Citizen Science

Citizen scientists share their data on whales and other marine mammals around New York Harbor to help make informed decisions and protect wildlife.

The Challenge:

In 2011, fishermen and cargo ships started to report whale sightings in the busy waters of New York City and Long Island Sound. Whales are a protected species under the Endangered Species Act and merit special conservation measures. The challenge lay not only in finding the data to help avoid potential areas of conflict between whales, shipping traffic, commercial fishing vessels and other activities in the busy waters but also in integrating whale conservation with balancing economic development in state ocean plans like the Long Island Sound Blue Plan.


The Process:

It would take an innovative partnership between Gotham Whale—the only organization currently studying the growing whale, dolphin, and seal populations in the waters surrounding New York City—and the New York State Geographic Information Gateway to turn information from citizen scientists into robust data sets. Paul Sieswerda and American Princess Cruises had devised standardized techniques for the captain and crew to track cetacean sightings, photograph and catalog individual cetaceans—72 whales so far–behavior and exact GPS coordinates throughout the whale season from May to October



The Results:

Gotham Whale’s database provides rich insights on where and why cetaceans are suddenly appearing and increasing in number, how long they stay in a certain area, feeding grounds and migratory routes. That information is now invaluable in shaping important decisions around ocean uses for the state waters for New York and Connecticut, some of the most heavily trafficked and economically crucial areas for vessel traffic. Gotham Whale currently has data in the New York Geographic Information Gateway that informs the Long Island Sound Blue Plan and continues to engage in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Regional Ocean Plans.


Learn More:

Read about supporters in the tourism and recreation industry here

Read about science supporters here

Photography by Artie Raslich/Gotham Whale (background)

Other Case Studies


"How data helped establish the first offshore mussel farm in the federal waters of the Atlantic."

Block Island Wind

"Ocean planning helps make U.S. offshore wind a reality"

Cape Cod Buoy

"Comprehensive data of ocean users helped find the best site for a new wave-monitoring buoy to aid safety at sea."

Citizen Science

"Citizen scientists share their data on whales and other marine mammals around New York Harbor to help make informed decisions and protect wildlife."

Communities at Sea

"For the first time, ocean users can link important information like critical fishing grounds and home ports to reduce conflict and maximize benefits for one of America’s greatest natural resources. "

Submarine Cables

"Ocean planning helps Martha's Vineyard stay on the grid"

United States Coast Guard

"Easily accessible shipping data on regional data portals is cutting risks and reducing conflict among ocean users"

Why We Need Ocean Planning

The ocean and coasts are active places, and we’re putting more demands on them every day. Think about it: traditional uses such as fishing, boating, shipping, recreation, and tourism are all changing and expanding, and at the same time we’re pioneering new industries alongside them like wind energy and sand mining. Ocean planning is about thinking ahead and planning for how to make it all work. Otherwise, we put the ocean’s vast, yet fragile, resources at risk. Voluntary ocean planning allows us to coordinate all these uses in a way that benefits our economy, our communities, and ocean health. Ocean planning is a science-based and data-driven process that provides a tool for people and government to work together, share information and solve problems in a way that works for everyone. Ocean planning helps to identify and resolve potential conflicts early on, helping decision makers and stakeholders in both the private and public sectors do their jobs better. This creates better outcomes for everyone, supporting a healthy ocean and vibrant economy

Learn More