NOAA's Take on the Hudson Humpback

The humpback whale that’s been cruising the Hudson River likely got lost after chasing baitfish, according to NOAA experts.

There’s probably not enough food upriver, and chances are the whale is ‘lost,’ said Jennifer Goebel, a spokesperson for NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region.

It doesn’t appear to be in danger, so NOAA doesn’t plan to intervene at this time.  

But that could change if the health of the animal declines, or if the location ends up posing a danger, Goebel said, acknowledging that the whale is certainly a hazard to navigation in busy New York Harbor.

The whale is likely a juvenile or a young adult, and concerns about it ‘missing its migration’ are unfounded, Goebel said.

While adult animals move to tropical breeding grounds in the winter, younger whales don’t always make the entire journey because they’re not reproductively active, and there’s less for them to eat down there.

Indeed, there’s some evidence that a number of juveniles overwinter in the mid-Atlantic, where they continue to feed and grow, Goebel said.

Even adult humpbacks have been reported to migrate later in the season, remaining off New York and New Jersey into late fall, and overwintering in the mid-Atlantic, she added.

There are 14 subtypes of humpback, and it’s not clear which one this whale belongs to. Four subpopulations are endangered, and one is threatened, but none of these live in the coastal waters off North America.

While the North Atlantic humpback population was estimated to bottom-out at 700 animals between 1865 and 1980, today NOAA estimates that there are 12,000 humpbacks swimming through its waters at any given time.

Many New Yorkers will be anxiously waiting to see if this animal finds his way back to his flourishing population.

Humpback Whale in New York Harbor: Monday 11/21 Update

Gale-force winds gusting 40 knots stirred up the harbor, making it difficult to locate the whale's occasional spout among whitecaps everywhere. Despite recent reports "off the Statue," "at the 1 Bouy" and "north of Governors Island," it took us over an hour to find the mammal. We finally spotted it south of Governors Island right around slack tide.

The whale swam west, crossing the shipping lane, and began surface feeding just east of the Statue of Liberty. Due to the adverse weather conditions we didn't see the whale as much as on previous days, making its path much less predictable.

Marine Mammal Researcher Kristi Ashley Collum from the American Museum of Natural History, who also collaborates with Gotham Whale, joined us on the escort. Kristi deployed a hydrophone off the boat to record the whale's vocalizations. 

For about an hour the whale swam in a north-south pattern along a 0.3-nautical mile transect of a shoal, surfacing about once a minute.

At 3:30pm the whale headed south towards the Jersey Flats and we returned to port.

Humpback Whale in New York Harbor: Day 3

At noon we set out with hopes of locating the whale again. Early that morning, it was seen south of the Statue, a friend later reported it by North Cove Marina. With an incoming tide we reasoned that the flood would carry it upriver just like the previous day. At 1:20pm, Kristina spotted the whale just north of 79th Street Boat Basin on the Manhattan side of the Hudson River. The FDNY fireboat 'Bravest' was also in the area and the whale surfaced quite close to their vessel.

It was significantly less active than the previous day -- we timed 1 to 2 minute breathing intervals and the whale was was cruising slowly, only occasionally lifting its tail out of the water.

Earlier that morning we spoke with a researcher who has been documenting and cataloging whales in the New York Bight for years. He wants to identify this individual and said to pay special attention to the white pigmentation under the flukes. The color, pattern, ridges and scars act as unique identifiers. Photos will help determine if just one or multiple whales are being sighted in the Upper Bay. The first photo is the underside and the second photo the top side of the same tail.

Trying to estimate its size, we checked the Simrad structure-scan/sonar and were amazed by the image!

It seemed there was less fish in the area than yesterday. Only once did we observe surface feeding.


As flood changed to ebb, the current carried us and the whale south again. Floating with the engines in idle for hours, only occasionally making small course corrections to avoid anchored barges. The most incredible experience of the day was when the whale surfaced just next to the boat. It was a huge surprise, since we were careful to maintain at least a 100 yard distance at all times.

