Whales Heard Near New York City

North Atlantic right whale with calf (Eubalaena glacialis). Right whales are large baleen whales. Adults are generally between 45 and 55 feet (13.7-16.7 m) long. Females give birth to their first calf at an average age of 9-10 years. Gestation lasts approximately 1 year. Most winter off the southeastern United States and head North for summer feeding and nursery grounds off New England and farther North. (Image credit: NOAA)

The calls of three whale species have been heard in the waters around New York City for the first time.

Scientists had never listened so intently before. So after installing sound recorders 13 miles from the New York Harbor entrance and off the shores of Fire Island, a team of researchers heard the calls of fin, humpback and North Atlantic right whales.

"These are some of the largest and rarest animals on this planet trying to make a living just a few miles from New York's shores," said Chris Clark, director of the Bioacoustics Research Program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The whales were known to migrate through the region. The new information about the seasonal presence of whales will help policymakers develop management plans to protect them, according to a statement released today.

Whales are known to sing complex love songs and to have different dialects that vary regionally. They can hear one another across hundreds, if not thousands, of miles, scientists say, but increasing ship noise may threaten their ability to communicate.

In the New York area, knowing the whales' travel paths will help ship traffic managers avoid whale collisions in area waters. Further, the study will characterize New York waters' acoustic environment and determine whether underwater noises, including shipping, affect the whales.

"With data generated by acoustic monitoring, we can better understand New York's role in the life history of these endangered whales and make more informed conservation decisions," said James Gilmore, chief of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's Bureau of Marine Resources. "This is especially important for the survival of right whales."

Acoustic monitoring began in the spring to record the right whales' northward migration from their calving ground off the Florida eastern coast to their feeding grounds off Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. And acoustic monitoring has begun for the whales' southern migration in the fall, back to the calving areas. The study will continue through February and is expected to reveal which species occur in New York waters throughout the winter months.

Live Science Staff
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