Whales Close To Shore: What Does It Mean?

A lifeguard took photos of dolphins before realizing there was a huge whale under the water. (Photo courtesy Trisha DeVoe)

  JERSEY SHORE – A pod of dolphins slips through the waves. A humpback whale breaches close to shore. Are you in Hawaii? No, you’re in Seaside.

  Beachgoers were thrilled to see a humpback putting on a show during the last days of summer vacation, plowing through the water and feeding. It was accompanied by a score of dolphins.

  Trisha DeVoe was on the beach when she – and everyone else there – noticed the huge mammal. She called her son to bring her the camera so she could take some pictures.

  She said she followed the whale for about a mile from shore. It was entertaining how people on the beach slowly started becoming aware that it was there. Electricity flowed through the crowd as people noticed it.

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  It’s not unusual for DeVoe to see whales, but it’s still a showstopper. She’s a naturalist on the whale watching boat Miss Belmar. It was actually her day off, and she still got to see this.

  What’s interesting is that she saw this same whale within 24 hours from the whale watching vessel. That time, it was 37 miles away, close to Sandy Hook. That’s how far it traveled in one day.

Photo courtesy Trisha DeVoe

  She knew it was the same whale because of its markings. Tail flukes – the underside of the tail – are unique. Her coworker, Danielle Brown, is the lead humpback researcher with Gotham Whale, a nonprofit that has been cataloguing almost 270 humpbacks. They are able to compare these markings to keep track of these fascinating animals.

Why Are They Here?

  Whale sightings are still pretty rare, at least from the beach. So, that begs the question, “What brings them this close?” As it turns out, it’s what brings a lot of people here, too – good food, good schools, and clean beaches.

  DeVoe said it’s a few factors, and they are all positive.

  “We think it’s really good,” she said. “The waters are so much cleaner. The color of the water is so clear and blue.”

When a whale does this, they are lunge feeding. (Photo courtesy Trisha DeVoe)

  The whales’ favorite food is Atlantic menhaden, sometimes called bunker. If you see dark patches in the water, flecked with some splashing around at the surface – that’s a school of bunker.

  Most of the whales they see around here are juvenile, she said (Yes, that’s right – these are the small ones). “They don’t have to compete with larger whales in the more northern feeding grounds.”

  This particular whale was feeding on a school of bunker. It was lunge feeding, which can be pretty scary if you’re close to it. They come up from below with their mouths open, gulping up tons of fish at a time.

The whale breached close to people. (Photo courtesy Trisha DeVoe)

  One lifeguard had paddled out on the rescue board to be close to the dolphins – not realizing the whale was there. It breached and she was shaken – but thrilled.

  It’s against the law to willingly swim within 100 yards of a whale. When they’re feeding, it’s a good idea to stay even farther away because they could come up to feed from right below you. They’re gentle giants, but they have been known to accidentally hurt or kill swimmers who have come too close.

  Her sons are lifeguards (who have a penchant for saving lives even if they’re off duty). They said that they’ll see whales from time to time as well.

  People will say to her “I’ve lived here all my life and I didn’t know there were whales here.” Well, there are, and its because the environment is good for them.