Today the whale hugged the Manhattan side as it travelled downriver at 3-4 knots.

It passed within feet of the cruise ship terminal.

Then it picked up speed, moving past Hudson Yards and Chelsea Piers at 7 knots.

At the Whitney Museum of American Art, it showed its tail again.

 Finally, as the sun set, the whale made its way south towards the Verrazano Bridge. We hope it will find its way back to the ocean soon.

Humpback Whale in New York Harbor: Day 2

Captain Eric and I set out around 10am to see if the whale was still in New York Harbor. There were no recent confirmed reports. Someone said they may have seen something off Chelsea Piers, another unconfirmed report came from Hoboken and 34th Street. We started our search in the Deepwater Range, where we saw it last the previous night and cruised up the North River at 4 knots. Around 1pm a workboat in the vicinity of the George Washington Bridge reported the whale surfacing. We got there quickly and started tracking the whale again, keeping a safe distance to the mammal.

The whale had swum north with the flood, and as the tide switched to ebb it changed direction and headed back towards downtown.

NOAA's Humpback whale approach regulations call for a distance of 100 yards, slow speed, and to not place a vessel into the path of the whale. New York Harbor is teeming with tugs, barges, ferries and other commercial traffic so once again we decided to just stay with it, and coordinate with oncoming traffic in hopes of providing safe passage for the whale.

Most professional captains appreciated our guidance and steered clear of the whale. Around 3pm the whale started moving in an east-west pattern and began breaching. Fish jumped out of the water in a last attempt to get away.

Note the distinctive bumps on the whales head. Each bump is a hair follicle and researchers suspect they help the whale detect density of fish while feeding.


At dawn the whale was lobtailing -- slapping the water repeatedly with the tail, some scientists believe it to be a non-verbal form of communication, or part of the feeding ritual, stunning fish or driving them closer together.

As the sun set, we lost visual contact to the whale and updated the US Coast Guard to its last location so ships can be advised to be extra vigilant and operate at a safe speed in the area.

Check back later for video of the whale feeding.

Humpback Whale in New York Harbor

Passengers aboard our Adventure Sightseeing Tour got to see the newest attraction in New York Harbor! A whale made its way up the Hudson and was spotted off the Statue of Liberty.

We watched the whale for several hours, providing a safety zone and communicating with commercial vessels to avoid potential collision.

Encountering whales is not uncommon this time of year out in the Atlantic Ocean, but rarely does one swim into the harbor.

The whale surfaced within feet of the boat, allowing us to take truly unique photos.

It's a Humpback whale and we are searching the national database to learn more about this specific animal.



For more photos and videos check out the Day 2 and Day 3 blog posts.

Viking Invasion of New York Harbor

It's an intimidating sight: a 115-foot wooden Viking ship with more than 30 people on board, all chanting in Old Norse and rhythmically beating the ship's oak planks. That's how the Draken Harald Hårfagre Viking ship arrived in New York earlier this week -- and it was easy to see how such an entrance would strike fear into any nation that might be facing a Viking invasion.

But the Draken's mission is far from conquest. Owner Sigurd Aase wants to raise awareness of the Vikings' historical journeys across the Atlantic to North America, long before any other Europeans arrived. And he wants to spark young people's interest in adventure.

Draken's "Expedition North America" started in Norway on April 26, with stops in Iceland and Greenland before entering the St. Lawrence River to get to Quebec City and Montreal. The ship then spent the latter half of the summer sailing around four of the Great Lakes with stops in major lake cities like Chicago, Green Bay, and Duluth.

She was built in Haugesund in Norway, and is the largest Viking ship in modern times. She's not a replica, but was designed using data from archaeological finds and Old Norse literature. Her 80-foot mast is the trunk of a Douglas Fir.

The 260-square-meter red sail, which is made of silk, gets her cruising at 14 knots, and the bow's dragon-head is thought to protect against sea monsters.

