If your New York wildlife experiences have been limited to pizza-loving rats, chattering squirrels and endless pigeons get ready for a surprise. To the astonishment of just about everyone, humpback whales have returned to New York waters.
Their reappearance is being credited to the Clean Water Act and other anti-pollution and protection programs. Humpback whales – notable for their distinctive hump and flippers –are among the least threatened of the whale species, although they were hunted to extinction in New York a hundred or so years ago.
Now, cleaner waters are producing nutrients that feed school fish, notably menhaden from the herring family. Rich in omega-3 oils, they swim in schools so large that whales will congregate and breach to catch their lunch or dinner. Because menhaden are at the bottom of the food chain, they’ve been called the most important fish in the sea; every other fish eats them while they eat only algae.
Most of the humpback whales can be seen east of New York City in the Rockaways or at the Jersey Shore although there have been a few who have taken a jaunt up the Hudson River to the shock of people looking out their windows to see a whale bigger than a bus – up to 60 feet long and 35-50 tons – breach the river.
If you’re interested in seeing humpbacks, Gotham Whale, a New York City whale research and advocacy group, has partnered with American Princess Cruises for four-hour whale watching and dolphin sighting cruises that leave from Riis Landing in Rockaway now through November 3rd.
Gotham Whale is the organization that has been tracking the return of whales to New York Harbor since 2010 when they spotted five. In 2018, they spotted 272.
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Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD+C
President, Metropolitan Valuation Services