Humpbacks are invading New York City!
Humpbacks are invading New York City! A humpback whale breaks through the surface of the Atlantic Ocean just off a beach on the Rockaway peninsula near New York City (AP photos / Wildlife Conservation Society / Gotham Whale)
Humpbacks are invading New York City!
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Maybe they want to sing on Broadway.

Humpback whales, the gigantic, endangered mammals known for their haunting underwater songs, have been approaching New York City in greater numbers.

Naturalists aboard whale-watching boats have seen humpbacks in the Atlantic Ocean within a mile of the Rockaway peninsula. That is part of New York's borough of Queens. It's also within sight of Manhattan's skyscrapers.

"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. He is director of the Ocean Giants program at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Humpbacks were spotted 87 times from the boats this year. By cataloging the whales' markings, at least 19 different humpbacks have been identified in the waters off the city.

Paul Sieswerda is founder of Gotham Whale. The organization documents the marine mammal population around New York. It said reports of humpbacks in the New York Bight, where the city's harbor meets the Atlantic, began to pick up around 2010. Gotham Whale then partnered with the American Princess whale-watching boat. Gotham Whale provided naturalists who could document the sightings.

The naturalists also do an educational presentation on the boat, said Tom Paladino. He is 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."

But in 2012, there were 15 sightings. In 2013, there were 33. This year there were 87 sightings totaling 106 humpbacks.

Many whales were sighted more than once. By comparing the distinctive shapes and markings of their tails of the whales, 19 different humpbacks have been documented near the city so far. Customers on the whale-watching tours are asked to share any photos they get of such markings. The pictures could be included in the "New York City Humpback Whale Catalog."

"This is the way they've been doing it in Maine and Massachusetts, the recognized way to keep track of these whales, study their behavior," Sieswerda said.

Humpbacks can be 50 feet long and weigh 40 tons. It's not clear why they are returning to New York's shores. They were abundant before they and other whale species were nearly destroyed by whaling.

Rosenbaum said the humpbacks' reappearance could be simply a shift in their habits. A greater abundance of menhaden, one of the humpbacks' favorite foods, could have attracted them from farther out in the ocean.

That might be because the water is cleaner.

Sieswerda agreed that various factors are in play but said, "I think it all begins with cleaner water."

Whatever the cause, humpback populations worldwide are increasing. Counting whales is difficult. The International Whaling Commission says its estimates put the worldwide population at about 150,000. About 11,600 of those are in the Western North Atlantic. The area includes the New York Bight off New York City.

New Yorkers shouldn't expect to see humpbacks frolicking around the Statue of Liberty. The whales generally stay well outside the harbor.

Critical thinking challenge: Why doesn't the International Whaling Commission know precisely how many whales there are worldwide?

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Assigned 61 times

  • Samantha3077
    12/17/2014 - 10:44 a.m.

    I think it's great that an endangered species is starting to become not as endangered. I think that humpback whales are really cool, They jump out of the water and land on their backs.

    • VanessaC1-Jac
      12/19/2014 - 04:09 p.m.

      I agree that it is good that humpback whales aren't so endangered anymore. Humpback whales are amazing and just spectacular. I wish that I was in New York right now

  • rachelh10503
    12/17/2014 - 11:01 a.m.

    The International Whaling Commission probably doesn't know exactly how many whales their are worldwide because they cant track down every single whale on earth. They would need to find ALL of the whales first. By the time they track down ALL of the whales, another whale would've been born. They just need a great estimate of the amount of whales in the whole world

  • Ariannar103
    12/17/2014 - 11:04 a.m.

    That is so cool to have hump back whales come to your city. It haves you wondering why they are really there like if there are animals that hunt them, poisoning them, or loosing food sources like fish dying out. It seems cool to be out whale watching and find a whole bunch of whales. To me it would be amazing because I have never seen a humpback or any kind of whale before.

  • UmarH-Mau
    12/17/2014 - 11:20 a.m.

    Invading New York! please survive! 1st comment

    Stop your engines and go from new york 2nd comment

    Why are they invading New York city? 3rd comment

    Dont just invad New York how about just stay in the water and play 4th comment

  • 21jmborm
    12/17/2014 - 11:54 a.m.

    Humpback whales sound nice but when the title says "humpback whales invade New York City," that sounds pretty bad. But when i read it, it was okay. I like humpback whales. When i was in Alaska i saw one humpback whale. it was small.

  • JessieS-Bla
    12/17/2014 - 12:33 p.m.

    1. I read the article "Humpbacks are invading New York City!" 2. It was surprising to read that humpbacks weigh 40 tons! I knew they were big but I didn't know that they weigh that much! 3. I also thought it was surprising that humpbacks were sighted in New York. New York is by the ocean but you wouldn't expect the humpbacks to be so close that you could see them. 4. The CTQ asked "Why doesn't the International Whaling Commission know precisely how many whales there are world wide?" I think they don't know because 3/4 of the earth is covered in water, and that would be tricky to count the number of whales on the whole entire earth, even with computers.

  • kevinb728
    12/17/2014 - 12:59 p.m.

    They don't know this because the ocean is huge. It takes up more than 50% of the world. The titanic is gigantic. When it sunk it took them more than 50 year to find it and it doesn't move. Whales are smaller than the titanic and they can move around. Also there is one titanic (soon to be two) and many whales.

  • giezc0103
    12/17/2014 - 01:01 p.m.

    Yay now the humpback whales won't be endangered any more. This is great for scientist who have studied these whales now they get to study why they are this close to new york

  • Mikaylac829
    12/17/2014 - 01:02 p.m.

    Whoa,even whales want to see the Big Apple. Being a whale must be good you can go anywhere, well other than being endangered. If the are coming back then they must be re-populating.

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