Cetacean Peregrination: A whale in New York Harbor may be a good sign or an ill omen.
On the positive side, marine mammals who deserted our waters generations ago (driven away by lethal levels of pollution) now occasionally stop by to check out the newly detoxified bay. On the darker end of the spectrum, whales who linger close to shore often turn out to be lost or sick.
What was the story with November’s visitor?
A rare visit by a humpback whale left normally unflappable New Yorkers agog-and more than a little bit concerned.
Whales that hug the shore or migrate upstream into less salinated waters (as this one did in November, circling north of the George Washington Bridge) sometimes turn out to be sick or disoriented.
But this visit may have been part of a happier pattern, according to Paul Sieswerda, president of Gotham Whale, a conservation group that studies, advocates for, and educates the public about marine mammals in New York Harbor.
“Humpbacks have been returning to New York since 2010,” he says, “and we’ve had more than 100 sightings or at least 20 separate individuals so far this year.”
Gotham Whale maintains a New York City Humpback Whale Catalog, which identifies specific whales through photographs of their “fluke patterns,” which Mr. Sieswerda says, “are like fingerprints.” He adds that November’s whale, which the organization nicknamed, “Gotham,” was observed actively feeding and swimming normally, “so we believe this was a healthy animal. We are pretty comfortable that he has now left the harbor and headed south.”