms River on Tuesday. They were wearing uniforms with Department of Environmental Protection patches on the left shoulder and vests of some sort, she said.

The men said they were there to take the male swan from a family that Charles said has lived at the lagoon for the past 20 years, in response to complaints about them. However, many of those neighbors who watched the men chase after the swan told Charles they had not made a complaint, she said.

Charles said that the male was very protective of his offspring and made noise.

The men took the swan onto their boat, according to Charles, who said the swan was found near the Coty Marine dock.

Hajna confirmed her story.

"It was an aggressive, mute swan that was reported by local animal control in an area of a lagoon off of Cable Drive. The bird was attacking people on jet skis and paddle boards. It also attacked a person on a dock and bit him," Hajna said. "The conservation officers who responded went out their with the intent to euthanize the birds because of its aggressive behavior. That's not unusua,  because of the threat to public safety."

Hajna said the officers and a DEP wildlife control unit decided to use a tranquilizer gun instead of a firearm because of the residential nature of the area. UPDATE: Hajna said Friday he wasn't sure which personnel made the decision and took the shot, but the DEP has since clarified wildlife control did so.

The dart hit a wingbone, not muscle, and the drug did not discharge properly — so it didn't knock out the swan.

"The conservation officers tried for about two hours to try to catch the bird and were unsuccessful," Hajna said.

He said the officers "spent more than two hours out on a boat. They're chasing it on the water. The bird has the advantage."

Hajna said he didn't have any information on whether another attempt to euthanize the bird had been planned.

Bergmann said the dart just missed the bird's humerus bone, going through the wing just enough for the drug to inject outside her body.

"Our veterinarian removed the dart and treated the wound," Bergmann said. "There was quite a bit of damage because of the barb but she should be fine. She’s resting comfortably and will stay with us getting antibiotics and other meds until she is healed."

Hajna said the swan is not native to the east coast — mute swans were brought to the area years ago and are considered disruptive to the local ecology. They are used to a more wild population.

They "compete with ducks and native wildlife, and they ... voraciously eat submerged aquatic vegetation," he said.

The swans are known to interfere with humans on the water, he said. They often become acclimated to their surroundings and start to expect handouts.

"This is a classic case where animals become habituated to people. They're expecting handouts and they kind of get ticked off if they don't get them," Hajna said.

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(Video courtesy of animal activist group SHARK)

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