Urban Wildlife: Whale Watching

It was another nice Brooklyn day.  It started wth a three plus mile run on the trails with enough foliage color to produce a day-dreamy run. It is the time of year when the sun is low and the whole day looks like afternoon, but the reddish glow makes the autumn colors and crisp blue skies all the more brilliant.  One of my favorite album covers by New Order evokes my senses in the same way.


On to whales!!!! I have been jealous of the FB postings of my my sea-oriented friends.  Whales breaching off the Rockaways.  Dolphins off Brighton Beach and Ft. Tilden.  All of these places I have frequented my whole life and have yet to encounter such gracious creatures in the wilds of New York waters.  As I descended into JFK, I eagerly scanned the shores of Long Island to see if I could spot any activity from the sky.  The dominance of the sea relative to the landscape always reminds me that we are a marine city! Sometimes you can smell the saltwater air as far inland as the Nostrand/Flatbush junction.  But back to whales.


Gotham Whales have actively posting cetacean activity for a number of years now and to me it seems that whale, dolphin (and seal) activity has been increasing each year.  With cleaner waters and organisms lower on the food chain thriving (i.e. oysters and various species of fish and crustaceans) the larger ones are coming back to feed on them. This includes the menhaden or bunker which seems to be a fave of the great mammals.  The American Princess Cruises specializes in whale and dolphin spotting cruises off the shores of Brooklyn, Queens and Western Long Island.  They posted that their last trip of the season would be on 11/26, the Sunday after Thanksgiving 2017. With sightings of 5 and 3 whales on prior trips that week, we took our chance to head out to Riis Landing and hop aboard the American Princess for our whale watching adventure.


Marine Parkway Bridge 


Looking West Towards Coney Island 

After a boat briefing, we took off from Ft. Tilden and rounded the peninsula to the Atlantic Ocean.  We passed the confluence of the waters of Jamaica Bay, New York Harbor and the ocean. There were whitecaps and the water was choppy, we were told that this would make the whales harder to spot.  IMG_3530

Kite Sailing near Breezy Point 

IMG_3531Coney Island and the Verrazano Bridge of NYC Marathon and Saturday Night Fever fame

IMG_3537The Confluence of Urban Waters

We were advised to look for bird activity–seagulls and diving gannets.  If the whales are feeding, the birds are feeding too.  We saw several patches of bird activity, but not yet the tell-tale waterspout of a whale.  We continued east past the Rockaways, Long Beach and right off the coast of Jones Beach we finally heard the sigh and saw a waterspout!  There was a whale, logging off the starboard side of the boat.  We grabbed our cameras, left the warm cabin of the boat and ventured into the crisp ocean air to catch a sight of this whale in our local waters.  This whale was resting or napping–slowly moving just under the surface of the water and emerging at almost regular intervals to breathe.  I watched the whale for a little bit, just to absorb the experience of seeing one in the wild this close to hope, before grabbing the iPhone to get some shots of the whale’s dorsal fin. IMG_3561Breathe


IMG_3567It was amazing to see such a majestic being at ease in it’s habitat.  There was another boat nearby, but each kept a respectful (and legal) distance from the whale.  There were reports of others in the area, but this was the only one that we were able to see.  These are probably the last of the whales to head further south for the winter.

After spending about 45 minutes with this whale, we turned and headed back (into the wind) west towards Riis Landing.  We were hoping to catch another sighting as we headed back, but we saw a variety of seagulls, gannets and small shorebirds running in groups.  As we docked, the sun was almost setting casting a reddish/orange/purple glow on the surrounding structures, including a curious piece of art that apparently has been there since the 70s.

IMG_3574Low Sun over the Atlantic/Lower NY Harbor 

IMG_3577Art Curiosity 

IMG_3579The American Princess in her Riis Landing berth IMG_3581Ft. Tilden Sunset

Until next year when the whales return, but maybe seal watching trip on a winter return visit to Brooklyn???



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