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Gotham, The Humpback Whale: The Hudson River's New Resident


It turns out you really can do just about anything in New York City, even whale watching. This month, the Hudson River got itself a new resident - Gotham the humpback whale. The images floating on the web are striking - Gotham breaching the water with the Manhattan skyline in the background.

So what's a whale doing there anyway? For that, we turn to Paul Sieswerda. He's the president of Gotham Whale, an organization that tracks marine life in the area. He joins us now by Skype. Welcome to the program.

PAUL SIESWERDA: Oh, thank you for having me. This is great.

CORNISH: So is the Hudson River now the new whale watching hotspot?

SIESWERDA: Well, I certainly hope it won't be because the Hudson River and a New York Harbor is really a very busy place filled with boats and all kinds of human activity. What we hope for is what is actually happening, and that is, the whales are coming to the areas just outside of the Verrazanos and are populating that area in the Raritan Bay and along Rockaway and also down along the Jersey Shore, along Sandy Hook and down the Jersey coastline.

CORNISH: So you said whales - plural. But help us understand how one whale (laughter) got into the river, and that's Gotham.

SIESWERDA: You might have to ask him, but my speculation is that it was chasing fish. The Hudson area and the harbor itself is just filled with what's known as bunker that make a wonderful food for the whales and all other creatures in the sea. Fishermen use them for bait to catch blue fish striped bass, and the harbor itself right now is just filled with these fish.

CORNISH: Is that a good sign for the health of the river?

SIESWERDA: Yes, absolutely. These fish are actually filter feeders, so they feed on very minute plankton and algae. So these fish are coming back in great abundance, and they are bringing the whales back to New York.

CORNISH: So you mention there being some danger because this is a busy waterway. What are some of the concerns about kind of working around this whale for people using the river? What are the dangers to the whale itself?

SIESWERDA: It's a very, very busy port, and this whale has been all the way from the George Washington Bridge right down to the battery and off the Statue of Liberty. Whenever a whale is seen, it's reported to the Coast Guard, and they put out an alert that would tell mariners to slow down in that area. And then of course on radio calls, they can communicate with each other on the boats and tell people to watch out that there's a whale in the area.

CORNISH: I understand that a whale appearing in the Hudson is actually pretty rare. Can you recount, like, a moment that felt magical to you, you know, as somebody who watches these animals?

SIESWERDA: I think that just to see these animals in their environment so close to the city with the skyscrapers in the background and them behaving normally, feeding - they do a very spectacular feeding called lunge feeding where they lunge up with their mouth wide open and consume hundreds of pounds of fish in just one gulp - that's just amazing to me. So seeing that with the so close proximity to such a big city is just fantastic.

CORNISH: Well, Paul Sieswerda, thank you so much for speaking with us.

SIESWERDA: Well, it's my pleasure.

CORNISH: And that's Paul Sieswerda, president of Gotham Whale. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.