What's a Humpback whale doing in the Hudson River?

Whale watchers say sightings of humpback whales in the New York area have increased in recent years, but it’s still unusual to spot one in the Hudson River.

Craig Ruttle/AP
A humpback whale pops up in the waters between 48th Street and 60th Street as seen from New York City, with New Jersey visible in the background, on Nov. 20, 2016.

Since last Wednesday, the US Coast Guard has received dozens of phone calls reporting an unusual sight in New York’s Hudson River – a humpback whale is playing tourist in the river, from the Statue of Liberty all the way to the George Washington Bridge.

Questions have been raised: Is the Hudson River’s unusual new guest sick, lost, or is the giant whale simply in search of a good dinner? Animal lovers can breathe a sigh of relief – wildlife experts say that all evidence suggests that the whale is in good health, and is likely merely enjoying itself at this point.

“Oftentimes in the past when we have seen these animals in and around these waters we become concerned that they are sick or injured because they are not typically found here,” the director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Ocean Giants program, Howard Rosenbaum, told CBS News. “So far with the images we have seen we don’t have reason to believe that.”

Whale experts like Dr. Rosenbaum say that New York’s biggest tourist likely followed a school of Atlantic menhaden, a popular cetacean snack, into the Hudson.

Since it was first spotted last week, the whale has been the subject of many social media posts, with some New Yorkers turning into amateur whale watchers. Videos and photographs of the whale have surfaced on platforms such as Instagram and Twitter, and show the whale in various locations – near Staten Island and the Statue of Liberty, for instance.

Humpback whales aren’t exactly rare for the northeast coastline – experts have spotted increasing numbers in the area over recent years – but they don’t frequently traverse the Hudson, which is well known for its dirty waters.

In 1988, a lost humpback whale named Harry turned right around after accidentally wandering into the Hudson, perhaps indicating a lack of interest in exploring the river’s murky waters.

In the decades since Harry’s brief Hudson adventure, however, the passage of the Clean Water Act and efforts to clean up the river have bettered the water quality. While experts are unwilling to say whether the humpback’s extended jaunt in the Hudson has anything to do with improved water quality, the whale is certainly encountering an (at least somewhat) cleaner river than he might have several decades ago.

Meanwhile, off the coast of New York, whale monitoring efforts are reaping rewards. Scientists have counted 106 whales thus far this year in the stretch of coastline between eastern Long Island and Point Pleasant, New Jersey.

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