Whale watching off the coast of Long Island usually requires spectators to board a boat that takes them out into the deep waters of the Atlantic Ocean. But in recent weeks, visitors to Long Beach and Atlantic Beach have been spotting these creatures from the shore or close to it.
While flying over Atlantic Beach Monday morning to conduct a traffic report, News 12’s Chopper 12 crew captured footage of two humpback whales swimming off the coast alongside a pod of dolphins. They sent the image to the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation in Riverhead, which confirmed the sighting.
Kimberly Durham, rescue program director for the Riverhead Foundation, said her organization also received reports Sunday of whales swimming even closer to the shore in nearby Long Beach. During the past three weeks, the whales have been spotted in the Long Beach and Atlantic Beach areas by others including a kayaker, beachgoers and a paddle boarder, who came within 30 feet of the animals and snapped a photo, Durham said.
Although humpback whales are common to these waters, Durham said the fact that they are coming this close to shore, and for an extended period of time, is unique.
“People are literally sitting in beach chairs and watching them,” she said.
Durham said what’s luring them in appears to be the same thing that’s been drawing dolphins to this area: a healthy supply of food. She said last week officers from Department of Environmental Conservation viewed the whales from aboard a vessel and noted that they exhibited feeding behaviors including lunging, emitting bubbles under the water and surfacing with fish in their mouths.
The fish isn’t what the whales are after though, Durham said. She explained that they just happen to catch them while feeding on smaller organisms such as krill and fish larvae. Although whales typically have to venture into deeper waters to find their food, Durham said there appears to be an exceptionally large accumulation closer to the shoreline in this area.
Although Durham encourages beachgoers to take advantage of this rare opportunity to see the humpback whales, she advises them not to get too close.
“It’s always better to view from a distance,” she said.
You’ll still get a good show. Of all the whales, Durham said humpbacks are the most acrobatic, engaging in such behaviors as tail flipping and breaching while they are feeding.
She added, “People are really getting a special treat.”