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New York City’s Hottest New Visitors Are Humpback Whales

<p>Credit:Gotham Whale/Paul Sieswerda</p>

New York City, both glamorous and strange, makes no exception for its waterways. Home to four-foot-long worms, hundreds of silver bars and a freight train, the waters around New York also welcomed more than a hundred travelers of the cetacean persuasion this year. Humpback whale sightings grew more than 300 percent to 106 whales in 2014, compared with 33 whales in 2013.Credit: Gotham Whale/Paul Sieswerda

"We had a remarkable year," Paul Sieswerda told The Dodo. Sieswerda is the founder and director of Gotham Whale, a citizen science project that counts marine mammals near New York City. "There have been more more sightings and total whales than the last three years put together." In 2011, when Sieswerda first started tracking humpbacks after fishermen reported seeing whales, Gotham Whale spotted a total of five giant marine mammals.

Credit: Gotham Whale/Paul Sieswerda

Now, many more humpbacks arrive around June, sticking around until their southward swim in November (they're smart animals, Sieswerda said). He has a couple of notions why the whales showed up in such force this year. With less pollution, the water quality is better than it was 30 years ago. The Hudson River, which feeds into the saltwater around New York City, has undergone "visible and substantial" improvements, writes the EPA.

Credit: Gotham Whale/Paul Sieswerda

It's not just that the water's cleaner - there's more good stuff in it, too. A type of fish called menhaden have come back in numbers that, to hear Sieswerda say it, "local fishermen have not seen in their entire careers." Too oily for human consumption, though whales and other sea life are happy to chow down on them, menhaden are netted for fish oil and fertilizer. But industry regulations passed in 2012 cut menhaden catches by 25 percent, allowing the fish population to grow by an estimated 300 million animals.

"It's a good time for menhaden (except for the ones who are getting consumed)," Sieswerda said. For the whales, it's a good time to hang out near the Big Apple, too.