Increased whale sightings lead to resurgence of Jersey Shore whale-watching tours
An increase in humpback whale sightings has led to a resurgence of whale-watching tours at the Jersey Shore.
It’s a scene that would not have been happening a decade ago – a group of 40 people on board the Royal Miss Belmar heading out of the Shark River Inlet to go see whales putting on a show off the New Jersey coast. But there has been a dramatic increase in the number of whales in New York and New Jersey, which has made the industry viable.
“In three years, we’ve only not seen whales four times,” says Bill McKim with Jersey Shore Whale Watch.
In 2012, researchers with Jersey Shore Whale Watch’s partner organization, Gotham Whale, were able to identify four whales in the waters off the New York/New Jersey coast. Two years later, there were 16. Last year, there were 80.
“It’s pretty cool. It’s definitely been an increase this year as well,” says Gotham Whale researcher Danielle Brown. “We do expect to be close to 100 by the end of the year.”
Researchers say that the reason for the increase in population relates to an increasing amount of the whales’ food source – mainly Atlantic Menhaden, also known as bunker.
Researchers say that there is a lot of evidence that shows that there is an increase in Atlantic Menhaden, which may be caused by warmer water temperatures and tougher restrictions on the commercial fishing operations that use spotter planes to find the giant bunker schools. These operations then suck up the fish by the millions and convert them into pet food, fertilizer and fish oil supplements.
The harvest was cut by 20% in 2012 and whales started to flock to New Jersey a few years later.
The excitement from customers and the near-100% sighting rate has been a plus for Jersey Shore Whale Waters. It is a long way away from an idea McKim once had to convince the boat captains her partnered with that it would actually work.
“They said to me, ‘It won’t work.’ I said, “No, no, no. I know what I’m doing. You know what you’re doing. We’ll make a good partnership,’” McKim says.