The humpback whale is regularly found in the New York Bight but its
abundance fluctuates widely. In some years they are very numerous with
aggregations of up to 20 individuals. In other years only a few individuals
are present. Humpbacks are one of the baleen whales regularly found in
shallow water and have been observed for extended periods of time within
Long Island Sound, Block Island Sound, Gardiner's Bay, the south shore of
Long Island from the Rockaway to Montauk, and sand in NY
Harbor. In some instances
humpbacks have also been observed moving in and out of some inlets along the
south shore of Long Island (Shinnecock, Fire Island, and New York Harbor).
Humpbacks are found in the greatest numbers around Long Island between the
months of June through September. Usually they feed on shoals of small
schooling fish such as sand eels, bunker, or herring, they will also feed on small
shrimp like crustaceans called krill or euphausiids.
Our trips to the Great South Channel, bring us to a major
feeding area east of Nantucket, where we've encountered from
30 to 160 humpbacks every year since 2002.
Humpback females can reach lengths of 60 feet and weights
of 80,000 lbs. As in other baleen whales, humpbgacks are not
truly "social." That is they don't belong to
relatively stable social groups. The only stable
association is between a mother and her calf, which may last
as 1 year, but typically lasts 6-9 months. However, unlike
other baleen whales, humpback do feed cooperatively (see the
photo above) and some individuals are often found in close
association with certain others.
The flippers of a
humpback are quite long (about 1/3 of the body length),
hence the genus Megaptera
which translates from Latin as "large winged." In
part, due to the large flippers, humpbacks are relatively
slow swimmers but are also quite maneuverable.
In order to dive deeply on a terminal or sounding dive,
humpbacks usually kick their flukes out, this enables us to
see and photograph the underside of the fluke. The
markings and patterns of pigmentation on the underside of
the fluke are unique for each humpback and can be used for
We have now had over 1100 humpback encounters in our trips to the Great South Channel,
Stellwagen Bank, and locally.
With the assistance of Laura Howes of Boston Harbor Cruises, the Gulf of Maine Humpback group, the
Center for Coastal Studies, Allied Whale, and the
FlukeMatcher groups on Flickr and Facebook we have
photo-identified 420 different humpback whales during these trips.
The latest estimate of minimum population size of the Gulf of Maine stock is 823
individuals. The latest estimate of the population size of humpback
whales in the North Atlantic is 112,000, while population size of humpback
whales in the Western North Atlantic is 11,570, increasing at a rate of 6.5%
Humpback whales are listed in the IUCN (International Union for the
Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources)
Red List and the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC)
as, "Least Concern."
"A taxon is Least Concern when it has been
evaluated against the criteria and does not qualify for Critically Endangered,
Endangered, Vulnerable or Near Threatened. Widespread and abundant taxa are
included in this category."