Friday, December 2, 2016

Why All These Whales Are Around NJ

A humpback fluke- the tail of each humpback whale is visibly unique.

There have been a number of humpback whale sightings off New York and New Jersey the past month. Humpbacks weigh from 25 to 40 tons, and can grow to 60 feet in length and they are impressive as they feed and breach.

Humpbacks are baleen whales, meaning they don't have teeth but instead filter small fish, plankton and tiny crustaceans out of the water. They spend the spring, summer and fall building up their blubber, which nourishes them during the winter breeding season when they don't feed.

In early September, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced its decision to remove most humpback whale populations from its endangered species list. Once depleted by commercial whaling, humpbacks had been on the list since 1970.

There are 14 distinct global populations of humpbacks and those along the East Coast breed in the Caribbean and migrate north for feeding. Currently the most  endangered populations include those that breed off Central America and migrate up the coasts of California and Oregon.

Though no longer listed as endangered, those on our coast are still protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the International Whaling Commission's 1982 moratorium on whale hunting.

There are stronger populations now, but why so many sightings lately? Simple answer: food.

Commercial catch limits have been placed on menhaden, also known as bunker, an oily fish that's a major food source for humpbacks. New rules and quotas put in place in by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in 2012 cut by 20 percent the amount of bunker that could be harvested by commercial fishing operations.

Menhaden by Brian.gratwicke -   CC BY 2.5, Link
Whales migrate along the New Jersey coast late summer through late fall and are feeding heavily on the improved menhaden numbers.

Menhaden/bunker are a slow swimming species that has been called "The Most Important Fish in the Sea." They feed on phytoplankton and are a food source for whales and also bluefish and striped bass and osprey and bald eagles. Bunker are also turned into pet food, lobster bait, aquaculture food and fish oil supplements.

Humpbacks are by far the most frequently sighted whales along New Jersey's coast. We also occasionally spot some of the smaller populations of finback, minke and North Atlantic right whales as they migrate through our waters.

MORE about humpback whales:

MORE about whales in our area: Gotham Whale  and Cape May Whale Watch

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Coastal Protection for Atlantic County

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has awarded a $63.3 million contract to build engineered beaches and dunes in Margate and Longport and to replenish beaches in Atlantic City and Ventnor, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin announced today.

The Absecon Island Coastal Storm Damage Reduction project is a joint effort of the Army Corps’ Philadelphia District and the DEP.

DEP PHOTO/Atlantic City

“This project is vital to the protection of homes, businesses, lives and infrastructure in these Atlantic County communities,” Commissioner Martin said. “I want to thank the Army Corps of Engineers for working closely with the DEP to ensure this project moves forward as an important part of the Christie Administration’s integrated strategy to make our economically vital shore communities more resilient by protecting them from storms and flooding.”

“I'm proud of the efforts of the team that has worked so hard to move this project forward,” said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Philadelphia District Commander Lt. Col. Michael Bliss. “When complete, the engineered dune and berm will be one system with the purpose of reducing damages to the infrastructure on the island.”
The contract was awarded to Cranford-based Weeks Marine Inc. and covers about eight miles of shoreline stretching from Brigantine Inlet south to Great Egg Harbor Inlet. The contract amount could increase based on options for placement of additional sand based on conditions that exist when the sand is placed.

The Army Corps will issue a notice to Weeks Marine Inc. directing work to commence before the end of the year. The work is expected to be completed by October 2017.
Work involves constructing an engineered dune and berm system in Margate and Longport as well as the scheduled nourishment of the previously constructed sections of the project in Atlantic City and Ventnor.

The contract calls for a 200-foot-wide beach, also known as a berm, and a dune built to an elevation of nearly 15 feet above sea level for Atlantic City. A 100-foot wide berm and a dune to an elevation of nearly 13 feet above sea level will be built for Ventnor, Margate and Longport.

More than 3.8 million cubic yards of sand will be dredged from approved offshore areas and pumped through a series of pipes onto the beaches of the four municipalities. The sand will then be built into a dune and beach system designed to reduce potential damages to infrastructure, businesses, and homes that can occur from coastal storm events.
In addition, the contract includes the construction of public access dune crossovers, placement of sand fencing, dune grass plantings, and the repair or extension of existing storm water outfalls and drainage structures.
The Absecon Island project was only partially completed when Superstorm Sandy slammed the state in October 2012. The project in place helped to dramatically reduce damages along those sections of the island.

The Army Corps had completed the initial construction of the project at Atlantic City and most of Ventnor in 2004. These sections of the project received sand nourishment in the spring of 2012, months before Sandy. The areas were restored in 2013, just months after Sandy.

The Army Corps will closely coordinate with Weeks Marine on the construction schedule and will post updates to its project website when further information is available.

Completing the initial construction in Margate and Longport is funded entirely by the federal government through the 2013 Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, commonly known as the Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill.

The periodic nourishment of the Atlantic City and Ventnor portion of the contract is cost-shared, with the federal government paying 65 percent of the project and the DEP paying 35 percent. Following the completion of initial construction, the project is eligible for continued periodic nourishment.

