Forget subway rats – New York City is on the edge of receiving a new unofficial mascot: humpback whales. The enormous, endangered mammals have been nudging New York City in much larger numbers as of recent, Fox News reports.
Enthusiasts aboard whale-watching boats have often viewed the species in the Atlantic Ocean within a mile of Queen’s Rockaway peninsula. And lately, the sightings have significantly increased: Humpbacks were spotted 87 times from boats this year, with at least 19 different types identified, which in comparison to the 15 sightings in 2012 and the 33 in 2013, is an outstanding growth to say the least.
“It is truly remarkable, within miles of the Empire State Building, to have one of the largest and most charismatic species ever to be on this planet,” said Howard Rosenbaum, director of the Ocean Giants program at the Wildlife Conservation Society.
According to Paul Sieswerda, founder of Gotham Whale, humpback sightings in the New York Bight – the site where the city’s harbor meets the Atlantic – began to increase in 2010. Happily, Gotham Whale then partnered with the American Princess whale-watching boat to allow naturalists to document each spotting.
The boat ride also features an educational presentation, as well as a Q&A with the naturalists and customers, said Tom Paladino, the boat’s captain.
“It was pretty slim pickings at first, actually,” Sieswerda said. “We went on many cruises and had three sightings totaling five whales in 2011.”
This year’s 87 sightings totaled in 106 humpbacks – all of which are differentiated by comparing their flukes, the distinctive shapes and markings of their tails.
No one is completely sure why humpbacks, which can be 50 feet long and weigh 40 tons, are heading back to New York’s shores; they were once abundant in the area before they and other whale species were almost destroyed by whaling.
“One would like to think that some of this has been triggered by an improved environmental ethic,” Rosenbaum said. “We have the clean air and clean water acts, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and associated state laws. It’s hard to make the link for sure but there’s certainly been a behavioral change toward the natural environment.”
Today, humpback populations worldwide are increasing, with an estimated 150,000 census, according to the International Whaling Commission.
Rosenbaum added, “Having them here is truly remarkable and encouraging. I think it will help people in New York embrace the natural world and the marine environment and these iconic species.”