Whale spot­ted off NYC might be chas­ing meal

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Frank Eltman

The hump­back has been ca­vort­ing from the Statue of Lib­erty to the Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Bridge for nearly a week.

A hump­back whale that has ca­vorted in the Hud­son River for nearly a week, with sight­ings re­ported from the Statue of Lib­erty to well north of the Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Bridge about 20 miles away, may be af­ter a meal.

The U.S. Coast Guard said it has re­ceived dozens of calls re­port­ing Hud­son sight­ings since last Wed­nes­day. The Hud­son orig­i­nates up­state in the Adiron­dack Moun­tains and flows down through the Hud­son Val­ley, con­tin­ues be­tween New York City and Jersey City, New Jersey, and emp­ties into the At­lantic Ocean.

Whale ex­perts say they’ve seen in­creased num­bers of mostly hump­back whales in the New York area in re­cent years but it’s rare to have one travel up the Hud­son.

Al­though most ex­perts agree wa­ter con­di­tions have im­proved in the river in the 35 years since the pas­sage of the Clean Wa­ter Act, they weren’t will­ing to say that the visit from the hump­back had a di­rect cor­re­la­tion.

Den­nis Suszkowski, science di­rec­tor of the Hud­son River Foun­da­tion, and Howard Rosenbaum, di­rec­tor of the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety’s Ocean Giants pro­gram, said it ap­pears the hump­back may merely have been chas­ing af­ter Men­haden, or bunker fish, that swam up the Hud­son.

“Of­ten­times in the past when we have seen these an­i­mals in and around these wa­ters we be­come concerned that they are sick or in­jured be­cause they are not typ­i­cally found here,” Rosenbaum said. “So far with the im­ages we have seen we don’t have rea­son to be­lieve that.”

Paul Sieswerda, pres­i­dent of a group called Gotham Whale, said the ef­forts to clean the Hud­son have im­proved con­di­tions but added, “what those con­di­tions are pre­cisely is dif­fi­cult to say.” He sug­gested that leg­is­la­tion that re­duced fish­ing lim­its for Men­haden make them more preva­lent and there­fore avail­able to the hump­backs to hunt.

Sci­en­tists have been ac­cel­er­at­ing their study of whales in the re­gion in re­cent years. Last sum­mer, the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the New York Aquar­ium, teamed with the Woods Hole Oceano­graphic In­sti­tu­tion in Mas­sachusetts to de­ploy a high-tech buoy 22 miles off the coast of Fire Is­land to mon­i­tor sev­eral species of great whales.

In the past month, the buoy has de­tected three North At­lantic right whales, one of the world’s highly en­dan­gered whale species.

Sieswerda, a re­tired cu­ra­tor of the New Eng­land and New York aquar­i­ums, leads whale watch­ing ex­pe­di­tions off the coasts of New York and New Jersey and said the num­ber of whale sight­ings has soared since 2011. He said this year there have been 106 sight­ings, mostly of hump­backs, in an area called west­ern New York Bight, a vast ocean re­gion stretch­ing from Mon­tauk Point on east­ern Long Is­land to Point Pleas­ant, New Jersey.

“I’m rid­ing this wave,” he said. “It’s ab­so­lutely ex­cit­ing.”

CRAIG RUTTLE — ASSOCIATED PRESS

A hump­back whale pops up in the wa­ters be­tween 48th Street and 60th Street as seen from New York City, with New Jersey vis­i­ble in the back­ground, on Sun­day.

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