The 10 Best Whale Watching Spots in New York

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You too can spot a humpback whale, if you know where to look. Photo credit: Courtesy of STXfilms/Barbara Nitke

Those looking for a little extra time to wrap up the summer are in luck. A wave of ‘whalecome’ marine life is flooding New York’s waterways from Coney Island to the Hamptons.

The New York Aquarium has released a list of the top 10 places to see whales from shore. Starting with the best area, the list includes Coney Island, Amagansett, the Hamptons, Fire Island, Jones Beach, the Rockaways, Sandy Hook, Long Beach Island, Lavallette, and Point Pleasant Beach.

Melinda Rekdahl, a marine conservation scientist for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), said as a surfer she tended to hang out at Rockaway Beach.

“I saw a lot of whales there just from the boardwalk,” she said. “It’s also a hotspot for dolphins.”

The New York Aquarium, which is operated by WCS, has been studying marine life in the New York Bight, which includes the area from Montauk to Cape May, New Jersey, for the past few years. While still working to finalize specific data regarding the number of marine life in the area, the aquarium’s lead scientist, Howard Rosenbaum, said this summer has seen “an impressive number” of whales and dolphins.

“Our research and conservation efforts in New York Bay this summer have led to an impressive number of sightings of multiple species, including some very close to shore,” he said in a press release. “We are actively working to generate the science needed to better protect them.”

Whales commonly seen in the area include the North Atlantic Right, Sperm, Sei, Bluefin and Humpback Whale, all of which are monitored by the state under the Oceans Action Plan from New York.

Rekdahl explained that the increase in sightings is likely due to a combination of factors.

The last decade has brought fishing regulations in place that have protected the populations that whales and dolphins feed on, particularly the Atlantic Menhaden which approaches within 50 meters of the shore, attracting the whales. There has also been significant environmental legislation, including the Clean Water Act, which has improved the marine ecosystem.

“People who are on the beach or surfing will see them,” Rekdahl said. “We had an incredible number of whales that came straight into the [bight]. … We just went there and we will see four to five animals at a time, which is incredible.

Climate change has also played a role in the increase in sightings. Changes in currents and migratory patterns of whale prey are likely contributing to the movement of marine mammals through New York waters. Research has shown that many marine animals come to the area from the Gulf of Maine to feed.

But even as climate change has expanded the marine diversity surrounding New York, Rekdahl said it could also cause problems, especially for endangered marine species.

Two humpback whales surface with New York City skyscrapers in the distance.
Two humpback whales surface with New York City skyscrapers in the distance. Photo credit: Julia Larsen Maher

“When they leave their habitats and migrate to areas to feed where there are no protections in place, that’s when it becomes a concern,” she said. “We need to understand how they move and where they are going to help protect them.”

The city and residents should also be wary of hunting whales and other sea animals. Limiting pollution, marine construction and pipelines and animal interactions will help protect animals, she said.

To help research and understand these patterns, Rekdahl urged people to report whale sightings to the New York Aquarium with a description of the animal and the location. Those who see whales on a boat should stay “far enough away”, she said.

“Whales and dolphins in particular are such charismatic wildlife and they really capture people’s attention. They provide an opportunity to bring people who live in such a bustling city to the natural wildlife that exists in the city,” she said. “It’s an amazing opportunity to teach people about the diversity of marine life and that we need to protect it.”

Best spots to see whales

New York Aquarium experts have revealed 10 spots with your best chance of seeing the big sea creatures.

1. Coney Island/New York Aquarium

2. Amaganset

3. The Hamptons

4. Fire Island

5. Jones Beach

6. Rockaways

7. Sand Hook

8. Long Beach Island

9. Lavallette

10. Point Pleasant Beach

To monitor

  • Humpback whale: Adults can measure between 50 and 55 feet and possibly more. They often breach and slap their fins on the water.
  • Bottlenose dolphin: Dolphins are about 13 feet long with a large dorsal fin. They are usually seen near the shore and in groups.
  • Minke whale: These 20 to 30 foot long whales can be seen with their heads and dorsal fins in rapid succession.
  • Fin whale: These massive sea creatures can be up to 80 feet long and are often farther from shore, but their beaks are sometimes visible from land.
  • North Atlantic right whale: This endangered species — the aquarium reported there are fewer than 411 in the wild — can grow over 50 feet long with a unique V-shaped beak. (AMNI)

Source: New York Aquarium

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