WOODLAND PARK, N.J. — A humpback whale was spotted swimming up the Hudson River near the George Washington Bridge on Friday — the farthest north a whale has been seen in the waterway in recent memory, according to a local group that catalogs marine mammals.
The Palisades Interstate Parkway Police tweeted a photo of a whale breaching the surface of the Hudson just south of the on Friday afternoon. Helicopter footage also showed the whale breaching.
“This is the first time it’s been documented and there’s no one else keeping these kinds of records,” said Paul Sieswerda, founder of Gotham Whale Watch, a group of "citizen scientists" who catalog marine mammals in New York.
Sieswerda was concerned that the whale could be hit by a ship in the congested Hudson.
“We’re hoping the whale is in good shape and is just chasing fish,” he said.
The number of whales swimming around New York Harbor and off the Jersey Shore has increased significantly in recent years.
Conservationists have credited cleaner waters for the increase. Less sewage, street runoff and industrial discharges affect the bottom of the food chain, allowing plankton to flourish closer to shore. That in turn provides a food source for small bait fish like menhaden. And whales love to eat menhaden.
The presence of more whales has drawn thousands onto whale-watching boats hoping to see the mammals gliding through the ocean and perhaps even glimpse a humpback leaping out of the water. It has also prompted authorities to warn boaters, fearing whales are coming too close to shore.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and New York environmental officials issued alerts to boaters to slow down and watch out for whales following three strikes along the Eastern Seaboard in 2013, including one in May in which a cruise ship dragged a 55-foot finback into the Hudson River.