By: Sarah Ryan Hudson, originally published in The Gam, April 2022

Our network of our Citizen Scientists grows! This is the story of how an award-winning photo, social media, and a duo of amateur naturalists helped update our New York City Humpback Whale Catalog. 

Over the past decade, we have collected marine mammal sighting reports from many amazing ‘regular’ people, including kayakers, sailors, fishermen, boat captains, ferry riders, and beachgoers. Through our Citizen Science WANTED program, anyone who spots a whale, dolphin, or seal in our area can help our research team by sharing a photo and location with us. 

As our network of Citizen Scientists grows, we have learned that keeping an eye out for marine mammal sightings online can be just as rewarding.

This stunning black and white photo of a fluke set against the NYC skyline was awarded the 2021 World Nature Photography Awards gold medal.   Taken by a local nature photographer, Matt Noome, who shared his joyful news on Twitter. 

But the story doesn’t end there. 

If not for local naturalist Wild New York, Gotham Whale might never have seen the photograph. Marine mammal observers don’t always know how their sighting information can be used to help researchers understand why whales are coming to our area and the issues they’re facing. But, the duo of youtube creators sailed with our team aboard the American Princess (“ APâ€) and shared our Citizen Science mission in their Humpback Whale of New York City episode. 

In addition to the sheer number of whale sightings, Gotham Whale tracks the sightings of individual whales using unique pigmentation or scars to distinguish between humpbacks. Using high-quality photos, researchers can compare pigmentation patterns, marks, and scars to find matches or catalog new whales. In extreme cases, it can take multiple sightings of a whale over multiple years to obtain the three photos used to complete the cataloging of a whale – flukes, right dorsal and left dorsal.. 

Wildlife photography is a thrilling art requiring a balance of skill, luck, and patience to capture ‘the perfect shot’. Marine mammal photographers have the added challenge of their subjects being submerged and on the move – sometimes surfacing for only seconds at a time. Over time, as we collect higher quality images, we update the whale’s profile in the New York City Humpback Whale Catalog (NYCHWC).

Until every New Yorker knows about NYC’s largest visitors, we ask our supporters to help keep us informed about all things whale in Gotham, the Wild New York team did just that with a simple ‘@GothamWhale’. After connecting with Mr. Noome, we learned his award-winning photo was taken aboard the AP in October 2019. 

Though we had previously recorded the sighting of NYC0146 for that date, Mr. Noome’s sharp, high-resolution photo will be used as the reference image increasing the chance that researchers will recover additional matches for this whale. Humpback whales in the NYCHWC have been seen from Canada to Turks and Caicos. Each additional sighting report or match helps us have a clearer understanding of the whales of New York. 

A black and white image of the whale tail logo.

At the time of this writing, Gotham Whale has documented six sightings of NYC0146. Our initial sighting was in June 2016. In July 2020, our team sighted NYC0146 swimming near another humpback whale, NYC0170. 

Gotham Whale looks forward to bringing you additional marine mammal stories.  If you enjoyed this whale tale, we hope you’ll consider donating to support our mission: