Unknown Humpback Beached on Far Rockaway and Buried Without Protocol Amid Covid-19 Concerns

Whale washes up on Jacob Rees Beach. Photo Credit:Whale washes up on Jacob Rees Beach. Photo Credit: NYS Department of Environmental Conservation

In the midst of the arrival of the Navy Hospital ship, USNS Comfort, the New York Bight was loaded with ocean-going vessels of all types and sizes.  Marine Traffic flow was temporarily disturbed as Comfort neared the Ambrose Station, twenty plus miles outside of New York Harbor.

NYHC was monitoring ship traffic between Norfolk, Virginia and the New York Harbor as the USNS Comfort was making its way north.  We noticed an exorbitant number of ships in the 300 mile region.   Originally, we were entertained by the various support vessels that accompanied the hospital ship as it passed under the Verrazzano Bridge.  The colorful McAllister tugs, N.Y.P.D. Police boats, Welcome craft and Media boats were ever-present.  New Yorkers were in a celebratory mood with its’ arrival.

NYHC global Ship traffic

The U.S. Coast Guard Command Station, that regulates the flow of traffic into and out of the port of New York and New Jersey, establishes mandatory speed restrictions when whales frequent shipping lanes.  All members of the Sandy Hook Pilots Association adhere to the law.   However, on Monday morning, many additional craft filled the approach to welcome, support, and gawk at USNS Comfort.  The day was uplifting as the arrival of the Hospital ship painted a bright spot to the metropolitan New York area.  New York Harbor Channel was also caught up in the celebration as we feverishly produced articles and interviews of the event.  The hospital ship arrival was the news of the day.   USNS Comfort’s slow procession and arrival went flawlessly without a hitch.

New York Harbor Channel also regularly monitors the ocean mammal readings generated by the Melville Buoy that detects the presence of whales in the New York Bight.  Sadly, in the midst of an uplifting moment of hope for New York City, NYHC learned of the news of the beached whale just the next day.

 

 

The buoy readings are continuously monitored, recorded, and displayed through resources at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.  Without notice or alarm, the Melville Buoy detected no whale activity in the New York Bight.  Notice the void on March 30th here on this chart.

No one reacted.  There is no way of knowing when a ship strike occurs especially if the captain does not report it and/or if the whale is not tagged.  The U.S.C.G. reported spotting the whale floating nine miles off shore Monday night.  A New York State Environmental Conservation police officer found himself at the Far Rockaway Jacob Riis State Park beach on Tuesday morning, March 31st.  The call was for a beached whale.

Humpback Whale washes up on Jacob Rees Beach. Photo Credit: Gateway National Recreation Area, National Park Service

NYHC spoke to Rachel Bosworth of Atlantic Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) of Hampton Bays, N.Y. by phone yesterday.  AMCS is the local whale response organization and has been involved with dozens of whale standings or deaths along the south coast of Long Island from Montauk to the New York Bight.  Normally, they help coordinate extensive investigations in these matters; however, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and New York State’s ‘stay at home” policy, the usual necropsy and investigation has been scratched for this incident.   The 2-5 year old, 28 foot Humpback whale quickly buried yesterday.

Although it cannot be officially stated or confirmed, once again, this whale death is suspected to be a result of a vessel strike.  Strikes are the number one cause of death along the eastern seaboard of the United States.

Paul Sieswerda’s organization, Gotham Whale, catalogs the whales who frequent the New York Bight.    On happier days, Paul’s associates are frequently out on the water on Far Rockaway’s Whale Watching boat, American Princess, identifying old friends or discovering new ones.  Today, we pause to think of the tragedy as Paul Sieswerda said, “although all of the nation is working through a pandemic, the world still turns and the perils of normal life continue for whales and we humans..”

AMCS frequently would ask one special member of the Shinnecock Nation to offer the customary Whale Memorial Ceremony.  But again, due to the Covid-19 situation, Shane Weeks was absent from today’s Far Rockaway beach burial.  If you are interested in taking a moment to hear the Indian chant for yourself in a moment of silence, you can observe it in our story that NYHC wrote less than a year ago for a beaching in the Hamptons.

There is little captains can do if they are unaware of Ship strikes; however, it is their responsibility to report such incidents so new laws and new technologies might save unsuspecting whales who get caught and confused by the noise of these ships.

Whales are returning to New York waters in ever growing numbers.  New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is also supporting efforts to ensure the health and success of its’ Rockaway Artificial Reef.  The reef’s main purpose is to repopulate this area to attract fish and crustaceans.  Ultimately, this means the return of the whale species that previously fed along the entire length of Long Island more than a century ago.

Let’s take pause to also remember the lives lost of our ocean mammal giants who are once again making New York waters their temporary home as they stop-off in the New York Bight during their north south migrations between Canada and the Caribbean.

As our unknown Humpback is now buried under the sand of Jacob Riis National Park, perhaps we might ask those in charge of data records to attach a name alongside the number.   It would be nice to give a name to this youngster who lost its life way too soon.

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