In advance of our Alaska trek (more on that in next post) my friend Lenore and I decided to get a leg up on whale watching. The American Museum of Natural History had offered a private boat tour via America Princess Cruises and Gotham Whale with several scientists and naturalists from the museum on board. Also joining us was Paige Rechtman, the Member Relations Coordinator from the Museum whom we originally met on our visit to the the Wolf Sanctuary in upstate NY and who has also hosted other museum events.
It seemed as auspicious start. The Friday before our cruise, sightings were off the charts all along The NY Bight, which is the Atlantic Ocean region that ranges from Cape Cod, MA, to Cape May, NJ, and includes Long Island Sound, New York Harbor and the New Jersey shore. The sea floor of the Bight consists of a continental shelf with walls that rise three-quarters of a mile from the canyon floor making it comparable to the Grand Canyon, whose cliffs are over a mile deep and 270 miles long. It is the largest known ocean canyon off the East Coast of the United States.
If this sounds familiar – we took a similar trip last year on the APC – you can read about it here.
The waters surrounding the New York City area have been seeing increasing numbers of sealife – particularly humpback whales and bottle-nose dolphins since 2011 due to a number of factors. Bunker fish, or menhaden. a primary food source is now quite abundant, perhaps a result of cleaner waters. Ironically, the Peconic Bay in the far eastern regions of the city has in the last few weeks been subject to massive bunker kill-offs as algae blooms are removing the oxygen from the waters there. The algae bloom in turn, has grown due to pollution. Cause for concern, to be sure.
Right now, however, the NY BIght is healthy and we were excited to hopefully repeat some of the recent successful sightings as mentioned in these Facebook posts from APC:
It was a Great Fathers Day Trip today aboard the American Princess….. With over 100 Bottlenose Dolphin seen and a Humpback Whale!!! 🐋🐬🐬
Excellent trip today with Five Humpback Whales and well over 100+ Bottlenose Dolphin. What a beautiful day on the Ocean. 🐋🐬🐬
The weather forecast was not too promising – threatening skies and chances for thunderstorms in the afternoon – but we had packed (thankfully) raingear and scarves. Neither Lenore nor I are prone to seasickness – we stayed on deck the entire voyage and it was a bit thrilling to feel the salt spray as the wind picked up – maybe there are pirate genes in our blood. There was also the thought that with not too many ships chopping up the waters, the whales and dolphins might be prone to surface more often.
So off to sea we went:
And just like the Navy song:
We joined the Navy to do or die
But we didn’t do and we didn’t die
We were much too busy looking at the ocean and the sky
And what did we see?
We saw the sea
We saw the Atlantic and the Pacific
But the Pacific isn’t terrific
And the Atlantic isn’t what it’s cracked up to be
We saw the sea:
Alas, the ocean dwellers decided to take a long nap or were playing hide and seek. I think the second option is true, as fisherman in the area kept reporting sightings.
We weren’t alone, however, as many seabirds kept us company. Here a cormorant looks both ways before taking off:
An assortment of gulls flew overhead – perhaps they thought we were one of the fishing boats and had some snacks for them on board:
We had a great time. The museum naturalists gave a brief presentation on the wonders of whales, there was food and drink on board, and the staff of the APC was as always, friendly and accomodating. We definitely will be back for another attempt.
Maybe our friends from last year will come back:
Thanks Paige for coordinating this trip!