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Teri Frady
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April 9, 2009
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Humpback Whale Leaves New York Harbor, Heads South

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Humpback whale preparing dive off Coney Island this afternoon, dorsal fin clearly visible. Credit: Riverhead Foundation

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Humpback whale off Coney Island this afternoon showing top side of its tail fins or "flukes." Markings on the flukes are distinctive and unique to each whale, which is how known individuals are most often recognized by researchers over time. Credit: Riverhead Foundation
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Location of large whale strandings around New york Habor, Long Island and Northern New Jersey Credit: NOAA
Related Links
NOAA National Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program
Riverhead Foundation
About humpback whales

A small humpback whale was sighted swimming just north of the Verrazano Bridge this morning. The U.S. Coast Guard established a safety zone around the animal. A team of researchers from the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation went to the whale this afternoon, catching up with it just south of Coney Island.

"This is a small humpback, that does not have any apparent injuries but may have some health problems," said Rob DiGiovanni, who assessed the animal. DiGiovanni is the director of the Riverhead Foundation and its senior biologist. "It was having no trouble swimming, diving, or breathing, but did appear to be underweight with some possible skin abnormalities that can indicate poor health."

The team observed the 30-foot animal for several hours before heading back to shore. The whale was last spotted headed toward the open ocean, several miles south of Coney Island. Riverhead Foundation is a member of NOAA's National Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Network. NOAA authorizes organizations like Riverhead to respond to sick, injured, or stranded marine mammals.

There are currently no plans to continue actively monitoring this whale, but the stranding network is prepared to respond should further monitoring be required or if the animal strands.

A small whale was sighted yesterday in the early evening off the Rockaways on Long Island. It is not certain whether this is the same animal.

During the spring, several species of large whales are found in Mid-Atlantic waters. Fin whales, right whales, and humpback whales are present around Long Island and around New York Harbor. While it is unusual for large whales to enter rivers, it does happen. The highest profile event in this area was probably that of a young right whale that swam up the Delaware River in 1994, past Philadelphia and to Pennsauken, New Jersey before returning to the open ocean.

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