NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Whale watching and the tri-state area are not usually mentioned in the same sentence, but that’s starting to change.

As CBS 2’s Elise Finch reported, more and more humpback whales are spending time in the region. But why?

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Experts say over the past few years the waterways in New York and New Jersey have gotten much cleaner. As a result, the area is seeing more marine animals gather there.

“Rather than going all the way up north to Maine, Massachusetts, they’re stopping here and finding nutrients, menhaden, abundant fish to eat,” said Paul Sieswerda, a marine educator with the group Gotham Whale.

Menhaden, also known as bunker, are an oily bait fish that travel in large schools, attracting whales along the way.

“They’re actually swimming tighter and tighter into a circle,” said Catherine Granton, another marine educator at Gotham Whale. “They’re looking to appear larger to a potential predator, but in doing that, that gives that humpback whale a perfect opportunity to just come up, unhinge his jaws and just lunge right through.”

Whale watching in the tri-state area will be at its best until October, when the whales head to the Caribbean to mate.

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Until then, Tom Paladino, captain of the American Princess, checks every morning with other boat captains to find out where the most recent whale sightings have been. He then heads either east toward the Rockaways or south to the Jersey shore with his tour group.

“Through the day, the whales — three, four, five hours a day — eat a tremendous amount, and we’ve been fortunate enough to see them while they’re feeding,” Paladino said.

Finch accompanied a tour that headed south toward Belmar, New Jersey, where watchers saw five whales and dozens of dolphins put on a show.

“I’ve never seen them before, and this is my first time seeing them,” Samantha Monsalve, 7, said of the whales.

“It was so cute,” added Shanika Scott. “It’s like the way you see it on TV.”

“I love to see the tail, but when they come out of the water head-first, I’m done. I’m toast,” said Edie Dodge, of Blue Point, Long Island.

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