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We need whale poo 📷 WDC NA

Whales are our climate allies – meet the scientists busy proving it

At Whale and Dolphin Conservation, we're working hard to bring whales and the ocean into...
Minke whale © Ursula Tscherter - ORES

The whale trappers are back with their cruel experiment

Anyone walking past my window might have heard my groan of disbelief at the news...
Boto © Fernando Trujillo

Meet the legendary pink river dolphins

Botos don't look or live like other dolphins. Flamingo-pink all over with super-skinny snouts and...
Risso's dolphin entangled in fishing line and plastic bags - Andrew Sutton

The ocean is awash with plastic – can we ever clean it up?

You've seen pictures of plastic litter accumulating on beaches or marine wildlife swimming through floating...
Fin whale

Is this the beginning of the end for whaling off Iceland?

I'm feeling cautiously optimistic after Iceland's Fisheries Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir wrote that there is little...
Mykines Lighthouse, Faroe Islands

Understanding whale and dolphin hunts in the Faroe Islands – why change is not easy

Most people in my home country of the Faroe Islands would like to see an...

Dolphin scientists look like you and me – citizen science in action

Our amazing volunteers have looked out for dolphins from the shores of Scotland more than...
Atlantic white-sided dolphins

The Faroes dolphin slaughter that sparked an outcry now brings hope

Since the slaughter of at least 1,423 Atlantic white-sided dolphins at Skálafjørður in my home...

Whales and the City

Humpback whale sightings increasingly common in waters off New York, and throughout the mid-Atlantic.

During the spring, summer and fall, North Atlantic humpback whales are commonly found off the coast of New England feeding in the Gulf of Maine (GoM). In the past few years though, evidence for the regular seasonal occurrence of humpbacks off New York City and throughout the mid-Atlantic waters (the waters off Virginia, New Jersey, and New York) has been growing.

This year, WDC began working with the American Princess, a whale watch company out of Queens, NYC through our Whale SENSE program and Dr. Artie Kopelman of CRESLI, a New York based research and education organization.  Sightings for the American Princess have been so successful that they have extended their season.  You know that when whale watching companies are adding extra trips in an area previously unknown for supporting populations of feeding whales, that something interesting is happening.

In the past few weeks, I have been going through recorded humpback whale sightings posted by both whale watching companies and naturalists on online sites such as Flickr. My main job has been collating these sightings into one database so that WDC can better understand potential patterns in the appearance of these whales. Many of the humpbacks seen off Montauk, NY and in the Great South Channel (east of Cape Cod) are individuals we recognize from the GoM feeding grounds. However, there are a number of whales that are not in our catalogue and may be coming down from Canada for a bite to eat.  Unlike the Gulf of Maine, the whale sightings in the mid-Atlantic are year round, leading us to believe that the area is much more important for humpback whales than previously believed.

Why does this matter?
Well, because mid-Atlantic waters are not generally thought of as an important feeding habitat for endangered humpback whales, there are few existing protections for this species in the area. The mid-Atlantic and especially waters off New York are busy areas for shipping and fishing.  Less than two weeks ago, a humpback whale was found dead off NY from an apparent entanglement in fishing gear.  This past spring, Istar a well-known GoM humpback died off NY and while the results of her necropsy are still pending, a ship strike cannot be ruled out as the cause of her death. In order to protect the whales utilizing these waters, we have to better understand when and where exactly these whales are there. The use of opportunistic data collected from whale watching boats may prove to be an effective way to begin to understand these whales’ habitat use.

What are my next steps?
I’m currently going through these mid-Atlantic sightings and creating a catalogue of the individuals seen, including information about where and when in New York waters each whale was seen. I can then compare this catalogue to whale sighting records and catalogues for Virginia, New Jersey, and the GoM. This will help WDC better understand when and why whales may be more noticeably using this area. It will also aid in our argument for increased whale protections in these areas.