A whale of a sail! Go whale watching off the east coast of Long Island

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Your territory might not be the first place that comes to mind, however, Long Island is one of the best places in the world for whale watching. The waters beyond the tip of this fish-like landmass we call home are home to several species of whales, including humpback whales, fin whales, minke whales and North Atlantic right whales, not to mention the dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea turtles and sea birds. and even flying fish. Departing from Montauk, the 5-hour Viking Fleet tour is the perfect way to see these creatures as they rise to the surface to say hello.

The Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island (CRESLI) partners with Viking Fleet to run whale-watching cruises during peak season, July 1 through Labor Day. The non-profit organization conducts research while educating the public about marine mammals and the environment in which they live.

CRESLI co-founder, lead scientist and president Dr. Artie Kopelman recounts the cruise. Eager to share his 31 years of knowledge with passengers, he leads the tour with an enthusiasm that keeps everyone on board interested and informed.

“I saw more interest [in recent years]– especially in regards to whales in the West New York Bight area and whale watching trips and research by friends in and around New York,” Kopelman said, noting that CRESLI is working in close collaboration with researchers around the world to share knowledge.

Much has changed since the late 1980s when Kopelman volunteered for whale watching with Okeanos Ocean Research Foundation. These days it’s possible to spot up to 20 different fin whales on a trip, but three decades ago it was regularly seeing more.

The drop could have something to do with warming sea temperatures. “Before 2009, ‘coastal’ bottlenose dolphins were rarely seen north of New Jersey,” he said. “This is a species that has shifted its range north.”

The news is positive and negative for humpback whales. “I have seen an increase in humpback whale sightings near shore and the species is doing well across much of its range [globally]”, said Kopelman.

But it also found an increase in humpback whale numbers since 2016. Significant numbers of whales showed signs of human interaction, evidence of entanglement with ships or being struck by ships. This is why he seeks to educate others.

“Marine mammals are the sentinels of the health of our ocean ecosystems. They are also threatened today… by human activities,” Kopelman said. “Climate change, habitat destruction, unsustainable harvesting, pervasive plastic pollution, noise pollution and the unconstrained use of resources to the detriment of ecosystem services and wildlife are devastating for marine mammals and for all other living things.”

Along with sharing interesting facts and figures about the animals passengers see, as a naturalist he shares his passion for ocean conservation by offering tips on how to keep the oceans healthy. For example, he warns against releasing helium balloons into the air. When mylar balloons and party balloons land in the ocean, they can suffocate or strangle sea creatures.

He also referred to the practice of “scientific hunting” in countries like Iceland and Japan, which are blatant attempts to circumvent international regulations.

Kopelman is a professor of science and ecology at the SUNY Fashion Institute of Technology, where he teaches a course called “Ecology and Environmental Issues: More Business As Usual.”

A humpback whale catches some rays on a hot August day. (Photo by Kimberly Dijkstra)

“How horrible would a world without whales be? ” He asked. “We can do better. We must do better so that our children and their children can live in a healthy world, on a healthy planet, with healthy oceans. We need to change the paradigm and embrace sustainability in all its aspects.

Kopelman has had many memorable experiences during his long career. In 1989, a humpback whale burst in right next to the ship and, to its surprise, shouted a profanity into the microphone.

“I also remember the day in 2015 when we were returning from a long whaleless voyage to encounter two North Atlantic right whales – the rarest of baleen whales – a few miles from Montauk Point,” he said. -he adds.

In the Long Island area, the whale watching season is from July to early September. the viking ship comes out three times a week, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, throughout the season, except in bad weather.

There is no bad seat on the viking ship. The benches that line the port and starboard sides of the main level and upper deck provide unobstructed views of the whales when they choose to show themselves. And if you need a brief respite, the seats inside the cabin are a comfortable place to rest.

The cruise takes you approximately 12 nautical miles out to sea, although sightings are possible at any time. The excitement on the adults’ faces matches that of the children every time the boat slows down and everyone rushes to the side of the boat for a glimpse. There is nothing more spectacular than seeing a 25 ton creature emerge from the ocean and plunge back into it with a big splash.

There are a few things you should make sure to bring when you cruise: a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, and an extra layer or two when it’s cold or windy on the water. It’s also a good idea to bring binoculars or a camera, preferably one with a long lens and a fast shutter.

Food and beverages are available, including water, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, soda, beer, breakfast items, sandwiches, burgers, and hot dogs . However, you are welcome to pack lunch and snacks for the trip.

The Viking/CRESLI Whale Watching Cruise is $75 for adults, $50 for children 5-12, and free for children under 5. Visit vikingfleet.com for timetables and tickets.

For a more immersive whale watching experience, Viking Fleet and CRESLI also offer 3-day sea cruises through the Grand Canal South to Martha’s Vineyard and back. In winter and spring, the organizations team up again to organize cruises and seal trips.

See more of Dr. Artie Kopelman’s amazing cruise photos on Flickr.

For more information about CRESLI, visit cresli.org.

*Cruise dates and times have been updated to reflect the 2019 schedule.

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