Whales, the Majesty, the Splendor

“The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Mahatma Gandhi

The whales are here and…I’ll be glad when they’re gone.


Yes, the whales have been off Long Beach, NY for many weeks now. These magnificent mammals have been cavorting and bursting through the sea’s surface to the delight of all.

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But one species of shore life, Homo Cameratus, usually observed with Nikon or Canon appendages, are always poised to capture whales on their insatiable sensors. These photogs trek, bike, boat, or drone their way to their prey.

The prey, these humpbacks, are en-route from summering off Maine to their winter digs off Barbados. They pause in that migration Oct.and Nov. in the New York bight (the V shape indentation of shore from Cape May NJ to Montauk Pt. NY) of which Long Beach is a part.

I often bike the boardwalk with a hefty 600 mm lens and tripod on my bike rack. I ride down our 2.2 mile boardwalk watching the sea for the action. Usually all I get is a neck cramp.

Other biking photogs do much better. Local photo guy, Bill O’Brien biked till he came upon this beauty:

Bill's whale

Bill Obrien captures a whale’s lunge-feed

Yeah, ya just gotta be at the old “right place at the right time” to get the cool shot. Usually I’m not at that very fine place. I laughed when a gal taking photos of her surfing boyfriend came up with a fantastic shot.

That’s right, while I was huffing and peddling my ass off scanning for whales, she happened upon a monster whale blasting skyward behind a surfer dude…a shot to make the newspapers. A shot so big it spread two pages:

Allison Blanchette's whale

Allison Blanchette’s Newsday photo Nov. 23, Thankgiving

When these, sometimes 50′, whales are here there is new excitement in the always exhilarating sea air. People come from miles around to see the show.

And as is often the case, if I turn my camera around from one show…I usually find another…mammals enjoying mammals.

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Families thrill to the fantastic sights of whales offshore.

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All sea life when they break the surface bring magic but it’s the whales that are the singularly majestic. There is something about tonnage-mass-in-motion that thrills us. The power it takes to leap that forty ton animal out of the sea leaves us awe struck.

There is a confluence of bio chain circumstances that brings these species together.

First, Phytoplankton gets its energy directly from the sun. Zooplankton feed on phytoplankton. Bunker, or menhaden, feed on both by filtering seven gallons of water per minute to gorge on them.

These menhaden are oily fish, (the oils are used in lipstick, cookies, salad dressing). The bunker schools emit that oily scent and it attracts gamefish like stripers. The stripers feeding off the bunker bring boats with fishermen aboard.

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But the bunker also attract…whales, hence the majestic lunge-feeds that devour the bunker…and any fish in the path of its jaws.

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Photo, Artie Raslich, Photographer of American Princess Whale Watch

However, the presence of sometimes speeding boats puts the whales at risk.


A speeding craft off Pacific Blvd, Long Beach, with whales aplenty

A mix of whales and whirling steel props is a bad combination.


Photo, Skyler Suhrer, Whale and Dolphin Conservation

Most strikes of whales or other cetaceans (whales, dolphins, porpoise) go unreported of course. The whale and boat move on and the injured whale may well  become infected and even perish. Many more become entangled in fishing gear, nets, fishing lines. Strandings of humpbacks have increase over recent years.

NOAA Fisheries:

2016-2017 Humpback Whale Unusual Mortality Event along the Atlantic Coast

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Graph credit NOAA Fisheries

Humpbacks are not endangered, their populations are increasing despite the climb in strikes. Currently there are 30,000 to 40,000 humpbacks in the world and about 11,000 in the North Atlantic. But I suspect a humpback being struck by a propeller wouldn’t care much about abstract estimates…just its own back…just its personal survival. Kinda like us brother and sister mammals.

Commercial shipping is required to slow down when right whales are present, they are an endangered species, humpbacks currently are not. I contacted two U.S. Coast Guard Stations nearby, neither said they provide warnings to boaters of whale sitings offshore.

There are NOAA guidelines for fishing and recreational boats for whale encounters. Basically it’s to slow down and keep your distance:https://www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/protected/mmp/viewing/approaching/index.html

But like many of civilization’s guidelines, rules and laws not all are followed.

I think whenever the wild and civilization come together there is a cost. And the tab to be paid seldom goes to civilization.

So when the whales finally move way offshore, even beyond the shipping lanes of tankers, cargo ships, cruise ships, I’ll be the happier for it. Even if it means I have to forego the majesty, the splendor…at least till next year.

 Be well,


See also, “Whales, their Song and Dance”:https://leebythesea.me/2016/11/12/whales-their-song-and-dance/

And, “The Whales of October are Here”:https://leebythesea.me/2014/10/29/she-blows-the-whales-of-october/



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