The Joyous Homecoming for New York City’s Whales
Whales have returned to New York City’s coastline after a long absence
BY KATE KNIBBS
JUL 12, 2017, 9:30AM EDT
Last November, a humpback whale swam up the Hudson River. The animal was spotted slapping its fin near the Upper West Side and then splashing below the Statue of Liberty’s effervescent mint skirt. I read every story I could about this cosmopolitan animal, worried that it would die like the poor Gowanus dolphin. One whale expert kept appearing as a source: Paul Sieswerda, a retired aquarium curator living on Staten Island, who had nicknamed the Hudson whale “Gotham,” and who assured reporters that it was likely not lost but hungry.
Another humpback was spotted in January, this time in the East River, near Gracie Mansion. Once again, Sieswerda was called on as New York’s resident whale guy, and once again he noted that the whale was likely feeding. I wanted to meet this man who was watching the whales return, and so this past April, I took a bumpy bus ride to the tip of the city to meet Sieswerda on a sand-swept dock in the Rockaways.
Sieswerda is the founder and ringleader of a small, all-volunteer nonprofit called Gotham Whales, which is creating a database of whales spotted around the New York City area. Gotham Whales does most of its field work from the cozy observation deck of the American Princess, a sightseeing boat that tours the New York and New Jersey coastlines scouting for marine life.
The American Princess often departs from Riis Landing. The pier is lively during sunny summer afternoons, but on the steel-gray spring day we met, it looked desolate and postapocalyptic, with hurricane damage visible on empty salt-soaked buildings and a lonely food truck parked near the barren bus stop. I boarded the boat as rain began to fall; besides Paul and me, the group consisted primarily of ardent birders with fancy, long-lens cameras, as well as a tall, wan man in his early 20s carrying a hardcover copy of Moby-Dick. The Marine Parkway Bridge loomed overhead, with cars driving below peregrine falcons, which perched on boxes set up by the MTA as part of a conservation program. To the side of the landing’s pier, fishermen in waders cast lines into the bay as we set off.
STOP THE WILLIAMS FRACKED GAS PIPELINE THROUGH NY HARBOR!
MY TOP 5 FAVORITE BOOKS ABOUT NY HARBOR
1. Field Guide to the Neighborhood Birds of New York City by Leslie Day
2.Heartbeats in the Muck by John Waldman
3. The Fisheries of Raritan Bay by Clyde L. MacKenzie Jr.
4. Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan by Phillip Lopate
5. The Bottom of the Harbor by Joseph Mitchell