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.
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
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.
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Photography by Artie Raslich/Gotham Whale (background)