High Number of Humpback Whales Playing Tourist in New York Waters

Dec 13, 2014 11:15 AM EST | Jordan Ecarma

Humpback Whale

A humpback whale breaches the surface off the southern Japanese island of Okinawa on Feb. 13, 2007 in this file photo.
(Photo : Reuters)

Record numbers of humpback whales have been approaching New York City, swimming within a mile of the Rockaway peninsula in Queens, whale-watchers have said.

"It is truly remarkable, within miles of the Empire State Building, to have one of the largest and most charismatic species ever to be on this planet," said Howard Rosenbaum, director of the Ocean Giants program at the Wildlife Conservation Society, as quoted by the Associated Press.

An impressive 87 humpback whale sightings have been reported this year, with at least 19 distinct humpbacks identified based on their markings.

Humpback reports have been increasing since 2010, and 33 were reported in 2013.

"It was pretty slim pickings at first, actually," Paul Sieswerda, founder of Gotham Whale, told the AP. "We went on many cruises and had three sightings totaling five whales in 2011."

Conservationists like Rosenbaum say the higher number of whale sightings may be related to cleaner water and other environmental factors.

"One would like to think that some of this has been triggered by an improved environmental ethic," Rosenbaum said. "We have the clean air and clean water acts, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and associated state laws. It's hard to make the link for sure but there's certainly been a behavioral change toward the natural environment."

In other humpback-related news, a young whale trapped in fishing line near Kihei, Maui, was freed on Wednesday by a team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program.

Lines wrapped around the humpback whale were cutting into its tail; the team was able to remove 90 percent of the entangled gear to free it.

The incident marked the first major whale entanglement of the 2014-'15 whale season, a period when the humpbacks return from their summer feeding grounds in Alaska.

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