After a brief stay at Liberty Landing Marina in New Jersey, the Draken made her way to North Cove Marina in lower Manhattan, where she'll be open for tours at $10 per person. 

Unlike a thousand years ago, the Vikings received a warm welcome, and their ruler was pleased: Aase sported a big smile along with his Nordic King robe.

The Draken will sail on to Mystic, Connecticut, where she'll be laid up for the winter and overhauled for future projects.

Sailing with the Coast Guard

Earlier this month, we sailed aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle, the military's only active-duty sailing ship. She serves as a training vessel for cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut -- and we got to watch just how tight a ship these hundred-plus trainees run.

We boarded a Coast Guard small boat at North Cove Marina (it was almost as fun of a ride aboard one of our RHIBs!) and transferred to the Eagle just past the Verrazano Bridge. It was quite the jump, even in fair seas. Tough to imagine being a Sandy Hook Pilot in a storm in the middle of winter!

Captain of the Port Michael Day and Eagle Captain Matt Meilstrup welcomed passengers aboard. There was a lot of insignia to learn that day, but it's easy to tell a Captain by his four solid shoulder stripes.

Steering the ship requires six cadets at the helm, a hallmark of traditional sailing. Built in 1936 in Hamburg, Germany as the Horst Wessel, the ship ended up in U.S. possession as war reparations after World War II. 

The U.S. Coast Guard sailed her to New York in 1946, with the help of her German Captain and volunteers from the German navy -- many of whom were happy to see the end of the Nazi era. Eagle leadership told us that Germany had worked hard to build its navy long before Hitler came to power in 1933, and many of its naval leaders didn't sympathize with the party.

Throughout the trip, cadets meticulously mapped our course, taking three directional bearings every couple of minutes and plotting them on the chart.

They also had the help of Sandy Hook Pilot Mark Wanderer -- seen here in slacks and a tie, typical pilot attire -- in keeping an eye on the course. 

Other guests aboard included cast members of the Broadway show 'Hamilton,' who were seen here being interviewed by ABC News.

At the top of its tallest mast, the Eagle was flying the two-star flag for Rear Admiral James Rendon, who was also aboard. He's currently the Superintendent of the Coast Guard Academy.

Climbing the rigging was tempting, but the Eagle is definitely not a place for rule-breaking. The cadets had strict systems for handling the 9-plus miles of rope on board.

We also had free rein to wander below deck. Here's a conference room -- wish more of my meetings would be held at sea!

After a 4-hour sail, we came ashore at Pier 86, near the decommissioned aircraft carrier U.S.S. Intrepid. The cadets put on one last display of their coordinated line handling as they tied up. Then, they carried a huge gangway across the deck to let guests disembark -- and we figured we learned the origin of the phrase "gang way!" You better move out of the way when the gangway is coming through.

The Eagle has always been an impressive sight on the water, but now we'll be even more excited to see her return to New York Harbor so we can relive our time aboard.

The ALIR at 40

More than 70 sailboats gathered off Rockaway Point for the start of the 40th annual Around Long Island Regatta (ALIR) last Thursday.

Hosted by the Sea Cliff Yacht Club, the ALIR covers 190 nautical miles and combines ocean and coastal sailing, attracting cruisers and offshore racers alike.

Moritz Hilf and his Pogo 10.5 Max took second place in the double-handed division 6.

Peter Becker and the Young American Jr. Big Boat Team took first place aboard High Noon in the spinnaker division 9 -- and third place in the IRC division 0.

Brendan Larrabee and crew hiked out aboard the Andrews 68 Simon Says YC.

And Bartosz Bilinski sailed into sixth place on Narwana in the spinnaker division 5.

These are just a few of the vessels we captured at the race start. We may have a picture of yours! If interested, email with your sail number and boat description.

Women Set Rowing Record

The first women's rowing team attempting to break the 43-day speed record across the North Atlantic fell just short of their goal, making landfall in Falmouth 49 days after leaving New York Harbor.

