By: Sarah Ryan Hudson, published Dec 2021 & included in The Gam, Jan 2021

Through the power of Citizen Science, we are able to bring you an update on Humpback Whale NYC0089 who famously swam up to Manhattan in December 2020. The Gotham Whale team would like to thank Citizen Science contributors Brian Doherty and Marianne Guavard, who submitted photos of their recent sightings.

Just over a year ago, New Yorkers and whale lovers around the world were delighted by viral images and video showing a Humpback whale in front of the Statue of Liberty. NBC New York reported the sighting was a “magical” moment in a chaotic year.


A black and white image of the whale tail logo.
Photo credit: New York Media Boat | Bjoern Kils

After several days of excitement, sighting reports of NYC0089 went silent. The Gotham Whale team hoped and assumed the whale had swum south past the Verrazzano bridge back into the open Atlantic Ocean.

Although the Gotham Whale team collects data from multiple whale watching vessels and through our Citizen Science data collection form, there were no additional reports of NYC0089 for almost a year. Earlier this month, regular Citizen Science contributor Brian Doherty sent in photos of a whale he had observed feeding.

A black and white image of the whale tail logo.
Photo Credit: Brian Doherty

Initially, our team thought this whale may be new to the New York City Humpback Whale Catalog (NYCHWC). Gotham Whale catalogs Humpbacks using unique markings on the body and underside of each whale’s flukes. These whales are given a number, sometimes a nickname, and our team tracks re-sightings.

By maintaining the NYCHWC, we can provide vital data about previous sightings, the whales’ movements, and apparent health. Our team is able to report previous entanglements, locations, and feeding behavior of individual whales.

Upon further review, our research team was able to identify the whale seen by Mr. Doherty as NYC0089. Unfortunately, NYC0089 showed signs of a recent vessel strike, meaning this whale and a boat collided.

A black and white image of the whale tail logo.
Photo Credit: Brian Doherty

According to our Lead Humpback whale Researcher, Danielle M. Brown, “Thankfully, the wounds appear to be minor and not life threatening.†Our team hopes this incident will encourage everyone to be extra careful while boating. “Whales can be very unpredictable and may surface where and when you don’t expect them.†says Brown.

Though our team is overjoyed to see NYC0089 is otherwise alive and well, this incident reiterates the need for stronger marine mammal protections. Humpback whales face a variety of dangers in addition to vessel strikes, including entanglement, underwater noise, and other habitat degradation.

This is not NYC0089’s first brush with danger. In November 2020, this whale was seen swimming dangerously close to fishing gear. Luckily, the whale avoided entanglement, which can cause mortality, distress, and impact their ability to eat or nurse young.

A person is swimming in the water

For over a decade, Gotham Whale has tracked the increase of whale sightings in the waters near New York City, called the NY-NJ bight. One of the major concerns is the abundance of ship traffic that travels in and out the Port of New York and New Jersey. Gotham Whale Founder and President Paul Sieswerda explains the whales are essentially “playing in traffic.â€

In addition to marine mammal research and education, Gotham Whale is also an active advocate for marine mammals. “Our research helps illustrate the issues whales are facing. We hope NYC0089’s story will inspire real change, such as vessel speed restriction enforcement,†says Sarah Ryan Hudson, Director of Advocacy.

Click here to support our mission to study, advocate for, and educate about the whales and marine mammals of New York City through Citizen Science.