The start of the season was delayed from May until the very end of June due to Covid-19, and when it did start, the number of passengers per voyage had to be reduced from the usual capacity, but dates were added along the way to accommodate as many guests as possible during this very active season!
(Humpback whale; photo credit: Artie Raslich)
In addition to sunset cruises on Thursday and Saturday evenings in late summer and extending the afternoon whale watches to additional weekdays in November and Saturdays throughout December, we had three all-day “Seafari” cruises, where we went farther out than on the regular half-day whale watches. On those ten-hour voyages, we had pods of dolphins, lunge feeding humpback whales, sea turtles, an array of seabirds, and on the final outing, we also had very dense fog, which made things interesting. The first two Seafari voyages took us south to Asbury Park, New Jersey, and then east into more open water, while the final one took us east to Jones Beach on Long Island. These were all fantastic adventures, and we hope there will be more to come in 2021.
The 2020 statistics on humpback whale sightings are still being reviewed, and we hope to have some numbers for you in the next newsletter. But we don’t only see humpback whales on our whale watching cruises. This year, we also had a number of minke whale sightings, as well as a few finback whales. We also had two extremely endangered North Atlantic Right Whales seen, one off NYC and one off the Jersey Shore.
And of course, on many of our cruises, we had numerous encounters with Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins, many of them leaping, playing, and wake-riding. We can’t wait to see what the 2021 whale watching season brings!
A truly bright moment as we neared the end of 2020 was the sighting of a humpback whale in the Hudson River! It was initially spotted by some folks out for a sunset stroll on December 7, 2020 near Pier 84, not far from the U.S.S. Intrepid. The whale, which Gotham Whale identified as NYC0089 in the New York City Humpback Whale Catalog and was seen earlier in the 2020 season, was also spotted over the next few days near the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and was a source of delight for so many people during its “grand tour” of NYC. It made many news headlines, local, national, and even international for the next few days!
(NYC0089 lunge feeding earlier in 2020; photo credit: Artie Raslich)
Switching gears…on a sad note, just a few weeks later, on December 24, 2020, a young male humpback whale unfortunately washed up at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park in New Jersey. By examining photos of the deceased whale and comparing them with the NYC Humpback Whale Catalog, Gotham Whale was able to identify it as NYC0176, a whale new to the catalog this year, last sighted by our team in July. The cause of death for this whale was inconclusive, as it was frozen and unable to be necropsied, though it showed no outward signs of trauma. It was buried on the beach with the help of some heavy-duty digging equipment.
RIP, NY0176. Here’s a beautiful photo of this whale, seen earlier in the season:
(NYC0176; photo credit: Artie Raslich)
Thanks to the hard work of Gotham Whale’s volunteers, both of our “whales in the news” were identified quickly. This helps us to better understand the whales in our waters so we can continue our conservation efforts.
Meet Gotham Whale!
Danielle M. Brown is the Lead Humpback Whale Researcher for Gotham Whale, a role she has had since 2015.
(Danielle M. Brown; photo credit: Kristi A. Collom)
As Lead Researcher, Danielle collects and analyzes sightings data, assists in managing the NYC Humpback Whale Catalog, and supervises large whale research projects. She also acts as a liaison between Gotham Whale and other collaborating organizations in the North Atlantic.
Danielle has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Science in Environmental Science and Policy. She became involved with Gotham Whale during her career as a graduate student and focused her Master’s thesis on sighting trends and vessel risk to humpback whales in New York and New Jersey. She is currently a PhD candidate in the Ecology and Evolution program at Rutgers University, with a focus on the foraging ecology of large whales in the New York Bight. In addition to her educational background, she has extensive experience with marine mammals, including research and stranding response. Danielle previously worked as a Field Stranding Technician with the Marine Mammal Stranding Center and currently serves on the Large Whale Necropsy Team.
Danielle works as a naturalist for Jersey Shore Whale Watch, and in November 2020 was out with them when they had a rare sighting of a North Atlantic Right Whale! These whales are extremely endangered, with researchers estimating there are fewer than four hundred individuals. This whale was healthy-looking and believed to be a female, which makes us hopeful that she will have a calf this season. Danielle says the sighting of this whale was a truly memorable experience!
(North Atlantic Right Whale; photo credit: Danielle M. Brown)
Celia Ackerman has been a Research Associate and on-board Naturalist for Gotham Whale since 2017.
(Celia Ackerman; Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary)
Prior to her work with Gotham Whale, Celia worked as a marine mammal caretaker and trainer for the Wildlife Conservation Society. She cared for various cetacean and pinniped species, as well as polar bears and polar birds. Celia’s role as Data Curator for Gotham Whale involves photographing and assembling the data collected during the whale watches into the NYC Humpback Whale Catalog. Anyone who has been on the American Princess while Celia is on board has watched her put this experience to use—she can often identify a previously-catalogued humpback whale within a few moments of photographing it, or she knows almost immediately that it’s new to the catalog.
When asked why she volunteers for Gotham Whale, Celia says: “It has been extremely rewarding to support Gotham Whale and the work of our dedicated researchers, especially during this important time as marine mammal sightings increase in our area. We need to accurately document their occurrence in order to advocate for their safety. I also enjoy my position as Naturalist, getting to educate, share encounters, and inspire stewardship amongst passengers of all ages."
Celia also shared some of her favorite things about being out on the whale watching trips: “Sightings of returning whales are highlights for me. These are whales that we've documented in previous seasons that have come back again. In addition, getting to photo-document other marine species (some seasonally) from seals and sea turtles to fish and seabirds makes each trip out on the water a true adventure.”
Celia’s travels to view wildlife not found in our area made her realize she had the sea legs necessary to carry out her role with Gotham Whale. One such place was the Churchill River in Manitoba, Canada, where she encountered a large pod of inquisitive beluga whales. She is also a PADI-certified scuba diver.
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!
Follow Gotham Whale to stay informed about all the latest news and updates on the Whales of NYC!