The New York Police Department’s special operations division posted a photo of the sighting on its Twitter account, with the message that “even the wildlife want to ring in” the new year in New York.
US coast guard petty officer Frank Iannazzo-Simmons told the Associated Press those in his office had not seen the whale, but said that based on the photos it appeared to be a humpback.
The whale was seen swimming along the shores of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, close to Gracie Mansion, the official residence of Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Paul Sieswerda, a retired marine biologist who leads the New York-based volunteer marine wildlife tracking group Gotham Whale, told the Guardian: “It’s uncommon for whales to be around this late in the season, and even more unusual for them to be in the harbor.
“Humpbacks would normally be heading for the warm waters of the Dominican Republic.”
This has been an exceptional year for whale sightings in the harbor and in the waters off Long Island, Sieswerda said. The first sighting in the river came in April, and a humpback whale was spotted in the East river last month.
Another humpack took up residence in the Hudson river and was seen above the George Washington Bridge, which connects New York and New Jersey at the north-west tip of Manhattan. That whale became known as “0055” or “Gotham”.
“We followed that whale for a number of days,” said Sieswerda, 74, who was previously a curator at the New England and New York aquariums. “It was last seen in early December in the ocean. We’re quite sure that it was lunge-feeding on the menhaden.”
There is no reason to think the New Years Eve whale is disorientated, Sieswerda said, as the population of menhaden, a bait fish, has been in increasing in recent years, bringing more whales into the area.