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Whale Populations in New York Harbor Are Booming—Here's Why

By: for on Sept. 20, 2019
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As water quality improved and pollution levels fell, tiny oceanic life-forms such as algae and zooplankton bounced back, providing a crucial food base for a resurgence in menhaden, a schooling fish favored by whales.

A few cetaceans appeared in 2011, but now they're in the hundreds, surprising scientists and tourists alike.

NEW YORK HARBOR -- “There’s a spout!” naturalist Celia Ackerman calls excitedly to the captain. “Behind the green buoy!”

It’s half an hour into a whale-watching cruise aboard the 95-foot American Princess, and we’re not in Hawaii or Alaska—we’re in New York Harbor, within sight of Coney Island and the Brooklyn shoreline.

About 30 tourists rush to the rail, and moments later, the distinctive outline of a humpback whale surfaces. Cries of delight echo round the boat. “I’ve never seen a whale,” says Milo Bartolotta, 15, who’s on holiday with his family from Florence, Italy. “So I am really excited.”

Such a sighting would have been almost unimaginable 20 years ago, when the waters around New York City were some of the most polluted in the world—a toxic stew of chemicals and garbage. Yet thanks to successful environmental policies—such as the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act—whales are back in the Big Apple.

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