Three beluga whales traveling from Canada were spotted in Shoreham last night and could be on their way for a rare North Fork visit.
The whales, estimated to be between six and eight feet long and under three years old, were spotted off Shoreham Beach near the decommissioned nuclear power plant about 5 p.m. on Tuesday, May 26, according to a woman who identified herself as Michele from Manorville.
“They were headed east. They were surfacing and I saw water coming out of their spout. They appeared to be feeding,” she said. “They were about 40 feet out, which is relatively close to the shoreline, but not close enough so you would be visible [to them]. They were kind of swimming and drifting along. They were moving along pretty fast and they weren’t jumping or anything.”
Michele first assumed they were dolphins, but heard a radio report on CBS 880 AM the following morning stating that beluga whales had been spotted in several locations off Long Island’s northern shore. She then notified the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation.
“If I knew they were beluga whales I would have called sooner,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
The whales — one of which has been identified by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association as a member of the St. Lawrence population which hails from Canada — are not thought to be in danger, according to the Riverhead Foundation. The beluga whale is primarily an Arctic species, but a small population lives in the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, Canada.
“The first call we received was that they were somewhere in Rhode Island on May 10. They kept heading south,” said Rachel Bosworth, a spokesperson for the foundation. “It does not appear these animals are unhealthy or in danger. They seem to be taking a little trip.”
The animals were spotted in Whaler’s Cove in Cold Spring Harbor on May 25. Bosworth said the animals could be spotted off the North Fork today. Local marine patrols and bay constables have been notified, she said.
“They’ve been going into almost every harbor. They’re very curious too,” she said. “They enjoy the human interaction. They’re not dangerous.”
She advised anyone who spots the mammals to stay 150 feet away and to call the organization’s 24-hour hotline at (631) 369-9829. The animals most likely don’t need intervention, though the Riverhead Foundation’s researchers can gather information by observing them.
Though rare, there have been several reports of beluga whales spotted from Maine as far south as southern New Jersey in the past decade.
Although the St. Lawrence population of beluga whales is not listed as threatened or endangered under the U.S.’s Endangered Species Act, these visitors are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act in U.S. waters. They are covered by a thick layer of blubber which they molt every July by rubbing their skin against gravel in shallow waters.