The New York Bight/Seascape (Cape May, New Jersey to Montauk, New York) hosts a diversity of marine life and habitat. From whales, dolphins, and sharks, to rays, fish, and seabirds; coastal estuaries and marshes, to the Hudson Canyon, the New York Bight supports migratory, foraging, and nursery habitats and species, right in our backyard. To find out more about the amazing species and habitats in waters of New York, click on Explore the New York Seascape.
Whale sightings off New York and New Jersey have been seen more frequently off the coast recently. Many species are seemingly returning to the New York Bight, including humpback, fin, minke, and North Atlantic right whales (NARW). Within the New York Bight, these species are susceptible to a multitude of potential impacts including entanglement in fishing gear, ship strikes, habitat modification (for example, from offshore wind energy development), and increasing ocean noise. Additionally, on-going Unusual Mortality Events are declared for humpback, minke, and NARW in the Mid-Atlantic. The WCS Ocean Giants Program helps fight these threats through continued field research efforts.
From late-spring through fall, the Ocean Giants team heads out on the waters of the New York Bight to collect data on cetacean (whales and dolphins) species. This data includes where the animal(s) are seen, what they are doing (behaviors such as foraging, traveling, or resting), the environmental in which they are seen (for example, water temperature and proximity to prey), and any photographic evidence for identifying individuals or prey types. Photographs of humpback whales contribute to the Ocean Giants humpback whale catalog, which documents individual humpback whales by unique markings and shapes of their dorsal fins and tail flukes. The team also collects biopsies (small samples of skin and blubber) for genetics and stable isotope analysis. Recently, eDNA (environmental DNA) has also been collected from water samples, providing a non-invasive way to study the presence of these animals, their prey, and other marine predators. These data types (visual, genetic, and acoustic) can be integrated to provide a more comprehensive understanding of cetaceans in the New York Bight.
We are able to identify individual whales by the unique shape and pattern of their flukes (tail). The two photos above are of the same individual taken on August 5, 2018 (top) and August 1, 2019 (bottom). The white circles show some of the distinct coloration patterns that help us match the photos to the same whale. Can you spot any others?