Why do so many whales visit the New Jersey shoreline?

Garden State residents are having fun these days watching humpback whales off the coast of New Jersey.

Spotting a whale in the ocean on shore was a rarity, but Danielle Brown, principal investigator of Gotham Whale, a nonprofit group studying marine mammals and whale expert at Rutgers University, said there had an increasing number of whales. sightings in our region over the past 11 years.

“We think it may be related to a prey species that we see them feeding on, which is called Atlantic menhaden or bunker,” she said.

It’s whale feeding season.

“Their behavior is tied to whatever they feed on,” Brown said. “Increased numbers of fish could drive them into this area. A lack of fish in other places could also push them out of their usual feeding grounds.

Is climate change a factor?

Brown said it’s possible whales are hanging around off the Jersey coast due to rising ocean water temperatures, but no one really knows.

Getty Images/Townsquare Media photo illustration

Getty Images/Townsquare Media photo illustration

“We don’t know exactly where these whales come from, how they find this area, do they come from the south, do they come down from the north.”

Brown said that in previous years, when a humpback whale was spotted off the New Jersey coast, it was usually during the winter, and researchers thought the whale was just passing through, but that’s not the case. is no longer the case.

“A lot of whales are seen between April and December, and they stay here quite a long time, the average is around a month,” she said.

She pointed out, however, that some whales can stay for several months and once they are gone, they will come back for 2 or 3 years.

Courtesy of Jersey Shore Whale Watch

Courtesy of Jersey Shore Whale Watch

What’s up with tail slapping?

She said the whales are very intelligent and most of them that are seen in this area are younger, and “they show a lot of these playful and socializing behaviors, more than adult whales. Tail slapping, fin slapping, these are all part of play behaviors, they can also be communication behaviors.

She noted that young whales are very curious, so they sometimes get close to boats, so it’s important to be careful.

Brown said that means keeping boats away from whales for protection, but also these 40-tonne creatures “slit-feeding above the surface, which is very exciting, but it’s also very dramatic, it can be a bit scary and it’s unpredictable, you never know where they’re going to.

She said that when you’re on your own personal boat “be sure to watch out for those whales, the best way to whale watch is to go out with a safe whale watching company along the Jersey Shore.”

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at [email protected]

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