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Go To New York City For The Whales


We hear a lot of doom-and-gloom stories about the environment these days, but here's some good news. Whales, humpbacks to be exact, have returned to New York Harbor for the first time in a century. Paul Sieswerda is here to explain why. He is the founder of Gotham Whales (ph), a new group that tracks whales swimming through New York waters.

Welcome to the program.

PAUL SIESWERDA: Thank you so much. Appreciate your saying that it's a good news story because so many times environmental stories are kind of doom and gloom, as you said. And since the '70s, when the Endangered Species Act was enacted and the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and all these legislative processes have kind of brought together a good environment that builds all the conditions that are good for wales.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me specifically about the cleaning of the New York waterways. What was it like before, and what is it like now?

SIESWERDA: Great efforts have been done by activist groups and people all up and down the Hudson to make sure that only good things went into the Hudson. And now that river provides good nutrients just outside of the harbor that brings fertilizer to the plankton. The green plants that feed the zooplankton, a - little teeny microscopic animals that a particular fish, the menhaden, feed on. And that fish, in these waters, is the primary prey for the humpback whales that we see.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And so there's more food, and that's what's attracting the whales.

SIESWERDA: That's kind of the thing that I see most directly - is that they want to come to New York City for its good food.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) As do many of us, by the way.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Describe to me what you've seen when you go out on the waterways. What do they look like?

SIESWERDA: We have the skyline of Manhattan in the background. And to think about whales that close to such a big city is just fascinating all by itself. We see them lunge feeding. They come up with their mouths wide open, expand their throat, which sucks in all kinds of water and fish, and then they push the water out. Sometimes we see them kind of on the couch, as we say, after they've had a big meal, and they're kind of logging around. But for the most part, they're continually feeding.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I must ask - because global warming, obviously, has been named as a cause for the migration and displacement of species across the planet, is that a factor here, do you think?

SIESWERDA: Probably it is. We see the fish in this area somewhat changing. But we - I can't give a cause and effect directly.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: May I ask, what has been the response from New Yorkers and from visitors to seeing these majestic creatures so close to shore?

SIESWERDA: Nine out of 10 New Yorkers probably still don't know about whales so close in their own backyard. A boat captain says that Rockaway, which is in the borough of Queens, is the new Cape Cod.


SIESWERDA: So we do a citizen science program that enlists all eyes on the water to help us track and keep the locations of where whales are seen - dolphins and seals during the wintertime.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Paul Sieswerda, president of Gotham Whales, thanks so much for joining us.

SIESWERDA: Well, my pleasure. Thank you.