When holidaying in the Big Apple, there are a few epic sights one can expect to enjoy: Lady Liberty, the Empire State Building, a humpback whale... The latter might seem an unlikely entry in a New York City (NYC) sightings bingo card, but this week there has in fact been a humpback whale splashing about in the Hudson. The rare sighting is the first in four years, with another whale having entered the waters surrounding Manhattan back in 2016.
Affectionately named whale NYC0089, the individual was recognized by experts at Gotham Whale (GW) who keep a New York City Humpback Whale Catalog that contains over 200 individuals who have been spotted in the waters surrounding NYC. So why would whales, who are sensitive to the sound of boat traffic, visit such a busy waterway?
“Gotham Whale was able to observe the whale lunge feeding on menhaden,” said Paul L. Sieswerda, director of Gotham Whale, in an email to IFLScience. “So, the most likely explanation is that the abundance of this prey species lured the whale inside the harbor.”
The last whale to visit Lady Liberty with their presence was named Gotham by GW, after the individual swam into the harbor and traveled past the George Washington Bridge. Fortunately, Gotham was later spotted in good health outside the harbor so there’s reason to be hopeful that NYC0089 will follow in its tail-swishes.
Spectacular shots of the whale on Twitter show what was no doubt a pleasurable view for local citizens, but the longer it stays in the harbor the more likely it is the whale’s sightseeing tour could end in injury. The harbor surrounding Manhattan is a busy one, and a large whale is at risk of colliding with boat traffic. Ship strike is one of the leading causes of death for humpback whales and so swing amidst a thriving harbor is a less than ideal fishing spot. Mariners' alerts have been issued so captains know to be cautious until NYC0089 is confirmed to have left the harbor.
“These whales are usually outside the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge and don’t enter the harbor,” said Sieswerda. “We had seen this whale outside [the harbor] in June of 2018 and recently on 27 November 2020. We couldn’t find it yesterday and no reports today, so hopefully the whale has already returned to the open ocean.”
NYC0089 will hopefully share the fate of three humpback whales who pulled off a successful escape after finding themselves in the crocodile-infested waters of Australia’s Kakadu National Park.