Welcome to The Gam, the quarterly newsletter for Gotham Whale, where you’ll find news, information, and fun content relating to the whales of New York City!
Offshore Whale Watching in the Hudson Canyon!
American Princess Cruises upped their whale watching game this August with a special overnight trip over 100 miles offshore to the Hudson Canyon, the largest known submarine canyon off the east coast of the USA. We were on a quest to find pelagic marine life in the canyon’s nutrient-rich waters.
A group of intrepid passengers boarded the AP at 9pm on August 29th with backpacks and wheeled luggage, sleeping bags and air mattresses, cooler bags, and camera equipment of all sizes. People staked out cushioned benches inside the main cabin or set up mats on the upper deck. There was also a beanbag chair that looked much more comfortable than my mat!
We left the dock at 10pm under a cloudy sky and a somewhat choppy sea, but as the night went on, the clouds cleared to reveal an array of stars for those of us who stayed up late enough to see them. Everyone began to get up around 5am, and as night faded to the pinkish light of dawn, we were greeted by a beautiful sight: a pod of short-finned pilot whales!
(Pilot whales at dawn; photo credit: Artie Raslich)
The whales were dozing at the surface, so all around us were scores of black dorsal fins, virtually motionless. As the sun climbed in the sky, the whales started to become more active, with a few—including some mother-and-calf pairs—approaching the boat to check us out. It was a lovely, serene moment that I will never forget. Captain Frank estimated we saw a total of 1,000 pilot whales!
(Pilot whale mother and calf; photo credit: Artie Raslich)
Over the rest of the morning and early afternoon we were visited by a rotation of several dolphin species. First it was a small group of Risso’s dolphins, then a pod of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins—a species commonly seen on our regular whale watches, but these were the larger offshore ecotype, and were actively bowriding. Then we were treated to a few pods of short-beaked common dolphins that seemed to come from far and wide just to bowride! By this point, the water was crystal clear, and the dolphins were visible way below the boat as they crisscrossed under the bow. We could also hear them vocalizing, which was super-cool!
(Bowriding Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and happy passengers; photo credit: Artie Raslich)
(Common dolphins; photo credit: Artie Raslich)
Interspersed throughout the day were many pelagic bird sightings as well, including Wilson’s Storm Petrels, Great Shearwaters, and Audubon’s Shearwaters, along with mahi mahi, flying fish, several loggerhead turtles, and some sharks.
After a wonderful day, we unfortunately came upon an entangled humpback whale on our way back. The location was called into the authorities, and photos of the entanglement were sent in as soon as we had signal. Hopefully this whale will be spotted again, and specially trained disentanglement teams will be able to help it. It was a sad end to our beautiful trip, but hopefully we gave this whale, which was about 40 miles from shore when we spotted it, a chance.
We had a lovely, smooth ride back. I stood at the rail as the lights from the city drew near, breathing in the smell of the sea and watching the colorful sunset. It was a great adventure, and hopefully one that will become an annual tradition!
There’s still time to come out on a whale watch on board the American Princess! The boat departs at noon Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in October, and on Saturdays and Sundays in November with a special trip the Friday after Thanksgiving. For up-to-date information and booking, check out American Princess Cruises’ website. And follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for any updates, including announcements about special cruises!
-Beth Anne Miller
Gotham Whale in the News!
Gotham Whale has had some terrific media coverage these past few months!
Our Lead Naturalist, Celia Ackerman, was featured in a wonderful article in Boating Mag Long Island, talking about her work with Gotham Whale and as naturalist aboard the American Princess.
Celia was also on an episode of Simply Science, along with Captain Tom from the American Princess, discussing the whales of NYC. You can watch the clip here.
There was also a wonderful story on Gotham Whale on NBC’s Nightly News Films, featuring our Director Paul Sieswerda, Scientific Advisor Joy Reidenberg, and Naturalist Celia Ackerman talking about the whales of NYC and the importance of conservation.
Gotham Whale’s Educational Commitment: From Ship To Shore
("Whales in the Classroom," Tyler Elementary School, Staten Island; funding provided by Con Edison)
Whether on shore or afloat onboard the American Princess, Gotham Whale’s commitment to education takes many forms. Since our inception in 2011, we have participated in many science festivals: SUBMERGE on Manhattan’s West Side Highway for a biological and conservation orgy of the leading marine science organizations, street fairs in Staten Island, It’s My Estuary Day in Coney Island, educational events at the American Museum of Natural History, teachers’ professional development with Ocean Frontiers at St. John’s University in S.I., and elementary schools in S.I., thanks to the generosity of Con Edison’s funding to GW to infuse marine biology into local schools.
(Gotham Whale Founder & President Paul Sieswerda at SUBMERGE event)
On August 26th, 2021, our usual cruise onboard the American Princess became an extraordinary “science at sea classroom” for the New York State Marine Education Association (www.NYSMEA.org) members and the general public, ready to set sail in search of humpbacks. And we found two!
(Sarah Richards of NYSMEA and the Saint Ann's School's "Science at Sea" Program)
(Dr. Joy Reidenberg, Dr. Merryl Kafka, and some of the NYSMEA crew on the American Princess, 8/26/2021)
Our special guest speaker, Dr. Joy Reidenberg, is Gotham Whale’s Scientific Advisor and an expert on giant organisms… Whales. You may have seen her on NOVA specials, dissecting whales and giant squid. She was also featured in 18 episodes of “Inside Nature’s Giants.” Dr. Reidenberg is professor of Comparative Anatomy at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in NYC. What a local treasure, and a JOY to have as a partner with Gotham Whale!
(Dr. Joy Reidenberg holding orca teeth)
Dr. Reidenberg is a masterful educator, using many analogies to our body and displaying authentic cetacean body parts to reveal their form and function. She carries bags of bones for show and tell, which are federally protected since they are from endangered species.
