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New York/New Jersey Boaters: Watch Out for Whales

November 18, 2016

Over the last few days, boaters and fishermen have reported sightings of whales in New York and New Jersey waters, including one near the Statue of Liberty. There are believed to be several whales close to shore feeding on small fish, possibly menhaden, also known as "bunker."

"When you have whales chasing the bunker, and fishermen chasing the stripers that chase the bunker, accidental interactions between whales and vessels can occur," says Deputy Special Agent in Charge Jeff Ray of NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement.

 NOAA Fisheries asks boaters in these areas 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 sometimes use 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. 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. 

Get more information on safe boating near whales.

"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."

Report Sightings

Please report any sightings to NOAA Fisheries' Marine Mammal Stranding and Entanglement Hotline at 866-755-NOAA (6622).

Interaction with 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.whwat

Questions? Contact Jennifer Goebel at 978-281-9175 or