Humpback whales are staying longer in New York waters, study finds


Even whales are looking to extend their summer vacation.

Humpback whales not only return to New York waters to feed each year, but stay there longer, a Rutgers University study has found.

“We found that about half of the humpback whales observed in the New York area stay a month or longer and will return for 2 to 3 years in a row,” Danielle Brown, senior researcher for Gotham Whale, told Goal. non-profit. Post in an email.

The average stay of a humpback whale in the New York Bight Apex – the waters of Fire Island in Manasquan Inlet in New Jersey – is 37.6 days, according to the study released earlier this month.

There’s not a lot of evidence to show that the whales were present consistently before this study, according to Brown. Although they visited the New York Bight, it was mostly in the winter.

Researchers from Rutgers University have found that whales are spending more time in New York-area waters.
Danielle Brown Rutgers University

Brown and his team used whale sighting information from 2011 to 2018 to analyze the population identity, site fidelity, and demographic characteristics of humpback whales. Most of the visiting humpback whales are under 5 years old and largely from feeding populations in the Gulf of Maine or eastern Canada.

There were sightings of 101 individual whales during the seven-year study, but that number rose to 257 in total by 2022, Brown said.

While it’s not entirely clear why more whales stop in the area or spend longer feeding periods, Brown said they “probably” find a sufficient prey source.

Whale watchers spot a whale exiting New York Harbor.
Humpback whales have extended their summer trips to New York.

“Atlantic menhaden is the species we see them most often feeding on, and Atlantic menhaden have been increasing, but it’s not clear if they also feed on other prey near the shore,” Brown said. “Cleaner waters could be the reason for an increase in menhaden here, but catch limits have also been imposed on menhaden. Warm waters could also drive more menhaden here.

The abundance of herring and other prey sources could also be linked to increased sightings – and attacks – of sharks in Rockaway and Long Island. There’s probably no connection between sharks and whales, Brown noted.

The increase in whale sightings, however, could pose a danger to the huge mammals.

“It’s a concern for whales because it’s a busy area for shipping and recreational boat traffic,” Brown said.

The average stay for a humpback whale in the New York Bight Apex is 37.6 days, according to researchers.
The average stay for a humpback whale in the New York Bight Apex is 37.6 days, according to researchers.
DM Brown, et al

The study noted that the increase in sightings in and around shipping lanes in the New York Bright and surrounding coasts may be correlated to the latest unusual mortality event for humpback whales along the Atlantic coast.

To combat humpback whale mortality, the researchers recommend further work to monitor the animals and their overlap with human activities.

Overall, however, more whales and longer stays are a good thing.

“It’s a good sign for the marine ecosystem that it’s healthy enough to support a small number of humpback whales,” Brown said.


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