They did, however, become the first all-female crew to make the journey, led by Olympic rowing medalist Guinn Batton. 

 We snapped this shot of the team on board the 26-foot boat 'Liberty' on June 7, just off of Coney Island, with 3,000 miles of ocean still ahead of them.

Solar Plane Soars Over Statue of Liberty

All three of our boats departed Liberty Landing Marina around 1 am: Captain Joel picked up Bertrand Piccard and crew at Pier 25, Captain George had Andre Borschberg's family aboard, and the Solar Impulse media team set up their cameras on my boat.

The boats met at the Statue of Liberty to await the solar plane's fly-by, which began around 2 am. It was a spectacular sight: The plane's wings, spanning that of a Boeing 747, were lit from the underside and looked like no other plane that's ever flown over the harbor.

Party boat captains were putting out calls on the radio asking if anyone knew what those strange lights were. We were happy to explain.

Pilot Andre Borschberg made about four laps over the city and the Statue of Liberty. The plane was completely silent as it flew slowly overhead at a cruising speed of around 25 knots.

Bertrand Piccard, who will be piloting the next leg across the Atlantic, was narrating the arrival on camera aboard New York Media Boat.

The plane's batteries charge during the day via solar arrays on the wings and power the electric motors throughout the night. Solar Impulse's mission is to promote clean energy on this flight around the world, which began in Abu Dhabi in March last year.

The crew of New York Media Boat is honored to have had the opportunity to work with the Solar Impulse team in both 2013 and this year, and to have had both Piccard and Borschberg aboard.

Foggy Start to New York Vendee

The Manhattan Yacht Club marked the pre-start to the 2016 New York Vendee race with a blast from a small canon.

The IMOCA Open Class 60 fleet sailed past the Manhattan skyline on their way the Ambrose sea buoy -- the official start of the race.

Amaury Ross, the official event photographer, and team photographers Yabe Yoichi and Mark Lloyd documented the departure from New York Media Boat.

One of our RIBs was chartered by Jean-Pierre Dick's team, St. Michel/Virbac, to escort and support their boat to the start. Once past the Verrazano Bridge, fog rolled in and visibility dropped quickly.


Minutes before the start, Captain Eric maneuvered our RIB next to St.Michel/Virbac to transfer the remaining crew off the boat. The New York Vendee is a 3,100-nautical mile single-handed race.

Around 15:45, the boats crossed the start line at the Ambrose buoy.

We chased the ghost ships through heavy fog for another 10 miles before turning back.

The Sandy Hook Pilots advised the race committee of all commercial traffic in the area.

Container ships sounded fog horns all around us, and our radar and AIS systems aided us in safely navigating back to New York Harbor.

Hudson Plane Crash Recap

Within minutes of getting the breaking news alert, New York Media Boat was on the scene, as the NYPD, FDNY, and other agencies responded to reports of a downed plane in the Hudson.

You can see the NYPD rescue diver jumping from the helicopter into the water.

Unfortunately the plane, a vintage P-47 Thunderbolt, quickly sank to the bottom of the river with the pilot trapped inside. The NYPD located the wreck and attached a downline marking its location in only 20 feet of water.

A virtual AIS alarm was issued, alerting vessels in the vicinity to the situation. This was the first time we've ever seen a message like this on the screens.  A great use of technology!

News outlets lined the shores and New York Media Boat can be seen in much of the footage, like this report on ABC News.

On Saturday, the Army Corps of Engineers raised the aircraft and temporarily placed it at the Downtown heliport. We were surprised to see how little cosmetic damage there is to the aircraft.

U.S. Coast Guard Rescues French Sailor

Sunday afternoon French solo-sailor Olivier Jehl set sail in to establish a transatlantic record time between New York and Lizard Point in the UK with his 6.5-meter Mini 'Zigoneshi'.

New York Media Boat escorted him under the Verazzano Bridge and into Ambrose Channel to document the departure.

