Turns out 2016 was a whale of a year for New Yorkers who love the massive marine mammals.
The nonprofit Gotham Whale recorded a whopping 152 whale sightings in the waters around New York City. The group also identified 166 individual whales during that time.
“This phenomenon is brand new but it’s also fraught with danger,” Paul Sieswerda, the founder of Gotham Whale, said Monday. “They are coming into these areas when there is an increasing number of ships coming into New York Harbor.”
Sieswerda said the group logged 87 sightings and 106 individual whales in 2014 and 62 sightings and 69 individual whales in 2015.
He believes the uptick is due to an increase in whales in the area, who are likely attracted by higher levels of food partly as a result of some restrictions on fishing, as well as a greater interest from the public to help track their movements.
New Yorkers watched with wonder last November as a humpback whale nicknamed “Gotham” made the Hudson River his personal unlimited buffet for several days. His journey went viral as people captured the majestic whale swimming around the George Washington Bridge and the Statue of Liberty.
Sieswerda said so-called citizen scientists from around the city helped the organization track Gotham’s movements. He hopes it’s a trend that will continue this year.
“We got calls and photos from people on the Staten Island Ferry, jogging in Battery Park City,” said Sieswerda, who previously worked as a curator at the New York Aquarium and New England Aquarium. “People took video from their apartments on the Upper West Side. They all gave us good information.”
Sieswerda admits he watched the whale like a nervous parent.
“There was a big concern because it was playing in traffic around the Statue of Liberty,” he said. “We were worried about it getting out of the harbor.”
Happily, the whale was spotted off the shore of the Rockaways 10 days later, behaving normally and feeding.
The biggest threats to the mighty cetaceans are injuries suffered during encounters with sea vessels.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries reported 41 whales have died over the last 15 months on the Atlantic Coast — several after being hit by ships.
A dead humpback whale was found on a beach in the Rockaways in April after likely being struck by a vessel. A baby whale was euthanized after it washed ashore at Orchard Beach in the Bronx that month as well. It was suffering from pneumonia and weight loss, the group that performed the necropsy said.
Whales tend to come to the northeast from May through November, lured by the warmer waters and abundance of fish. They return to southern waters to breed and give birth.
Gotham Whale, which conducts whale watching journeys on the American Princess Cruises out of Rockaway’s Riis Park, is calling on New Yorkers to help this season by alerting them about any sightings in the area.
Through its “Wanted” program, people who contribute information about whale sightings will be rewarded with a cold one at select local breweries.
“We’re asking everyone to keep their eyes on the water,” Sieswerda said.