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Beluga Whales Visit Jersey Shore

    NOAA Fisheries Reminds Boaters to Keep a Safe Distance

On the morning of Sunday, May 31, 2015, the three beluga whales that have been touring the waters off New England states for three weeks were spotted in the New Jersey waters, near the Shrewsbury River. The trio was first spotted off on Narragansett on May 9, and stayed in the area for almost a week before traveling south toward Connecticut on Thursday, May 21, and then toward western Long Island over Memorial Day weekend.

NOAA Fisheries asks recreational boaters in coastal New Jersey  waters to  keep a sharp lookout for these white whales.

“For your safety and the protection of marine wildlife, we'd like to remind everyone to keep a safe distance of at least 150 feet from the whales,” says Logan Gregory, acting deputy director of NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement. “Please keep an eye out for our guests and help keep them safe." 

Biologists from the New Jersey Marine Mammal Stranding Center, the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, Mystic Aquarium, and NOAA Fisheries are all monitoring the whales as sighting reports are received.   

Stranding coordinators from NOAA Fisheries, New Jersey Marine Mammal Stranding Center, Mystic Aquarium, and Riverhead Foundation are all working together to monitor the movements of the whales. There are no plans for intervention at this point. 

Northern Neighbors

Robert Michaud, scientific director of the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals and coordinator of the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network, was able to photo-identify one of the beluga whales as part of the threatened St. Lawrence population. This whale was last sighted in 2013. While unconfirmed, it is believed that the others are from the same population. The St. Lawrence belugas have been in a slow population decline for the past decade and were believed to number only around 900 animals in 2013, down from more than 10,000 in the late 1800s.

Although the St. Lawrence population of beluga whales is not listed as threatened or endangered under the U.S.’s Endangered Species Act, these visitors are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

“Though it is rare, this isn’t the first time beluga whales have been seen in the northeast U.S.,” says Mendy Garron, Marine Mammal Response Coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region. “Individuals have occasionally been seen in waters off Maine and Massachusetts. This is the first time a group of three whales has been spotted together in regional waters.

Sightings and Viewing Guidelines

Report all sightings:

NJ waters: New Jersey Marine Mammal Stranding Center: 609-266-0538

RI and CT waters: Mystic Aquarium Stranding Program: 860-572-5955 ext.107 

NY waters: Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation: 631-369-9829

Please provide the location it was seen and a description of the behavior.

  • Do Not Approach the Beluga: Resist the urge to interact with the whale. Observe the whale from a safe distance of at least 150 feet.
  • Do Not Touch: Marine mammals carry diseases, which may be transmissible to humans.
  • Do Not Get into the Water: Although belugas are not known to be aggressive, they do have teeth and can ram hard with their noses. Even a playful nip or nudge may be dangerous for you and the whale.
  • Do Not Feed the Beluga: The whale needs to keep its hunting skills sharp and needs to eat uninterrupted.
  • Do Not Interfere with Natural Behavior: Move away slowly if you cannot avoid the whale.

 

Beluga whales are federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). 

Please report harassment to the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement Hotline at 1-800-853-1964