The Whales of New York

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I think it’s one of these amazing wildlife
spectacles when you actually see these bait balls or these
large schools of menhaden. Those are small-schooling fish. Sometimes these pods are about
the size of a football field. When something ripples to the
surface across the big ball, typically, there is a predator
either nearby or just beneath them– could be a
shark, a large fish– hitting, if you will, the
outer portions of that school. And then to have some of the
largest animals that have ever inhabited this planet
feeding on them, I mean, that’s, to me, is an amazing
marine wildlife spectacle just miles from beaches that
people enjoy on the weekend, and even at other times
with the New York City skyline in the background. [MUSIC PLAYING] I’m Dr. Howard Rosenbaum. I direct the Ocean Giants
Program for the Wildlife Conservation Society. We use scientific
tools and approaches to protect large whales
and other marine life in the New York Bight. The New York Bight
is the body of water that lies between the tip
of Montauk and Cape May, New Jersey, all the way into the
coast, areas like Fire Island, New York Harbor, and
then down the New Jersey coast to Sandy Hook,
New Jersey and points along the Jersey Shore. In the New York Bight, there’s
a great deal of marine life that most people aren’t aware
of, many species of fish, and sharks, and turtles. Increasingly, we’re
seeing what appears to be more abundant
menhaden in our waters. And with that, we have
increasing habitat use of some of the large whales
in some of these waters. The fin whale, they’re
present during large portions of the year here
to a greater extent compared to those other
baleen whale species. Most of them are
seasonally migrating here. That includes the humpback
whale, the North Atlantic right whale, the sei whale,
the minke whale. Some may spend more time
here than we expected. And that’s something
that our research is beginning to tease out. [MUSIC PLAYING] So we use a suite of
tools to study and learn more about whales in
the New York Bight. They range from
boat-based surveys, where we’re out and looking
for whales, to the most cutting-edge type tools. Right now, we have deployed
in the New York Bight, in collaboration with the Woods
Hole Oceanographic Institution, a near-real-time
acoustic monitoring buoy. So any time there is
a whale vocalizing, one of four species, we get a
notification of those animals being present in
the New York Bight. For example, in a
nine-month period, we had vocalizations
on something like 218 of those days. So that provides extremely
valuable information. Because we’ve located
this buoy, an intersection between the shipping
lanes, but also an area that’s considered
potential for wind energy development. [MUSIC PLAYING] When we go out
and do surveys, we collect the full
suite of information when we come across a
particular whale groups. We’re logging the positions
of where we detect the whales. We’ll collect individual
identification photographs. For some of the work, we’ll
actually collect a small tissue samples for genetic analysis. We will use a crossbow
with a hollow-tipped dart that we will shoot into the
epidermis for the whale. [MUSIC PLAYING] [DART SHOOTS] What gives you the best target
is when they arch their backs. And you’re actually
catching them in the middle of
a flute and dive. And all of the sudden,
you’ve just kind of startled them a little bit. And so they kind of just
bring their flutes down and slap them on the water. In truth be told, this is
kind of like getting bit by a mosquito. Most of the time, the sample
will be retained into the bolt. With that DNA, we
can determine the sex of that animal, population
identity or individual identity of those animals
we just sampled. So we can get
amazing information from that one little
bit of tissue. 20 years ago, in the waters
of New York City, wow, you’re really lucky if
you got to see a whale. But we’re seeing
now, in essence, from important environmental
legislation, whether it was the Clean Water Act,
the Endangered Species Act, good fisheries
management, all of these things at some level
acting in concert with one another have certainly
allowed for us to have this amazing wildlife
spectacle, as we said, occur right here
in New York Bight. There are obviously
some concerns too. Animals getting hit by
ships are of great concern. The noise associated with
shipping and other activities is of great concern. As there are more menhaden,
are those fisheries regulated and monitored
well enough to make sure that those stocks
don’t get depleted? What happens in a
changing climate? We have to try to figure
out how to protect these animals in light of
some of these activities that are either ongoing
and/or projected. [MUSIC PLAYING] And I think there’s a great
opportunity for the residents and denizens of the
greater New York City area to take pride in this and
to get behind all of this– the most amazing,
wonderful experiences that you can ever imagine. It really never gets old. [MUSIC PLAYING]


  1. I don't get it. "Note: The minke whale photo in the video is actually a subspecies, the dwarf minke whale, which is not found in New York waters." Is this fake documentary? There's a shot where the VO says we're in New York.

  2. Very interesting, all this. Got to thinking….. do such predatory creatures ever cause the extinction of their feedstocks? we are told how much each whale NEEDS to eat , etc multiplied by number of hungry feeders – now increasing numbers, and when you see how they scoop up their prey – what's going to be left – or will Mankind get the blame for over fishing ?

  3. Have you folks heard of Gotham Whale? They do research and advocacy for whales, dolphins and other marine life within the Northern NY & NJ areas.

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