02 February 2011

Whales return to the waters off New York City after nearly 100 year absence

It might surprise some to know that New York is actually full of wildlife, and not just of the night time - trendy club variety. Eagles, hawks and owls are some of the more interesting animals that share the city with the more commonly seen swarms of rats, pigeons and squirrels that scurry underfoot.

Now a new animal has appeared in the Big Apple wildlife mix: Whales.

The New York Daily News reported last weekend that marine life, including whales, dolphins and seals are flourishing in the waters just outside New York Harbor. Researchers from Cornell University found six species of whales, including humpbacks, blue whales, minke and right whales, navigating through the waters off New York Harbor on their way to warmer waters, as well as 30 to 50 fin whales living full time in the waters between Staten Island and Brooklyn.

While the researchers knew the whales migrated through the area, they were surprised by their proximity to shore as well as the numbers, and variety of species of the marine animals. Cleaner water as well as anti-hunting laws may have contributed to the whales resurgence after being absent in these waters for nearly a century, experts say.

The existence of the whales was first discovered in 2008, when a federally funded study by Cornell and the state Department of Environmental Conservation installed acoustical monitors off New York Harbor and heard the songs of numerous species of whales, including those of the blue whale, the largest animal to ever inhabit the earth.

“To me, it’s extraordinary,” said Dr. Christopher Clark, director of the bioacoustics research program at Cornell. “People wouldn’t think of going out of New York harbor to see whales.”

Ferry boat captain Tom Paladino noticed the increase in marine life and recently started giving regular whale, dolphin and seal watching tours.

"We used to see 10 whales a year - now we see 100," Paladino said. "We saw dolphins almost on a daily basis between June and September."

Funds for the whale study have run out, but Dr. Clark hopes to raise $1 million to continue his research and to install a monitoring system around New York Harbor that can warn boats when whales are in the area so they can slow down to avoid hitting them.

Robin Lawless | @robmlaw | email
Robin lives in New York City where she loves to check out all the vegan eateries. When she's not writing for TDIV, Robin enjoys taking dance lessons, reading, practicing yoga, hanging out with her cat Maggie, baking vegan treats, and volunteering at Catskill Animal Sanctuary. Feel free to add Robin as a friend on Facebook.

Photo credit: cc: flickr.com/photos/satyadasa