Humpback Whales Return To New York Area After Nearly Vanishing

There is some good news for the humpback whales of New York. Following a long absence, the city has begun to see a rise of humpback whales in the area. Back in 2011, there were only fewer than 5 humpback whales seen swimming in the Hudson River. However, as of last year there more than 300 sightings – something that is quite promising. It is believed that the reappearance of the whales is thanks to cleaner waters.

Cleaner waters can be attributed to the Clean Water Act, Mammal Protection Act, and the Endangered Species Act. These have also brought back plankton levels, which could also account for the return of the whales since plankton are the basis for the ecosystem.

The increase in plankton means that there is an increased population of menhaden, a schooling fish species that the whales love to eat. More menhaden means more whales – it’s all part of the circle of life.

As Paul Sieswerda, the president of research organization Gotham Whale, explained to WLNY, given that the Hudson River is much cleaner and less polluted than it has been in the past, it’s now being able to sustain life. One interesting fact that Sieswerda pointed out was that the humpback whales who’ve returned are juveniles.

Just because they’re in the “safety” of the Hudson River, they do still face challenges to their survival. The main risk is that they’re now much closer to shipping lanes, which means they run the risk of getting hit by ships or tangled up in fishing or shipping gear. And New York City is the busiest port on the Eastern seaboard.

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And there has already been a close call with human interaction, as back in August, one whale was entangled in some buoys and finishing lines just off the coast of New York City in the Ambrose Channel. The whale was likely stuck like this for several days until it was eventually found in time and, thankfully, freed.

This whale was lucky that it was found in time to be rescued. And Basil Seggos of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation was able to share a post about it, including the good news:

There has been a 24-hour hotline established by the New York Marine Rescue Center for people to phone in to report injured or entangled whales. The number is 631-369-9829. And it’s important that the public do call if they spot what could be an injured or entrapped whale as there have been humpback whale deaths in the past.

Between 2016 and 2019 there were 28 humpback whale deaths that happened in the areas of New York and New Jersey – a fair amount of them showing signs of being trauma related to human interaction.

But the good news is these types of deaths can be curtailed so long as governments are willing to collaborate with nonprofits in order to make sure that the risks to whales that would cause such injuries and accidents can be avoided. This would only help to give humpback whale populations a chance to bounce back and thrive in those waters.

As explained to NBC 4 by Danielle Brown, the lead humpback whale researcher with Gotham Whale as well as a doctoral student at Rutgers University, “This is most likely going to continue, and we have to find a way to coexist with these large animals in our waters.”

One can only hope that people take the survival of the humpback whales seriously, and they will all do their own part to make sure these whales can survive in their homes.

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