The Absecon Island project is one of several along the New Jersey coastline being funded by $1.2 billion appropriated by Congress to rebuild and strengthen the state’s beaches following Superstorm Sandy in October 2012. Many of these projects have either been completed or are well under way.

The coast-wide system of engineered beaches is part of an overall post-Sandy resiliency strategy. These efforts include hardening of infrastructure, developing innovative strategies to restore wetlands and build natural bay shorelines to buffer against storm surge, moving willing sellers out of harm’s way, and establishing new requirements for elevating structures in flood zones.

For more information on post-Sandy coastal projects in New Jersey, visit:


Friday, November 25, 2016

Humpback Whales Off NJ and NYC

An example of humpback whales lunge feeding - via Wikimedia

Humpback whales were spotted this month in both the Hudson River off New York City and also in Raritan Bay between Sandy Hook and Perth Amboy.

Both whales were lunge feeding which is when they lunge forward from the water taking in thousands of gallons of water and fish. It appeared that these whales had found a good supply of menhaden, a small forager fish that is known to fishermen as bunker..

These whales have found sufficient food to make a stop here worthwhile.

A humpback was also spotted off Belmar, NJ this month and reportedly damaged a boat that was too near. Those who come across the whale are urged to keep their distance.

Typically, these whales should be getting ready to head south for the winter.

It is a good sign that they are being seen here more frequently as it indicates cleaner water and more abundant fish. But the busy NY/NJ waterways are not really the safest areas for feeding due to waterway traffic.

Most whales are passing the coastline but will enter a bay when they find bait fish, however, we don't want them entering rivers like the Raritan or the Arthur Kill.

The behavior of these whales has been normal, so it doesn't seem that they are in any distress.

Unfortunately, about 80 miles from Manhattan, another humpback whale was stranded for a week in Moriches Bay (off the southern coast of Long Island). After being stuck in a sand bar in four feet of water for two days, it was euthanized by NOAA’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network,

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Seabirds and Plastic Garbage

Petrel at sea

An article from Discovery
discusses new research that answers why some seabirds consume so much plastic waste. The waste attracts them.

Eating plastic debris in the oceans by any sea life who mistake it for food is a major problem for marine conservation. In most cases - such as plastic bags and whales - it resembles a food that they normally eat. But new research found that in some cases it also smells like food.

Seabirds hone in on a specific chemical to locate food. That chemical is dimethyl sulfide (DMS). It is naturally produced by phytoplankton when crustaceans, squid and other small marine animals are feeding.

In a cruel twist, DMS is also produced by the algae that colonize pieces of plastic floating in the ocean.

Researchers tested three common plastics left in the ocean for three weeks and every bead contained a DMS signature above the threshold detectable by birds. The researchers looked at tube-nosed seabirds, that includes albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters, and they were all attracted to DMS, but they feel it is likely other marine predators use the same mechanism to find prey.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Conserve Wildlife Grants Now Available to Nonprofit Groups

Nonprofit groups working on projects directly related to wildlife diversity and education in New Jersey may now apply to the Department of Environmental Protection for matching grants to help support their endeavors, DEP Commissioner Bob Martin announced today.

Bird Banding Grants ranging from $1,000 to $3,500 are offered through the Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program, using revenues generated by the Conserve Wildlife License Plate renewal fund. Approved projects will be funded for a single year. The application deadline is 5 p.m. Thursday, December 15.

The awards are 50-50 cost share grants, and at least 25 percent of the grantee’s share of the project funding must be monetary. The remainder may be in-kind support. The grant program’s allotment for 2017 is $39,000.

Work that may be eligible for grants include education/outreach projects, research projects, management projects or habitat protection projects. Some examples of eligible projects include those that minimize conflicts between humans and wildlife, control invasive species, create pollinator habitat or Monarch waystations or that gather data on underrepresented rare species.

Since its launch in 2008, the program has awarded 67 grants totaling $198,000, all of which support a broad range of nongame wildlife research, management and education projects.

Only nonprofit 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) organizations are eligible to apply for the grants. Requests must be submitted electronically to and award notifications are expected to be made by January 27, 2017.

For more information about the program, or for proposal guidelines, visit the Conserve Wildlife Matching Grant Program at or call the Endangered and Nongame Species Program at (609) 292-9400.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Politics and the Environment

I avoid most things political on this blog, but we know that politics certainly plays a significant role in how conservation and environmental issues are handled.

An email this week from Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, said:

Yes, my heart sank when I heard Trump's rumored cabinet wishlist -- Sarah "Drill, baby, Drill" Palin as Secretary of the Interior; anti-EPA Texas Ag Commissioner Sid Miller as Secretary of Agriculture; fracking billionaire Harold Hamm as Energy Secretary.

Although I believe that what a candidate Trump said and what a president Trump will say and be able to actually do are very different, the idea that he said that in his first 100 days he would target putting Keystone XL in motion, canceling payments to UN climate change programs and lifting restrictions on coal and oil production has angered and motivated much of the pro-environment population.

Pay attention.