NEW YORK – MAY 24, 2021 – Using underwater recording equipment, scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Cornell University, Columbia University, and Syracuse University, have documented humpback whales singing in the New York Bight.

Though visual sightings of humpback whales in the New York Bight have increased in recent years, this finding marks the first peer-reviewed account of the acoustic occurrence of humpback whales in the area. The scientists published their results in the journal Marine Mammal Science.

Julia Zeh, the study’s lead author said: “By listening for humpback whales in waters off New York, we found exciting evidence of humpback whale presence in winter and spring, which emphasizes both the conservation needs for this area and the many questions we still have about humpback whale occurrence in this habitat.”

The team detected both humpback whale songs and calls using Cornell’s passive acoustic recorders placed on the seafloor 70 miles south of Long Island in the New York Bight. These data were collected by Cornell during a 2008-2009 study funded by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, but were only recently analyzed for the occurrence of humpback whales.

Melinda Rekdahl of WCS’s Ocean Giants Program and a co-author in the study said that documenting the occurrence of humpback songs and calls provides a more complete picture of when humpback whales are present in the New York Bight. Only males produce song as a seasonal breeding display, while calls are typically produced by males, females, sub-adults and calves, often when animals are close together in different social contexts.

The authors of the study say that acoustic recorders provide the opportunity to detect vocalizing whales year-round and complement visual surveys during months when humpback whales are now more frequently seen feeding off New York and New Jersey.

The findings will help inform future conservation efforts to protect whales in one of the world’s busiest waterways.

Co-author Howard Rosenbaum of WCS’s Ocean Giants Program said: “There has been considerable recent interest about whales in the waters off New York.  The more we know about how and when whales use these areas, the more we can make informed decisions on how to better protect them in some of the busiest commercial waters on the planet.”

WCS continues to study humpback whales in New York waters working with public and private stakeholders.  For more information on WCS’s work to protect whales and coastal dolphins click here.