Leaf-trimming couldn't save the creatures; no specialty pruner could be found. So the city has decided to remove the iconic bushes and hire someone to grow and groom new ones.
Newport Beach plans to spend just under $8,000 for the replacements, which take more than half a year to grow. An additional $5,000 will go toward highway median landscape improvements.
"It just seemed to be part of that community. The community seemed to be part of the dolphin life," said Don Glasgow, who co-founded the local improvement district. "There was a really good relationship."
It hasn't always been smooth sailing for the topiaries. A car once plowed into one of the dolphins and a city arborist was brought in to render a verdict on whether the plant would survive. It did.
On holidays, the dolphins are decorated by a group calling itself the "Dolphin Mothers"; the exception is St. Patrick's Day, when a more underground group has dressed up the dolphins in green top hats.