A humpback whale breaches the water in Long Island Sound off the coast of Stamford, Conn. (Dan Lent via AP)
Whales reappear in Long Island Sound
October 01, 2015
It has been the year of the whale on Long Island Sound. Fishermen and other boaters have been excited about the return of the marine mammals after a long break.
The highly unexpected sightings began in May. Three belugas were spotted off Fairfield, Connecticut. A minke whale was seen off Norwalk later in May. And there have been several humpback sightings in recent weeks. One was as far west as Mamaroneck, New York. This is according to records kept by The Maritime Aquarium. It is in Norwalk.
Whales have not been seen in the western part of the sound since 1993. That is when a 30-foot finback was spotted in New Haven Harbor, said Joe Schnierlein. He is research and university liaison for the aquarium.
Videos and photos of humpbacks breaching the surface have been posted online by boaters. They have been both excited and scared by the close meetings.
Chris Curran is from Darien, Connecticut. He caught a young humpback whale on a cellphone video. The mammal was breaching the water about 20 to 30 feet from his boat. It was about a mile and a half off Darien and Norwalk. Curran was with his 8-year-old son and his son's friend.
Curran said the humpback looked to be a young whale. He estimated it was about 10 to 15 feet long. It came out of the water about nine times. The last time was the closest.
"I was having heart palpitations. I was so excited," Curran said. "The boys were fearful for their lives. They thought it was an orca. I was never concerned about it hitting the boat until that last incident. Then I got out of there fast."
The whales have been the talk of Long Island Sound. Warnings have been issued to boaters. They are being told to watch for whales. Boaters have been told to try to stay at least 100 feet away from them. If a whale gets within 100 feet, boaters should put their engines in neutral. Then, not re-engage the motors until the whales are clear of harm. Federal law protects marine mammals.
Schnierlein believes the whales were attracted by a big increase in bait fish. They include menhaden. It is a fish that's rich in omega-3 oils and calories. He thinks menhaden have thrived for several reasons. They include 2-year-old harvesting restrictions on menhaden and a lack of rain. He believes little rain has reduced the amount of pollution-laden runoff that enters the sound.
Whale sightings in the eastern part of Long Island Sound also are uncommon events. This is according to records kept by Mystic Aquarium. The last confirmed sightings before this year were a long-finned pilot whale. It was spotted off Stonington in 2009. And a minke whale was seen off Old Lyme in 2005, said Janelle Schuh. She is the stranding coordinator at the aquarium.
Whales that have become stranded in the sound included a humpback. It floated to Stonington on the edge of the sound from Rhode Island in July 2012. A fin whale was seen in New Haven in 1993. Long-finned pilot whales were seen in Branford in 1991. They were also seen in Madison in 1989. And, a beluga whale was seen in New Haven in 1986.
Daniel Lent of Easton, Connecticut, says he believes he saw two humpbacks Sept. 12. They were off the coast of Stamford. He snapped a photo of one breaching the water. He said it was about as big as his 27-foot boat.
"I thought I was staying away a safe distance," Lent said. "Then one came up behind me. That's when I freaked out. It went from being really cool to being really scary."
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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How has a change in the weather caused the whales to reappear?
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