Sarah Hudson

The first trip of 2022 to the Hudson Canyon!

By: Beth Anne Miller, originally published in The Gam, July 2022

On May 22nd at 9pm, after a spectacular sunset that painted the sky pink, lavender, orange, and periwinkle, the American Princess’s dock lines were cast off and she set out from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, on the first overnight Pelagic Bird and Marine Wildlife cruise of 2022 to the Hudson Canyon, approximately 100 miles offshore.

Sunset before the overnight offshore trip; photo credit: Beth Anne Miller

Some passengers turned in early so they could be well-rested for the long day ahead, while others enjoyed the rare opportunity to be out on deck under the night sky. It was a beautiful evening, with the stars coming out overhead as lightning flickered in the clouds over the city behind us (or maybe it was dragons…).

The next morning, as everyone woke up (or gave up after a sleepless night), we watched the bright pink sun emerge from the eastern horizon. We were out on the canyon, and our adventure was about to begin.

It was a glorious day, with the morning’s choppy sea smoothing out by mid-afternoon. Those interested in pelagic birds were thrilled, as many different species were sighted near the boat, including various shearwaters, petrels, and phalaropes. Arguably the most exciting bird moment of the day was in the afternoon, when a shout came from the starboard side: “Atlantic Puffin at 4 o’clock!” (Even I, not a birder, jumped up and ran over, but alas I did not see it.)

Atlantic Puffin; photo credit: Celia Ackerman

Those interested in cetaceans had some terrific moments as well. As the morning sun sparkled on the sea, a pod of dolphins was spotted far behind us. They were moving so fast and sending up such a spray in their wake, that they might be compared to a herd of wild horses galloping across the plains, kicking up a dust cloud behind them. Experts on board confirmed that they were striped dolphins. It was such a cool moment, and a rare sighting of an offshore species. We only wished they’d come closer!

Striped dolphins moving at high speed; photo credit: Artie Raslich

At high noon, we were treated to a small pod of Risso’s dolphins—including some calves—on our starboard side. A few hours later, as some folks were taking a brief siesta in the cabin, we had the cetacean highlight of the day: a pod of common dolphins. They appeared seemingly out of nowhere, zipping over from all directions to ride our bow waves and surf in our wake, leaping out of the water like acrobats, the yellow patches on their sides shining in the sun. Those out on the bow were even able to hear them echolocating and vocalizing as they crisscrossed under the pulpit (though that might just have been the shrieking of excited passengers…).

Risso’s dolphin calf; photo credit: Artie Raslich

 

But as quickly as the common dolphins appeared, they disappeared, vanishing into the sea as though we’d imagined them. As the American Princess glided across a glasslike, silvery sea on her return journey, we had brief sightings of several humpback whales, a few minke whales, and a fin whale.

Common dolphins; photo credit: Artie Raslich

Any amount of time spent at sea is time well spent, but it really is wonderful to be out there for a full twenty-four hours, away from technology, as there’s no signal once we get offshore. Cruising under the stars, breathing the sea air, watching the sun rise and set, seeing cetaceans and birds that are usually only found in deep offshore waters…there’s nothing like it. Many thanks to Captain Frank and the crew, who worked very hard for long hours to make sure we had the best experience possible.

The next offshore trip, scheduled for August 14-15, booked up in just a few days, but keep checking the AP’s website for announcements of future trips; they always sell out fast!

 

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:

 

Related Post:

Advocacy Update: Have you heard what’s happening with the Hudson Canyon?

Posted by Sarah Hudson in Hudson Canyon, Offshore

NYC0146, an Award-Winning Whale Photo

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 (“ AP”) 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.

Shown here is the left dorsal image of NYC0146.

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. 

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:

 

Posted by Sarah Hudson

NYC0089 Returns…

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

Photo credit: Celia Ackerman | American Princess Cruises

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.”

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.

Posted by Sarah Hudson in NYC0089, NYCHWC
The Story of #NYC0071

The Story of #NYC0071

Posted by Sarah Hudson