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Queens Chronicle

Whale watchers have a Queens connection

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Posted: Thursday, July 18, 2019 10:30 am

The American Princess Cruises captain unselfconsciously bellowed “There she blows” upon first sight of a humpback whale on an afternoon cruise last Saturday. After an hour or so of peaceful cruising, the call was more charming than cliche, and the passengers rallied to the rail.

In the distance, a carbon dioxide vapor spray flew up out of the flat, calm waters.

Soon after, the dark curve of a humpback whale lifted out of the water but disappeared. Again, and higher, it rose.

Then the humpback’s enormous body burst through, breached the water and then curved back into the patch of nutrient-rich, prey-dense water it had found. The captain would quickly spot what might have been a second whale and host a good long visit with a third before the trip was over.

The healthy composition of those waters, and decades of work to virtually end whale hunting, are the reasons the whales are once again a regular feature on the waters off of the New York metropolitan area.

Be sure to take binoculars, a strong camera lens, or at least your driving glasses, as the cruise keeps a respectful distance under “Whale SENSE” wildlife protection principles: no feeding, chasing or even altering the whales’ swim pattern.

“I live photography and I live whales,” said Basia Gray of Long Island, who shared her photos of the whales with the Chronicle. She and her husband Rich said they had seen more whales when they took the cruise in the fall.

According to Cecilia Ackerman, a naturalist at Gotham Whale, the number of sightings is a matter of luck rather than season.

One sign of hope for our troubled environment is that the whale population in New York waters has rebounded thanks to the diminution of pollution, resulting in a healthy chemical compositionof our waters that is attracting whales and large marine mammals.

“We’ve been documenting their return to our area since 2012, ” Ackerman said. Her group’s mission is to study, advocate for and educate people about the whales and marine mammals of New York City.

Out of 14 whale populations worldwide, nine — including New York’s — are no longer considered to be endangered. The next challenge to protect marine health in our area is getting plastic out of the water, Ackerman added.

Gotham Whale sends at least one of its members on each cruise to tell people about the whales and document the whales that inhabit our waters.

Sometimes a whale will be seen repeatedly over a season, indicating that the New York waters are healthy enough to host a population that used to fully pass over our city and continue on to New England on their annual northward migration from their Caribbean and West Indies breeding grounds.

The cruise is simultaneously family-friendly and date-worthy. A TV playing kids’ shows hovers over a quiet, couched stroller-park area, while the simple snack concession offers a full bar. A passenger using a wheelchair appeared to navigate the full run of the boat’s first level with need of little assistance.

Both indoor and outdoor seating is available on two levels, port side, starboard and at the bow of the boat. Get in view of the stern to catch a refreshing spray as she speeds sharply back to dock.

The cruise runs from Breezy Point at reachable prices: Adults pay$52 for the 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. “Whale Watching and Dolphin Adventure Cruise,” seniors and kids ages 5-12 get discounts. Those under 5 are free with registration.

Whale Watch Cruises
When: 2019 season, through Nov. 3
Where: Riis Landing, Breezy Point
Entry: $52, $47 seniors, $35 children 5-7 years, under 5 free with reservation.
Group rates available.

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