Over a Century Later, the Whales Have Returned to NYC

Here's where to find 'em

By Shari Gab

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21 June 2017

People come to New York to see a lot of things.

Statues. Museums. Those kids who do front flips over huddled packs of tourists.

Whales, though? Wrong coast. Or so we thought.

This year, the majestic mammals have rolled into our waters in numbers that haven’t been seen in over a century.

So we tapped advocacy and education group Gotham Whale’s President, Paul Sieswerda, for a little intel on what’s going on — and, of course, where to catch a glimpse before they’re gone.

So, why so many whales?

Sieswerda offers three explanations on why these creatures have returned in droves. First, the Hudson waters have been cleaned up over the last 10 years thanks to legislative and activist efforts. The fresher water (and enforcement of catch limits on industrial fishermen) means the fish that whales feed on have also repopulated. That’s number two. And finally, the Marine Mammal Protection Act has aided in removing the humpback whale — the species we see almost exclusively in NYC — from the extinction list. It’s still protected, mind you, just no longer on the brink of nevermore.

Where can I go see whales?

Gotham Whale works hand-in-hand with the responsible watching line American Princess Cruises, departing five days a week from the Rockaways. While Princess is a commercial vessel, it takes Gotham Whale out on the water to track and catalogue the whales in the area with something called a “fluke pattern database.”

Sieswerda informed us that whale’s flukes each have a distinct pattern and — much like the FBI has a database of fingerprints — Gotham keeps tabs on all of them. This helps them track the pod’s pattern of behavior, which they then apply when lobbying for protection in D.C., working with Ocean Planning to keep everyone in the area in the know.

The cruises are four hours each, and weather permitting, there’s a near-guaranteed chance for spotting some tail. Binoculars are a plus.

See a whale. Get a beer.

Gotham Whale’s Wanted program depends on the community’s eyes to spot and report whales. “If you see something, say something” applies to the open waters as well. Photos and locations of spotted whales can be submitted to Gotham here, and in return, you will be handsomely rewarded with a beer at one of their participating brewery locales.

See a spout, watch out.

If you’re in a kayak and you see a whale, what do you do? “Be very careful,” Sieswerda laughs. “It’s a 30- to 50-ton animal and you’re probably in more danger than the whale. But if you’re in say a small motorized boat, keep your distance of at least 50 yards to observe. There are serious penalties for harassing a whale: $20,000 or a up to a year in jail. And ignorance is no excuse.”

Find your new passion?

If you want to be more involved in what this totally righteous organization is doing, they are a (struggling) non-profit and accept donations and volunteers. And they are currently in need of a bookkeeper. Just sayin’.

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