Lunge Feeding Humpback Whale off NYC – 20/8/19

I finally took my first whale watching trip with American Princess Cruises out of Breezy Point on Friday afternoon.  They have had an amazing season so far with Humpback Whales and Dolphin galore all within sight of the New York City Skyline.  I had a feeling it would be a good trip when I captured bluefish chasing bait from the stern of the boat even before we departed.

Captain Frank told us they had two very cooperative whales the day before in Raritan Bay, a short ride across New York Harbor between Staten Island and Sandy Hook NJ and we would be heading that way again. As soon as we entered the bay, we encountered some big shools of bunker and even a few jumping Sturgeon.  Shortly after we had a lunge feeding Humpback Whale in the distance.

Celia Ackerman, a photographer and the naturalist on board from Gotham Whale, immediately knew this was a different whale than the two seen in the same area the day before.  After checking her notes she realized this was NY0109, last seen in late May.  At that time the propeller wounds behind the dorsal were much fresher but still a very distinct ID marker.  Normally they depend on the fluke for identification but since we were only in 20 feet of water, this whale had no reason to show the fluke which normally appears before a deeper dive.

Here is a photo of the same whale taken by Celia in late May.

The good news is the whale has healed up nicely and seems to be in fine shape otherwise. While Humpback Whales have made an amazing recovery, about 100 whales have died on the east coast since 2016.  NOAA considers this an unusual mortality event.  Necropsies have been performed on about half these whales and showed about 50% had evidence of ship strikes or entanglement.  The shipping lanes in our area are some of the busiest in the world so this will continue to be a huge threat. Besides ship strike, another concern is floating garbage.

A recent report claims that the Hudson River is the cleanest it has been in over 100 years, which is one of the reasons we are seeing so many whales now.  But floating garbage and plastic are still a big problem.  It was sad to run into a bunch of floating debris near where the whale was feeding.  Celia sent me a few images of the garbage in the photos below.

As you can see, a whale could easily ingest this toxic mess when feeding. For the next hour or so we were treated to multiple lunge feeds as the whale gorged on bunker balling up on the surface.  I tried something new this time, attaching a GoPro the end of my zoom lens to video some whale action while not missing any shots.  I edited the footage in the video here

We always maintain a safe distance from the whale which is why I recommend bringing the longest lens you have.  All the shots below were with my Sigma 150-600mm.

-Mike Busch

This post was adapted from a blog from Fire Island and Beyond, read the original here

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