A Rutgers researcher says climate change and cleaner waters are causing a "Dramatic Increase in Whales in NJ/NYC but this is also raising safety concerns.
The number of humpback whale sightings in New York City and northern New Jersey has increased by 500% raising the risk of dangerous interactions between the huge marine mammals and humans.
Cleaner waters off our coast is one reason and that is certainly a good thing. But the warming of the ocean due to climate change is not a good thing.
The increase in sightings near one of the world’s busiest ports is a safety concern for both whales and humans, especially with a new wave of migration headed close to shores this fall, said Danielle Brown, a doctoral student in ecology and evolution in Rutgers’ School of Environmental and Biology Sciences and the lead humpback whale researcher and naturalist for Gotham Whale, a New York-based nonprofit that studies and advocates for whales. Many of the sightings have occurred less than two miles from the shore. Brown said there’s a growing risk of dangerous interactions between the whales, the majority of which are juveniles, and humans in New York and New Jersey harbors. A whale is considered of juvenile age from the moment the calf is weaned to when it reaches sexual maturity, which can be anywhere between 6 and 13 years old.
Another attraction to our waters is a growing population of Atlantic menhaden, which are a major food source for the whales. Warmer ocean temperatures are also causing fish populations to move northward.
Humpback adults can reach 60 feet in length and weigh more than 40 tons, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Geographic Society. They are found in every ocean in the world near coastlines, feeding on krill, plankton, and small fish.
|Size of a humpback in relation to a human|
Typically they will migrate annually from summer feeding grounds near the poles to warmer winter breeding waters. Humpback whale migration begins in the fall,
The increase in whale sightings has also created an unlikely new business venture. Many fishing boats have started whale watching cruises along New Jersey and New York City harbors. While an economic boost to many fishermen, it also raises concerns about boats getting too close.
Fishermen should take extra precautions to protect themselves and the whales. “If you’re on a boat, try to move parallel to them and never cut them off from the direction they are moving, and never chase them,” she said. “The National Marine Fisheries Service recommends a distance of at least 100 feet, and only one boat should be that close at a time, so as not to crowd the whale. If the whales appear to be feeding, give them extra space. Humpback whales are becoming more consistent in our waters, so boaters need to prepare themselves for encountering them more often. If the guidelines are followed, we can all co-exist safely.”