According to the US Coast Guard Jehl activated his EPIRB in the early morning about 120 nautical miles South East off New York. The on-board tracker shows the last position at the edge of the Canyon.

A HC-144 search-plane was launched from Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod and a MH-65 Dolphin helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City. The airplane spotted his flares and the helicopter hoisted Jehl to safety at 4:40am EST.

Jehl possibly struck a submerged object, which caused his boat to break apart. He deployed his life raft and awaited rescue.

"This case was a perfect example of how to be prepared for the worst case scenario," said Capt. Peter Mingo, the commanding officer of Air Station Atlantic City. "Personal beacons, life rafts, exposure suits and flares were the key to Mr. Jehl being able to effect his own rescue via the U.S. Coast Guard."

Running the America's Cup Media Boats

The America's Cup Event Authority chartered three of our boats to carry media to the front lines of the race course for its world series in New York Harbor. 

After two days of little wind, gloomy skies, and cancelled races, Sunday turned out to be sunny with gusts up to 25 knots -- the upper limit of what the foiling 45-foot catamarans can handle.

Pro sailing photographer Onne van der Wall came aboard to capture the AC45Fs battle it out in front of the Manhattan skyline, as did New York Times photographer Richard Perry -- you can see his slideshow here -- along with the Associated Press, Reuters, NBC, and others. 

Due to variable winds, the course was changed a few times between races. Each morning all VIP, stake, and press boats attended a briefing given by the organizers that covered safety, expected weather, possible courses, and the areas in which we were allowed to operate. The rules were strict and we were required to stay on the perimeter of the actual race area -- much to the dismay of some of the photographers.

Emirates Team New Zealand was the big winner for the weekend, with ORACLE TEAM USA a close second. 

All the boats are now packed away and the race village at Liberty Landing Marina is broken down -- only to be resurrected in Chicago for more racing next month!

Slow Start to America's Cup World Series

A fast-ebbing tide and a lack of wind nixed Saturday's races for the America's Cup world series in New York Harbor. But there wasn't a complete failure to foil -- the catamarans got lift from team support boats with tow lines during a parade of sail, and some managed to ride the minimal gusts that reared up every now and then. Here are a few shots from Saturday's show:

ORACLE Team USA gets towed past the crowds at North Cove Marina.

ORACLE Team USA gets towed past the crowds at North Cove Marina.

Land Rover Team Great Britain poses for the media boat cameras.

Land Rover Team Great Britain poses for the media boat cameras.

Emirates Team New Zealand finds some wind upriver.

Emirates Team New Zealand finds some wind upriver.

Squeezed Scallops Land High Prices

With her shrimp-colored outriggers and a home port of Seaford, Va., it wasn’t hard to wonder what a boat like Carolina Queen III was doing so far up north when she ran aground in a storm near Rockaway Inlet on Long Island last week.

Turns out she was chasing the nation’s most lucrative fishery: sea scallops, which, in 2014, amounted to a $400 million market.

“It’s a pretty mobile fleet,” said Deirdre Boelke, the sea scallop fishery analyst for the New England Fishery Management Council, explaining that the fishery spans an area from North Carolina to Maine, and that scallops prefer a depth of about 50 meters, or 150 feet.

“It wouldn’t be irregular for a Virginia boat to fish south of Long Island or off the coast of New York or New Jersey,” she added. “It’s a typical area for scallop fishing.”

She added that the title of most lucrative fishery "goes back and forth with lobster" -- although that fishery is managed by individual states. So in terms of "completely federally managed fisheries, by revenue, scallop is the highest."

But that may be changing. Scallop market revenue is down from $600 million in 2011. Similarly, total pounds harvested is down, from about 60 million in 2012, to 33 million in 2014 -- a level not seen since 2001.

“After a few years of great fishing, the larger scallops have been depleted -- that’s to be expected -- and the fishery is waiting for the smaller scallops to grow to a more harvestable size,” said Emily Gilbert, scallop fishery expert at NOAA Fishery Service. “There have been a lot of small scallops seen in surveys in recent years and management has been focused on protecting them for future harvest.”

