Coast Guard warns mariners about whales in New York Harbor

The following is the text of a news release from the U.S. Coast Guard:

(NEW YORK) — The Coast Guard is urging mariners in New York Harbor to exercise caution by slowing down to a safe speed and keeping a sharp lookout due to the continued presence of one or more humpback whales in the area.

One or more humpbacks are believed to be in the harbor with one in particular frequenting the waters of the Hudson River near Liberty Island and traveling as far north as the George Washington Bridge.

What is believed to be a second whale has been spotted in northern New Jersey waters, from Sandy Hook to Raritan Bay.

“We received the first reports on Wednesday, Nov. 9,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jason Moritz, command center chief at Sector New York. “We’ve had multiple daily sightings since then throughout the harbor and up the Hudson River.”

The Coast Guard is issuing an hourly broadcast to mariners warning them to be on the lookout and take proper precautions. The whales are capable of unexpectedly surfacing, a phenomenon known as breaching, anywhere within the harbor. Collision with a large whale can be harmful to the animal, can damage to vessels and be hazardous for passengers and crew.

“The Coast Guard urges everyone to exercise caution by slowing to a safe speed and navigating clear of their location,” said Cmdr. Nicole Vaughan, chief of prevention at Sector New York. “Mariners should avoid actions that harass the whales. The kindest thing that can be done is to observe from a distance and then move on.”

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries asks boaters in these areas to keep a close eye out for these feeding whales, and to remember to follow safe viewing guidelines, which include staying 100 feet away from the whales for your safety and theirs. Humpback whales can reach lengths of 60 feet, and can weigh around 40 tons.

"When you have whales chasing the bunker, and fishermen chasing the stripers that chase the bunker, accidental interactions between whales and vessels can occur," says Deputy Special Agent Jeff Ray of NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement.

Sightings should be reported to the NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Mammal Stranding and Entanglement Hotline at (866) 755-NOAA.

By Professional Mariner Staff