Hey land-lovers, if you're in NY or NJ you can whale watch from the shore this fall
There are two ways to go whale-watching. One is to take a boat, and go to them. The other is to stay on shore — and let them come to you.
What — you didn't know that whales like to go people-watching?
"They come as close as a couple of hundred meters," said Melinda Rekdahl, associate marine conservation scientist for the ocean giants program at the Wildlife Conservation Society, parent organization of the New York Aquarium.
Whales have been coming closer to shore in recent years.
Still more so in recent weeks, according to the New York Aquarium — which is urging nature lovers in New Jersey and New York to head to the beach, this fall, with a pair of binoculars and some sunscreen.
A humpback whale lunge-feeding on schooling fish known as menhaden in the waters of Raritan Bay. (Photo: WCS/Ocean Giants/Image taken under NMFS MMPA/ESA Permit no.18786-03.)
How close? A couple of hundred meters is about 650 feet. That's close enough to smell the krill.
"They're definitely highly visible," Rekdahl said. "We've started to see more and more whales these past five or six years or so."
Based on the sightings by their team, the Aquarium has recommended 10 locations in the metro area where whales have been spotted from shore — and are likely to be spotted again. Coney Island, Amagansett, The Hamptons, Fire Island, Jones Beach, Rockaways, Sandy Hook, Long Beach Island, Lavallette and Point Pleasant Beach are not the only places to see whales, of course.
A list of 10 suggested sites where whales can possibly be seen from shore. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list of viewing locations. (Photo: Courtesy of WCS)
Nor are you guaranteed to see them, on the particular day you go. But the odds, for the sharp-eyed, are good, Rekdahl said.
"There's a good likelihood you will see whales and dolphins from shore," Rekdahl said. "At least dolphins if they stay long enough because dolphins tend to be more resident to the area throughout the spring, summer and fall."
Humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins are the two species landlubbers are most likely to encounter from shore, according to the Aquarium — though minke whales, fin whales and North Atlantic right whales also have been seen.
Why are all the whales suddenly hanging at the shallow end?
A humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) close to shore. (Photo: WCS/Ocean Giants/Image taken under NMFS MMPA/ESA Permit no.18786-03.)
Partly, it has to do with the menhaden — also known as bunkers — a species of little bait fish that has become more numerous, thanks to fishing regulations introduced a half-dozen years ago that have allowed their population to boom. You can see whole schools of them, popping merrily in and out of the water of Long Island Sound, on any given summer weekend.
Bunkers are not very appetizing to humans. But humpback whales love them. And they're steering toward shore to find them.
"Because of the menhaden, the whales are coming right into shore," Rekdahl said. "This, alongside the cleaner water, thanks to things like the Clean Water Act, is allowing these ecosystems to thrive as well."
Once at your chosen shore spot, the next step is to get to a higher elevation.
Two humpback whales surface with the New York skyscrapers in the distance. (Photo: Julie Larsen Maher)
A boardwalk is advisable. A building window, overlooking the sea, is better still. The New York Aquarium will be happy to tell you about their favorite spot: the top floor of their latest attraction, "New York Aquarium Ocean Wonders: Sharks!” housed in a brand-new building that overlooks the beach at Coney Island.
You have to take a bit of trouble, to be sure. But it's worth it, Rekdahl said.