(Dr. Merryl Kafka holding the skeletons of a whale's pectoral fin and a human arm; photo credit N. Millet/Azarra Photos)
Gotham Whale, along with American Princess Cruises, is a Department of Education vendor approved enterprise for class trips, teacher workshops, and science at sea adventures bringing the marine world into your curriculum. Get Marinated!
-Dr. Merryl Kafka, Gotham Whale Director of Education
Meet Gotham Whale!
David S. Rosenthal is a zoologist by trade and wears several hats in his work with Gotham Whale: he is a Research Biologist, Volunteer/Internship Coordinator, and is a member of the GW Science Advisory Committee.
(David Rosenthal; photo credit: Paul Sieswerda/Gotham Whale)
David has always been drawn to the sea. He grew up along the Jersey Shore and spent his childhood exploring the creeks, lakes and coastline of Monmouth County. He received his zoology degree from the University of Rhode Island (URI) and studied North Atlantic right whales and the West Indian manatees of Belize under the guidance of Dr. Howard E. Winn at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography. While earning his degree David worked four years in the Education Department at Mystic Marinelife Aquarium and upon graduation he became Animal Care Assistant at Miami Seaquarium supervising the Florida manatee celebrity pool exhibit. David worked closely with Dr. Gregory D. Bossart managing the Florida manatee and short-finned pilot whale rehabilitation programs.
David was Field Stranding Technician at the Brigantine Marine Mammal Stranding Center and has worked 27 years at NOAA Fisheries collaborating with recreational and commercial fishers working with billfish, tuna and other pelagic species throughout the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Furthermore, David served 10 years as Executive Director at Sirenia Center, Inc., a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the protection and preservation of the Florida manatee and its habitat.
(David Rosenthal on far right)
Since 2013, David has assisted interns and volunteers and also encouraged different Gotham Whale research projects including a menhaden hydrophone study with Dr. Edmund Gerstein (see photo) and the Swinburne Island Seal Cam study jointly with the Department of Interior, Gateway National Recreation Area.
Words from a Gotham Whale Intern
"My Aquatic Journey," by Alexander Mildener
I am on another plane of existence. As far as I know there are only two other beings here: me and the dolphin. I do not remember how long we stared into each other’s eyes, it could have been either a nanosecond or a millennium. It was almost as if we were having a telepathic conversation, but one that cannot be described in words.
My passion for wildlife has led to numerous exploits in my life. I went to Aquarium camp at the New York Aquarium for four years in a row and I was an assistant naturalist for seal watching cruises for the Riverhead Foundation. I have been working with Gotham Whale as an intern and volunteer for nearly a decade.
As a boy who grew up in Queens, I had always dreamed of going whale watching in New York City. Before the days of the American Princess the closest whale watching destination was Montauk, NY. When my grandmother read in a newspaper that there were whale watching cruises leaving out of Breezy Point in the Rockaways, I could hardly contain my excitement!
I remember vividly the first time I went aboard the American Princess. The naturalist was Dr. Merryl Kafka, the Director of Education for Gotham Whale. I think my passion and my knowledge of cetaceans forged a connection between us. After I went out on the American Princess several times, Merryl became my mentor and eventually, a dear friend. Through Merryl, I also met Paul Sieswerda, the President and Founder of Gotham Whale, who has also become a close mentor.
For over 9 years, I have been a volunteer and intern for Gotham Whale. As part of my work with GW, I would write what species we saw on a trip, the number of individuals per species and what behaviors were exhibited by the wildlife that we observed. Also, I would pass around artifacts like whale baleen and explain their function. I would walk around the boat and answer passenger questions concerning the wildlife in the New York Bight.
(Alexander Mildener; photo credit Tanya Gaitanis)
Gotham Whale has certainly had an impact on my career as a student on both an undergraduate and graduate level. My undergraduate thesis focused on mapping humpback whale presence and areas of particular density within the New York Bight, using latitude and longitude data collected on whale watching trips aboard the American Princess, using Gotham Whale’s 2016 data set. Understanding humpback whale presence within the New York Bight is important for conservation, as these data can be used to alert cargo ships and vessels to reduce shipping speed in areas that contain large concentrations of whales. This in turn can be used to prevent collisions between whales and ships. Additionally, it was through Gotham Whale that I first became aware of the Animal Behavior and Conservation MA program at Hunter College. I am currently halfway through the program, with my thesis focusing on the very beluga whales that I grew up with.
It does not matter how many times I have seen cetaceans since the moment that the bottlenose dolphin and I locked eyes. Every experience that I have with a cetacean is new and profoundly powerful on both a personal and spiritual level. Each moment is special, and I will treasure each one, always and forever.
Alexander Mildener has a Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Studies and is currently a graduate student in the Hunter College Masters Program for Animal Behavior and Conservation. He has dedicated his life to understanding the behavior of marine mammals and promoting marine education and conservation.
Support Gotham Whale!
Gotham Whale is very grateful for the ongoing support of the volunteers and donors, whose generosity enables the organization to continue its important work to help protect the whales and dolphins of New York City.
If you are already a member of Gotham Whale, we thank you for your support and hope you will continue to renew your membership annually. If you aren’t yet a member, please check out the different levels of membership we offer and consider joining. And share the info with a friend who loves whales and dolphins!
Also, if you would like to support Gotham Whale and have something cool to wear, check out our Bonfire site, where you can order apparel with our logo!
Follow Gotham Whale to stay informed about all the latest news and updates on the Whales of NYC!
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The next newsletter will be coming in January!
~Gotham Whale Team
Volume 2, Issue 4
Edited by Beth Anne Miller for Gotham Whale