NEW YORK (Reuters) – A humpback whale ready for its close-up frolicked in front of the Statue of Liberty, One World Trade Center and other iconic sights off New York Harbor on Tuesday.
“The whale just blew about 1,000 feet off my bow!” Bjoern Kils, 41, gasped as he snapped photographs of the creature he estimated to be about 40 feet (12 meters) long.
The U.S. Coast Guard confirmed reports of the sighting, but said it would get involved only if the whale became entangled or otherwise became endangered.
“We’re aware, but it’s pretty normal that we get whales out there,” Petty Officer Anthony Pappaly told Reuters.
In recent years, more than a dozen humpback whales have been detected in New York waters, according to state data, with some as close to shore as 550 yards (500 meters) from the beach in Rockaway, Queens.
Kils, whose New York Media Boat transports news crews and magazine photographers, said he spotted the whale at about 10 a.m. near Ellis Island.
He immediately tried to warn other vessels to give it wide berth in the hopes that it might swim safely through the Narrows tidal strait separating Staten Island and Brooklyn and out into the Atlantic Ocean. Vessels motoring toward the whale included the Staten Island Ferry, a cargo ship and several tug boats.
“It’s a bit of a silver lining with COVID that there’s not much boat traffic out here, and the whale has a very good chance of getting out into the ocean,” Kils said as he spoke by phone from his boat.
For hours, the whale surfaced every minute or so for a breath, making its way past New York’s shoreline with sights like the Empire State building in the background.
“As we were passing the Statue of Liberty, it flung its tail out of the water – twice!” Kils said.
(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Sandra Maler)