FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. -- A federal fisheries organization reminded boaters to watch for whales amid reports of several sightings in the far western stretch of Long Island Sound.
National Oceaniac and Atmospheric Adminstraion Fisheries (NOAA Fisheries) asked boaters in Long Island Sound to keep a close eye out for feeding whales, and to remember to follow safe viewing guidelines, which include staying 100 feet away from the whales for the safety of the boaters and the whales.
Humpback whales can reach lengths of 60 feet, and can weigh around 40 tons. Humpbacks create bubble clouds to corral their prey, and then lunge through the center to swallow the small fish. Fishermen or boaters in these bubble patches run the risk of colliding with a massive whale as it rapidly approaches the surface. T are believed to be multiple humpbacks close to shore feeding on small fish, possibly menhaden.
When a whale collides with a vessel, it can be gravely injured and die from its injuries. Collisions with whales have also thrown boaters from vessels. In addition to the potential risk of a collision, the close proximity of a boat may cause a whale to stop feeding.
All whales in U.S. waters are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which makes it illegal for people to harm, injure, kill, chase, or harass whales or any other marine mammal. Harassment includes any activity that results in changes to the whales' natural behaviors, such as feeding.
Penalties for Marine Mammal Protection Act violations are fines of up to $20,000 and up to one year in prison. In addition, humpback whales are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
"In addition to keeping a sharp lookout, we also ask that should the whales approach your boat, you put your boat in neutral until they have passed safely," NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Response Coordinator Mendy Garron said. "Also, please report any sightings. Locating the whales will help us keep them safe."
Boaters should report any sightings to NOAA Fisheries' Marine Mammal Stranding and Entanglement Hotline at 866-755-NOAA (6622) or, in Connecticut waters, to Mystic Aquarium's Animal Rescue Hotline at 860.572.5955 ext. 107, and in New York waters, to the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation's stranding hotline at 631-369-9829.
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