Humpback Whale Sightings In Area Not So Rare

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Imagine being out on a boat to fish with your friends and having a close encounter with a humpback whale.

It’s happening more often than you think just off the New York and New Jersey coasts. As CBS2’s Elise Finch reported, friends out fishing in Raritan Bay recently encountered and nearly collided with a humpback whale. The video they captured has gone viral on the internet.

Catherine Granton, the education coordinator for Gotham Whale, a whale research and advocacy organization, said whale sightings became consistent in this area back in 2011 and have grown each year.

“You’re looking at a 17- to 19-foot skiff versus a 30-foot, 30-ton marine mammal,” she said of the Raritan Bay encounter. “So they were quite fortunate that they weren’t hurt and the whale wasn’t hurt.”

The whales are here because menhaden, also known as bunker — the oily fish they like — are plentiful in the waters off our coast.

CBS2 went out with Granton aboard the American Princess in June 2014. That day whale sightings were abundant. This year even more so.

“For the last three years, we’ve been seeing them on the ocean, and they’re breaching and sometimes they’re hoarding the bait fish up against the beach,” one man said.

The whales spotted in the area are enormous, but marine educators say they think many of them might be juveniles, which means they’re actually younger and a bit smaller than the whales you see off the coast of New England.

“The juvenile males who aren’t ready to be part of the sexual process get to the western New York Bay, and more or less say, well, there’s plenty of food and company around here (so) why do we need to go any farther?” Granton said.

So how will you know if a whale is near?

Typically if you see a large group of bunker fish swimming in a circle, they do it to appear bigger and scare off predators, but it only attracts whales. Before you know it, it’s lunchtime.

So keep your distance and enjoy the show.

Experts say humpback whales don’t attack people, but when they’re feeding they’re laser focused and often unaware of how close they are to boats or the shore.

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