Living at the Jersey Shore for over 50 years, I have always been connected to the ocean in one way or another. I have always spent a lot of time at the beach or near the ocean, whether it was fishing, bodyboarding, surfing, or just looking for shells. There is one thing that I never saw growing up, that I am seeing almost every year now.....and that's Humpback Whales. Many believe it is because the waters are much cleaner, and those cleaner waters have brought enormous schools of a Humpbacks favorite food.....Menhaden, aka Bunker.
Personally, I've spotted whales for the past 7-8 years. Up until the past two years, the whales always seemed to stay miles off shore, only coming up to spout here and there, and disappearing from sight in a minute or two. The past two years, however have been completely different. Large schools of Menhaden have been migrating south bringing the Humpbacks inshore with them. Humpbacks have been spotted not much farther out than the tips of the jetties.
The Humpbacks are generally moving south with the schools of Menhaden. Find a school of Menhaden, and you have a good chance at finding a whale. Humpbacks have been spotted along the shore lunge feeding for hours. I have been fortunate enough to witness some of the Humpbacks using the "bubble net" technique, in which a Humpback will blow a large circle/ring of bubbles to confuse the Menhaden. The Humpback then gathers speed and comes up underneath the bubble circle with mouth wide open. Humpbacks are the largest marine mammals in the ocean, so you might think they are slow moving. The speed at which this happens is absolutely incredible. Once the whale has a mouth full of fish, it closes its mouth and uses its tongue to force water out through the baleen. Baleen is the hair-like material which lines a whales mouth, allowing water to filter out of its mouth and fish to stay trapped inside.
A full grown Humpback can consume several thousand pounds of food each day. On several occasions along the Jersey Shore, Humpbacks stayed feeding in an area for several hours, moving on when it seemed there were no more Menhaden to be eaten.
The best action I've seen has been over last two years; Fall has been the best time for spotting them actively feeding. October seems to be a good month, but again, it all depends on where the Menhaden are. Late Spring, early Summer can also be a time for possibly seeing the whales around.
So the next time you are along the Jersey Shore, take a stroll along the beach or the boards. While you walk, scan the water and the horizon for spouts and schools of fish......you just might have a whale of an encounter! All images in this blog were taken from the beach using a Nikon D500 and a Nikon 200-500mm.