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Whale makes appearance off New York's coast

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Unusual for whales to enter harbor, may have been following food, expert says
  • Coast Guard says 20-foot humpback surfaced just north of Verrazano Bridge
  • By midday Thursday, it was off Coney Island; Coast Guard set up moving safety zone
  • Whale sightings in the vicinity of New York City are rare but not unprecedented
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By Jason Kessler
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Call him Moby Ick.

The humpback travels south Thursday between Sandy Hook and Breezy Point off New York.

The humpback travels south Thursday between Sandy Hook and Breezy Point off New York.

A 30- to 40-foot humpback whale surfaced in the not-quite-pristine waters just north of New York City's Verrazano Bridge on Thursday morning, according to the Coast Guard.

By midday, the whale had shifted its course southward and could be seen in the waters off Coney Island. The Coast Guard set up a moving safety zone around the whale so it does not encounter oncoming maritime traffic.

Long Island's Riverhead Foundation dispatched a boat to assess the whale's well-being. The organization noted a number of growths on the creature's skin but determined that it was in overall "moderate health," according to Riverhead's Rob DeGiovanni.

"It was a humpback whale," DeGiovanni said. "It appears to be a little bit underweight, but it would be what you kind of expect for an animal this time of year coming back up through these waters." Video Watch the whale move through the New York harbor »

DeGiovanni said whales generally frequent waters further south during the winter before "moving up through our waters during February, March and April."

"Along the south shore of Long Island is a common route for not only humpback whales, but right whales," he said. "We've also seen fin whales, common dolphins, harbor porpoise."

The whale might have wandered into the harbor area so close to shore following food, DeGiovanni said.


"It's unusual that we would see them all the way up in the harbor," he said.

"We have seen whales this close. Every couple of years we'll tend to see an animal like this in this area. We're fortunate enough to see that this one started to head back out and seems to be heading out into deeper water."

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