Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island, Inc.

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Humpback Whale

Megaptera novaeangliae
Cooperative bubble feeding, Stellwagen, 8/16/11

 

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 identification purposes. 

CRESLI Whale Watch - Local 6 hour trip


Humpbacks in the Great South Channel and Stellwagen Bank

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.

 

CRESLI Great South Channel Whale Watch Trip


List of all humpbacks from CRESLI trips since 2002

Click here for a gallery of our identified humpbacks from 2002-2016
Videos of humpback whales during our Great South Channel trips

Humpback photos from from 2002-2016


Status

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% per year. 

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."

Information about the IUCN Red List categories and criteria.  

PDF copy of the categories and criteria

Humpback whales have been protected world wide from legal whaling since 1964 and were listed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as "endangered" and had been so listed since June 1970.

In September 2016, 9 of 14 humpback populations around the world were removed from the US Endangered species list

 


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