Fin whales that weigh 160,000lbs and grow to 90ft are now living year-round in the waters


The fin whale, the second-largest animal in the world after the blue whale, now lives full-time in the waters around New York and New Jersey, according to a new study that tracked the ocean giants by their songs.

This endangered whale typically spends the summer in its Arctic and Antarctic feeding grounds, migrating to the tropics to breed and to give birth in the winter.

But some fin whales are living around the greater New York City area year-round, according to new research from a team of scientists at the Wildlife Conservation Society in The Bronx and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

The new research, when placed alongside older data from this region, suggests these whales may have already been living there for a decade or more. 

A fin whale and a bottlenose dolphin swim in the waters of the New York Bight, the triangular area of ocean extending east from New York and New Jersey

A fin whale and a bottlenose dolphin swim in the waters of the New York Bight, the triangular area of ocean extending east from New York and New Jersey

The New York Aquarium compiled this list of the top 10 places to watch whales from the shore in New York and New Jersey. Most land-based observers will see humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins, as the fin whales tend to be farther out to sea

The New York Aquarium compiled this list of the top 10 places to watch whales from the shore in New York and New Jersey. Most land-based observers will see humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins, as the fin whales tend to be farther out to sea

Four years of audio recordings taken from a buoy stationed about 40 miles off the coast of Long Island, New York, revealed that male fin whales remain in the area throughout the year. 

The buoys captured whales singing every single month of the study period. 

Males are the only ones who sing, but since fin whales tend to mate in winter, females are likely nearby when the males are singing their winter songs. And though the females may migrate during the warmer months, at least some males appear to be sticking around, the scientists found. 

The area these whales inhabit is known as the New York Bight, which extends outward in roughly a triangle shape east from Long Island, New York, and south from Cape may, New Jersey.

Fin whales grow to around 85 feet from tip to tail, and as adults they weigh 40 to 80 tons – 80,000 to 160,000 pounds.

They can live 80 to 90 years, but they are threatened by climate change, getting entangled in fishing gear, lack of prey from overfishing, ocean noise like radar testing, and being struck by ships. 

‘While they may not be seen as close to shore as other whales and dolphins, it is truly remarkable that the second largest animal to have ever lived on this earth is here in the New York Bight year-round off our coasts,’ said study co-author Howard Rosenbaum, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Ocean Giants Program, in a statement.

‘Hopefully, our efforts will lead to more efforts and best practices to better protect these amazing, endangered animals in the NY Bight.’

The fin whales of the New York Bight tend to occupy this mapped area, but the traffic lanes (dotted yellow lines) of ships can pose a threat to whales, both due to direct strikes and the noise of their engines disrupting whale songs

The fin whales of the New York Bight tend to occupy this mapped area, but the traffic lanes (dotted yellow lines) of ships can pose a threat to whales, both due to direct strikes and the noise of their engines disrupting whale songs

The fin whale, named for its characteristic dorsal fin, is classified as endangered. Males may have trouble finding mates sometimes, and recent reports have shown that they attempt to mate with blue whales

The fin whale, named for its characteristic dorsal fin, is classified as endangered. Males may have trouble finding mates sometimes, and recent reports have shown that they attempt to mate with blue whales

Females give birth every two to three years, after an 11- to 11.5-month-long gestation period.

Scientists believe fin whales are monogamous, forming bonds between mating pairs. 

Since there is almost a year between when they mate and when they give birth, their annual migrations bring them back to the same location for both events.

This likely means that calves are being born and mature whales are mating in the waters around New York and New Jersey.

The fin whale is a baleen whale, meaning it feeds on small fish and tiny marine invertebrates like krill by filtering them through its massive comb-like baleen plates

The fin whale is a baleen whale, meaning it feeds on small fish and tiny marine invertebrates like krill by filtering them through its massive comb-like baleen plates

Currently, the fin whales living in the northwestern Atlantic – including in the New York Bight – are managed as a single population, but past studies and the new study have identified multiple groups of the whales, the authors wrote.

‘More information is needed about the distribution and behavior of fin whales within the New York Bight to help inform how this endangered species can be protected from the range of potential stressors and threats encountered year-round in these waters,’ said study co-author Mindi Rekdahl, associate marine conservation scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, in the statement.

The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports

By analyzing recordings of the whale song taken from January 2017 through December 2020, scientists could track the whales’ seasonal shifts.

‘The New York Bight buoys play a critical role in the protection of wildlife, like the fin whale, in one of the busiest waterways in the world,’ said study co-author Mark Baumgartner, a marine ecologist at Woods Hole. ‘The data collected lets industry, government and the public know when whales are nearby.’

Fin whale songs tend to be repetitive, so the main characteristic that changes in them is called the ‘inter-note interval’ (INI), the amount of time between notes.

Most years, the scientists found, the INI was shortest from September to December, meaning the whales were calling frequently.

This makes sense since that is their mating season. 

Groups of fin whales live year-round in the New York Bight. Females may migrate to colder waters to teach their calves to feed in the summer, but at least some males remain in the waters around New York and New Jersey all year

Groups of fin whales live year-round in the New York Bight. Females may migrate to colder waters to teach their calves to feed in the summer, but at least some males remain in the waters around New York and New Jersey all year

Fin whales feed through baleen, massive hair-like filtering 'teeth.' They usually eat small prey like krill and, as pictured here, herring

Fin whales feed through baleen, massive hair-like filtering ‘teeth.’ They usually eat small prey like krill and, as pictured here, herring

Then in the spring, from March to April, the INIs got longer. 

‘Given that songs followed predictable seasonal shifts from short-INIs to long-INIs and had a distinct INI pattern within each season, a single song pattern was present in the NYB during these years,’ the researchers wrote.

In other words, the whale songs followed a clear seasonal pattern each year.

Notably, this pattern was the same that previous researchers had tracked in the region a decade ago. 

One year did not follow the pattern, though, they found: 2019.

In this year, there was no short-INI period in the fall and winter. 

This may reflect a year when there was a shift in reproductive behaviors, the authors wrote. 

‘Instead, fin whales may have predominately continued to forage in the [New York Bight], while reproductive fin whales may have utilized a different region for breeding activities,’ they wrote.

DailyMail.com has created a map of the top 10 whale watching locations according to the Wildlife Conservation Society and the New York Aquarium.

When fin whales feed, seabirds tend to flock to the location, relying on the whales to spot schools of fish that they can swoop in and exploit

When fin whales feed, seabirds tend to flock to the location, relying on the whales to spot schools of fish that they can swoop in and exploit

You may be able to catch a glimpse of a fin whale from shore, but your best bet for spying these animals may be to go out on a boat.

The list of locations was published in 2019, but it is ‘still relevant today,’ study co-author Carissa King Nolan, assistant marine conservation scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, told DailyMail.com. 

‘From those locations, people would most likely see either humpback whales or bottlenose dolphins,’ she said. ‘Fin whales are generally found further from shore so it is less likely that someone would see a fin whale at one of those spots.’

It doesn’t hurt to try, though. 



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