Monday, November 16, 2015

Whale Migration at the Jersey Shore

A humpback whale feeding on bunker fish off  Monmouth County
Tyson Trish/staff photographer

Whales do pass New Jersey on their migrations and during fall beach walkers and boaters get some great views.

Recent reports include a humpback just a few hundred feet from the Bay Head shoreline and off Chadwick beach. Humpbacks are adding bulk for winter which they spend in Silver Bank Sanctuary, a shallow water area off the coast of the Dominican Republic.

Southern waters are where they mate, birth and nurse their calves.

We will see them again when they follow the food north in April.

Pods of the bait fish, menhaden, and striped bass and bluefish often coincide with the fall migration of  marine mammals, so whales and bottlenose dolphins and seals are more common at the shore.

Bob Schoelkopf, founder and director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine said the humpback whales are the primary whale species that have been spotted by numerous boaters because they come closest to the shore, using it to pin the bait up so they can eat it.

Boaters are always warned to stay clear of whales and dolphins. At 80,000 pounds, a humpback can do real damage to boats. They can eat upwards to 3,000 pounds a fish per day.

The warning is also a legal one because humpbacks are an endangered species that are safeguarded by the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammals Protection Act while they pass through our waters. Boats must stay at least 200 feet from them.

You won't see them near shore, but boaters may spot right whales and minke whales further out and they move south to waters off Georgia and Florida. Right whales are the most endangered whale species in the world.

Do any whales remain of the NJ coast through winter? Yes, the mackerel-loving and also endangered fin whales. No slackers about size, they are next to blue whales, the second largest whales growing up to 80 feet.

The only visitors who will actually come up onto the shore - but stay away from them too - are the one fur-bearing species coming south to NJ to visit for the holidays. That is the harbor seal. They are spotted onshore sunning, maybe on a dredge pipe on the Manasquan River or resting on the beach at Seaside Heights.

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