Local marine biologist and northforker outdoors columnist Chris Paparo spotted two notable sights just south of Dune Road last week — a pod of about 100 bottlenose dolphins slapping their tails against the water and a humpback whale leaping in the air.
Paparo saw the animals on Wednesday, July 5 and again on Thursday, July 6 in the water about a half mile south of Westhampton Beach and Hampton Bays.
Historically, humpback whales were known to inhabit the waters off Long Island, but for decades sightings of these creatures have been rare. However, in the past few years humpback whale sightings in the Long Island Sound have become more common.
“In our lifetime, it’s been unheard of,” said Paparo, who is the Stony Brook University Marine Sciences Center Manager. “But if you went back a couple hundred of years, Long Island was a big whaling port.”
Paparo said he was keeping his distance from the enormous whale, which he estimated to be longer than 25 feet, when it made a surprise appearance near his 21-foot Release Center Console.
“It’s exciting, I wasn’t expecting that to happen. I had been watching the whale but he was far away,” he said.
“You have got to keep your distance,” Paparo said, adding that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries advises boaters stay at least 100 feet away from the animals, which can grow up to 60 feet long.
Bottlenose dolphins have also been spotted in the Sound in the past few years. Paparo and other biologists attribute the whale and dolphins’ presence to an abundance of bait fish drawing the animals in.
Paparo cautioned that he collected about 30 deflated mylar balloons floating on the water’s surface while watching the animals. He hopes that awareness of these marine animals will encourage people to rethink how they dispose of those items.
“It gets people excited, like ‘alright, let’s care about the environment,'” he said. “Then maybe we won’t release these balloons.”
For more awesome captures from Paparo, follow him on Instagram, @fishguyphotos, and Facebook.