Rare whale sightings in Maryland

Visitors to the beaches of Ocean City, Maryland, have been treated to some rare and interesting sightings recently. Our Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP) has received several reports of large whales feeding very close to shore over the last week, which makes for great viewing while on vacation.

The whale in the photograph below has been identified as a humpback whale and was spotted at 42nd Street in Ocean City on June 18. The picture was provided courtesy of Jennifer and Steve Gower.

Our MARP staff members have been fielding a lot of questions about these sightings, so we’d like to share some important information:

As you can see from the picture, the whale is very close to the shore. The Mid-Atlantic coast is a popular destination for migrating marine mammals (dolphins, whales, seals or manatees) and sea turtles, but recently these animals are coming much closer to land.

Why is that? Large whales, like most marine animals, tend to congregate in areas where food is plentiful. Recently, large schools of Atlantic menhaden have been spotted along the Atlantic coast of Maryland and Delaware. As a result of this, there have been several big pods of dolphins, and even large whales spotted very close to shore feeding on the menhaden; at times there have even been reports of dolphins and large whales feeding in the same area together – what an exciting sight!

Ever wonder how they feed? Humpback whales are filter feeders, which mean they have baleen plates that are made of keratin (like our hair and fingernails) instead of teeth. Baleen whales will open their mouths to take a large gulp of water, including any food items in the water (krill, fish, shrimp, etc.). They close their mouths and use their tongues to force the water back out of their mouths, which traps any food items in the baleen. They will then use their large tongues to lick any food items off their baleen and will swallow the food items whole. A whale’s mouth operates similar to a pasta strainer!

These marine mammals are experts in navigating in-shore waters, and usually do so only when the tide is high. Along the Mid-Atlantic coast, this is indeed a rare sight, and one that should be appreciated from the beach.

Seeing these animals close to shore is a reminder that it is important for us to enjoy, respect and protect the aquatic environments that we share with marine mammals and sea turtles. It’s up to us to ensure their survival, and to ensure our future generations can appreciate these animal-sighting experiences that we witness today.

What can you do to protect marine mammals and other aquatic animals in our area?

  • Slow down – boat strikes are a frequent source of injuries for marine mammals and endangered sea turtles.
  • Dispose of trash properly, particularly plastics and plastic bags. Marine animals confuse trash with a food source or become entangled.
  • Do not release balloons. Balloon debris can fall into bodies of water where animals can choke on the pieces or become entangled.
  • Never dispose of fishing line or nets in the water, as marine animals can easily become entangled.
  • If beachgoers spot a stranded animal, they are required by law to keep their distance, and encouraged to call the Maryland Natural Resource Police at 1-800-628-9944 or the National Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Program at 410-373-0083 to report the animal.

11 Responses to “Rare whale sightings in Maryland”

  1. 1 Shireen June 21, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    Are there any whale-watching trips from the Maryland Eastern Shore?

    This is really exciting!

  2. 2 wendy a houseknecht June 23, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    I was down in ocean city in March of this year and there was a dead whale on the beach. I would like to know what they did with it.

  3. 3 Diana June 24, 2010 at 7:50 am

    Awesome – I hope I get to see them in Rehoboth!

  4. 4 Janet June 24, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    we were visiting Ocean City and indeed saw a whale passing by close to shore, 139th street beach area, on June 23rd. What a sight to see!

  5. 5 Leah June 24, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    I was there when this happened! I wasn’t on the beach at the time, but a couple of my friends were, and they got to see it and take pictures!

  6. 6 kelly June 27, 2010 at 11:53 am

    We were vacationing on 36th street from June 12-19 and I was able to catch the whale on video! We had two sightings of a whale, but only caught it the second time. What a sight!!

  7. 7 Laura June 29, 2010 at 2:16 am

    I was so there on this day.. around 6 pm or so on 36th street.. I got lots of pics.. and of the whole week I stayed there, I would say this was the best part about it!!

  8. 8 shelly June 30, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    I was there June 12th and saw them off of 23rd street. It was awesome to see especially for my 9 yr old!

  9. 9 Vernon C. Odle July 12, 2010 at 8:36 am

    My Wife & I were also on the beach on June 18th and got many pics of the Whale feeding off of 110th ST. @ 1130 am and then showed back up at 3:oo to feed again. It was almost like he knew we were there and put on a fabulos show for all. The doughins swam right next to the whale and were feeding off the same school of fish ,which I also have pics of. There was also a skate( not sure of spelling) which swam close to shore all day long for some odd reason.

    • 10 Steve Jones July 31, 2010 at 8:32 pm

      We were down at Ocean City from June 12-19 at High Point North Condo at 114th St and just now, after reading these posts, realize what a special,special time that was to be in OC. We saw the whale(s) 3-4 times that week and saw the porpoises/dolphins 3-4 times EACH day. We have been visiting OC for many, many years and had never seen anything like that.
      In previous visits, if you saw the porpoises/dolphins once a week, that was great. And of course, we never,never saw whales! And after reading the intro part of this email it all makes sense. Each time I saw the whale, there was a large dark area around it. I now realize that was the school of fish mentioned here. And that explains why we saw the porpoises/dolphins so many time that week also. They were feeding off that school of fish also.
      I really thought this was all related to the oil spill in the golf and chasing the whales/dolphins up north to our area. I still think that is a factor but no question, the school of fish was the main draw for the whales and dolphins!

  10. 11 Melissa March 24, 2011 at 10:03 am

    NASA has announced the winners of the 2010 NASA OPTIMUS PRIME Spinoff Award. The contest encouraged students to produce short, creative videos about their favorite technology from NASA’s Spinoff 2009 Publication. NASA collaborated with Hasbro using the correlation between the popular TRANSFORMERS brand, featuring its leader OPTIMUS PRIME, and spinoffs from NASA technologies created for aeronautics and space missions used here on Earth. The goal was to help students understand how NASA technology ‘transforms’ into things used daily. The winner for sixth through eighth grades was based on the 2009 Spinoff story originating from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “Star-Mapping Tools Enable Tracking of Endangered Animals.” It is about how a star-mapping algorithm used on the Hubble Space Telescope is helping scientists track endangered animals like polar bears and whale sharks. Check out the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YiWwIj7ii3w

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