Long Island Sound boaters: Watch out for whales
Over the last few days, boaters and fishermen have reported sightings of humpback whales in the far western stretch of Long Island Sound. There are believed to be multiple humpbacks close to shore feeding on small fish, possibly menhaden.
NOAA Fisheries asks boaters in Long Island Sound, particularly, to keep a close eye out for these feeding whales, and to remember to follow safe viewing guidelines, which include staying 100 feet away from the whales for your safety and theirs. Humpback whales can reach lengths of 60 feet, and can weigh around 40 tons.
Humpbacks create bubble clouds to corral their prey, and then lunge through the center to swallow the small fish. Fishermen or boaters in these bubble patches run the risk of colliding with a massive whale as it rapidly approaches the surface.
Image collected under MMPA Research permit number 775-1875. Photo Credit: NOAA/NEFSC/Christin Khan
When a whale collides with a vessel, it can be gravely injured and die from its injuries. Collisions with whales have also thrown boaters from vessels.
In addition to the potential risk of a collision, the close proximity of a boat may cause a whale to stop feeding. All whales in U.S. waters are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which makes it illegal for people to harm, injure, kill, chase, or harass whales or any other marine mammal. Harassment includes any activity that results in changes to the whales' natural behaviors, such as feeding. Penalties for Marine Mammal Protection Act violations are fines of up to $20,000 and up to one year in prison. In addition, humpback whales are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
"In addition to keeping a sharp lookout, we also ask that should the whales approach your boat, you put your boat in neutral until they have passed safely," says NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Response Coordinator Mendy Garron. "Also, please report any sightings. Locating the whales will help us keep them safe."
Please report any sightings to NOAA Fisheries' Marine Mammal Stranding and Entanglement Hotline at 866-755-NOAA (6622) or, in Connecticut waters, to Mystic Aquarium's Animal Rescue Hotline at 860.572.5955 ext. 107, and in New York waters, to the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation's stranding hotline at 631-369-9829.
Interaction with humpback whales and all marine mammals is prohibited under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. Please report harassment to the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement Hotline at 800-853-1964.
Humpback whales are known for their long pectoral fins, which can be up to 15 feet in length. Their scientific name, Megaptera novaeangliae, means "big-winged New Englander," as the New England population was the one best known to Europeans. These long fins give them increased maneuverability; they can be used to slow down or even go backwards.
Find out more about humpback whales.