2 more dead humpback whales spotted: Floating in Raritan Bay, along Long Island
🔷 Humpback whale is reported dead in Raritan Bay; another off Long Island
🔷 NOAA has recorded at least 12 humpback whale strandings for NJ/NY in 2023
🔷 Offshore wind projects, climate change dominate public debate as possible factors
With heightened public attention on ocean animal strandings in recent months, two more dead humpback whales were reported Thursday off NJ and NY, according to the Marine Mammal Stranding Center.
One was seen floating in Raritan Bay — while the other was off the South Fork of eastern Long Island — near Wainscott, New York.
Both whales were considered to be in the New York Bight — a roughly triangular area of water from Cape May Inlet to NY’s Montauk Point.
Environmental officials from both states were now working to respond to the strandings.
🔷 Humpback whale deaths part of trend first spotted in 2016, according to NOAA data
NOAA Fisheries has been keeping count of humpback whale strandings along the Atlantic coast from Maine to Florida since 2016, as part of an “Unusual Mortality Event” launched in 2017.
This year, New Jersey has seen at least seven humpback whale strandings off its coast — while New York has seen five, for a two-state total of at least 12 stranded humpback whales as of June 2023.
NJ now has the highest 2023 total along the East Coast — followed by Virginia with six humpback whale strandings and then New York with five.
Over the seven-year span of the tracking by NOAA, the highest number of humpback whale strandings in a single year for any one state was 10 in Massachusetts in 2020.
NY had nine humpback whale strandings reported that same year, while NJ had four.
Delaware has seen no humpback whale strandings recorded within the past three years, so far.
Partial or full necropsy exams done on about half of the stranded whales reported since 2016, or 90 through February — showed 40% had notable evidence of human interaction.
That included being hit by a vessel or ship or entanglement in gear, according to NOAA.
🔷 Other ocean mammal deaths also being tracked off NJ over several year span
There has also been a tally of Minke Whale strandings off the East Coast, since January 2017 — amid elevated mortalities along the Atlantic coast from Maine through South Carolina.
In NJ, there have been zero minke whale strandings recorded since 2021, when there was one.
In late May, several more dolphin and porpoise strandings were also recorded along the Jersey Shore.
As of June first, 34 dolphins have been found stranded in NJ this year, according to the Marine Mammal Stranding Center.
That’s compared with 45 dolphins stranded in all of 2022 and 32 stranded in 2021.
A decade ago, 158 dolphins were stranded in NJ within 2013, according to the Marine Mammal Stranding Center and NOAA.
That was part of an unusual mortality event, largely attributed to a virus.
🔷 Public weighs offshore wind projects as factor in NJ strandings
While data shows cycles of alarming numbers of strandings along the East Coast for several years — extra recent publicity is in part linked to scrutiny of wind energy projects, with questions about whether offshore preparations could be harming ocean life.
In March, an unofficial hearing in Wildwood was led by U.S. Reps. Jeff Van Drew, R-NJ 2nd District, and Chris Smith, R-NJ 4th District, on offshore wind.
A group of state Senate Republicans also held a hearing at the Statehouse this spring, as a panel of guests talked about the uptick in whale and dolphin deaths.
The consensus at both events was to halt offshore wind development, until researchers could more definitely find a cause for the increase in marine mammal deaths.
🔷 Research considers climate change “chain reaction” as factor in mammal deaths
As the humpback whale population has grown they have been seen more often in the Mid-Atlantic, according to NOAA, which recently issued an “FAQ on Offshore Wind and Whales.”
Smaller fish that are a crucial food source for whales have also reportedly been seen closer to the shore in recent months, the same FAQ said.
Those fish, Atlantic menhaden, are a staple food for humpback whales, along with krill — but whales are far from alone in pursuing them.
Menhaden are appealing meals to lots of other ocean creatures, too — from blue crabs and lobsters to striped bass, sharks and tunas.
NOAA has said such a “feeding frenzy” could also lead to a potential increase in fishing boats, both commercial and recreational.
As for what could be drawing whales and their prey closer to shore — ocean warming has emerged as a potential factor, researchers have said.
“This can lead to increased interactions with humans as some whales move closer to near shore habitats,” according to NOAA.