Humpback whales are making a comeback in the waters of Long Island Sound, after being elusive for more than two decades.
There have been numerous sightings lately of these previously shy animals which suggests that their population may have staged a recovery in recent years.
On September 26, boaters passing through Long Island Sound witnessed three humpback whales leaping and playing in the water. For instance, James Schneider, captain of the James Joseph II, recalls he noticed 2 adult whales and a calf as his party fishing boat sailed near Huntington.
Until recently, there had been no sightings of whales in the west Long Island Sound, since 1993, when locals spotted a 30-foot finback in New Haven Harbor. In the eastern part of Long Island Sound, a long-finned pilot whale had been observed in 2009, off Stonington, and a minke had been identified off Old Lyme in 2005.
Given how rare these occurrences had been lately, locals showed great enthusiasm when whales were spotted again back in May. Photos and videos of the animals soon began circulating online, after being posted by boaters in the area.
For example, three belugas were unexpectedly reported off Fairfield, Connecticut, and a minke whale was also noticed in the area of Green’s Ledge Lighthouse in Norwalk. On September 19, a humpback whale was seen jumping in and out of water off Darien and Norwalk. Those who reported the sighting believe it had been a young calf, which measured around 10 to 15 feet in length.
The spike in recent whale observations has been explained by experts using several theories. For instance, John Schnierlein, researcher and liaison to the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, suggests the marine mammals are attracted by increased quantities of bait fish like menhaden.
The fish species have been thriving recently, due to harvesting limitations and lower quantities of pollutant in the waters, as a result of reduced rainfall.
Another explanation for the growing number of whales appearing in this region is the fact that these animals are now more closely guarded by the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. There are also regulations imposed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Its guidelines require boaters to be on alert if they are fishing within 2 miles from where the marine mammals have been spotted. In addition, when distance is of less than 1 mile, fishermen and other boaters are advised to travel at lower speeds, and to steer away from the whales.
If the mammals are within 100 feet of the ship, boaters are advised to put their engines in neutral, and wait for the whales to move further away before resuming their trip.
Overall, experts believe these protective laws have helped restore the habitat of the animals, and have contributed to their recovery.
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