For a city that has everything, I'm still amazed that New York City can also include whales to its long list. That's what lured us back to the good folks at American Princess Cruises in the Rockaways. I first wrote about them after a delightful seal cruise back in February and was excited to see what warmer waters had to offer. Last Friday was glorious weather and great bird sightings began while still at the dock.
Merryl was our on-board naturalist -- wildly informative and loads of fun. While the boat motored into deeper waters near the New Jersey shore, she briefed us on marine life in our local waters (complete with terrific pictures), importance of the area's salt marshes, and updates on sightings from earlier cruises. The previous day included not only dolphins but also a whale (believe they said a Humpback) and even a Great White Shark!
Our fun began soon after arriving off the coast of Sandy Hook. The captain indicated this was the territory and I'm proud to say that Mitch spotted them straightaway -- Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)! Now, I've seen dolphins before -- a brief, breathtaking sight of one or two jumping up and then disappearing back into the water. I never tire of it. But today was unlike any other experience: scores of them (maybe up to 75? -- it was hard to keep track), seemingly unaware of us as they churned through the water having lunch. Adults, calves, swimming alone, in two's and three's, and sometimes a group of five or so. They weren't putting on the usual show we are used to, instead offering a glimpse into a common behavior, but perhaps not commonly seen.
Some time later, the captain motored away to work up a little wake in the hopes that they'd be enticed to play. Alas, lunch was their priority.
We departed for the next stop -- the location of the previous day's whale sighting. Along the way, terns and gulls followed behind expecting us to chum like fishing boats. Poor things, they looked almost confused when they didn't get their smelly snack.
A special treat for me was my first look -- albeit at a far distance -- of a Wilson's Storm-petrel (Oceanites oceanicus). Not much of a photo, but was happy to have it for ID purposes.
Upon reaching the "whale zone" we scanned the area. More dolphins in the distance, and right next to the boat a school of Atlantic Menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus). It was fascinating to watch them -- out of the depths they seem to rise up to the top, make a popping noise accompanied by a quick splash of water, and then float down again. I couldn't really make out a fish profile, just an elongated spherical shape. At one point there were so many popping that it looked like raindrops hitting the water. You can see a couple of those "pops" in the photo below:
We never did see any whales or sharks. Too bad, but with all the other spottings, I was far from disappointed. And I'll be back to try again -- but I don't think we'll need a bigger boat. This one was perfect.