Catch limits were lowered during these last few years, Gilbert said.

The New York Bight actually has the largest abundance of “open area” scallops. That’s opposed to “access areas” where hauls are subject to annual weight limits -- 51,000 pounds this year. Open areas, on the other hand, are limited to days-at-sea, which totaled about 31 days in 2015.

Both measures are down from a high of 72,000 pounds in 2012, and 38 days in 2010, respectively.

“This is a very healthy resource overall,” Boelke said, “but it is a natural resource that fluctuates from year to year, so some variation is to be expected.”

The figures aren’t out yet, but experts are expecting the downward trend in pounds and revenues to continue in 2015. 

Despite the declines, scallop boats are still making a decent living, averaging earnings of $1 million to $1.5 million annually, Boelke said. 

The squeezed supply is driving historical high prices. Scallops are fetching about $12 per pound at a landing, up from $8 per pound just 5 years ago. 

Boelke said there’s evidence that the fishery is on the mend: “In 2014 and 2015, we have seen above-average recruitment” -- that’s fishery-speak for growth of new scallops -- “so in a few years after those above-average year classes grow, landings and revenues are expected to increase again.”

Experts remain hopeful for signs of a recovery by 2017 or 2018, and the fishermen aren’t panicking just yet.

“The stock is healthy, and fishermen are making good money,” said Ron Vreeland, operations manager at Viking Village, one of the largest seafood producers in New Jersey.

Vreeland said the scallop fishery has been “a great success” and “one of the best models of rules and regulations working to benefit everyone.”

Overfishing was a major problem for the scallop fishery in the 1970s, but a federal management plan implemented in 1982 and subsequent revisions in the 1990s and 2000s have helped the animal bounce back, and have made the fishery profitable once again.

"It's a fast-growing animal, and it's very reproductive, so it bounced back quickly after we put management in place," Boelke said. "It's still a very stable, lucrative fishery."


Morris Canal Oil Spill

The fuel barge at Liberty Harbor on the north side of Morris Canal in Jersey City partially sunk on Sunday morning. 

The U.S. Coast Guard sent a boat out in -2 degrees Fahrenheit to investigate. An oil containment boom was placed around the barge and in the afternoon two pumps started dewatering the hull, which lasted into the night.

Overnight, tenants at an adjacent marina reported strong fuel odors and saw that their boats were surrounded by diesel.

NJDEP and Ken's Marine, a HAZMAT/emergency oil spill/clean-up service responded to contain the spill and boomed off all nearby docks.

The spill was reported by NBC News on their 5pm broadcast. The barge owner declined to be interviewed, and the clean-up is ongoing.

Sea Smoke on the Hudson

A thick layer of sea smoke blanketed the lower Hudson River and upper bay this morning. It's one thing to see fog roll in, but to see tall wisps of steam waft up from the water is more rare and enchanting.

Sailors aboard the Zanabe had the perfect eye-level view of the phenomenon:

According to a paper by Woods Hole researchers, sea smoke occurs when very cold air comes into contact with warmer water -- and the difference in temperatures has to be in the range of at least 5 to 15 degrees Celsius. That's about 40 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Huge difference!

The water temperature at The Battery was 36F this morning, and the air temperature was -2F: the perfect differential for a stunning display.

Anthem of the Seas Returns to Port

After battling a storm in the Atlantic, Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas arrived back at Cape Liberty Cruise Terminal at about 8:30pm this evening.

Royal Caribbean reports that of more than 6,000 people on board, there were only four minor injuries.

Passengers were cheering on their balconies as the cruise ship docked.

As for visual damage to the vessel -- it seems one of the antenna domes is missing.

And one lifeboat's doors are boarded up with plywood.

Royal Caribbean states that most of the superficial damage has already been repaired, and Anthem will sail again on her next scheduled voyage, departing in three days.