Hudson River Humpback Whale

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On Friday, November 18th, an unseasonably warm day in for late-autumn in NYC, local news stations reported a whale sighting in New York Harbor.  I rode my bike south along the Hudson Greenway to the tip of Manhattan hoping to catch a glimpse of the animal, less to see it, than to see it off safely. Fond as I am of the Hudson, I get a sinking feeling when I hear marine mammals have made their way up the river from the open ocean. Like the presence of elephants in the traffic-choked streets of Bangkok and Mumbai, it strikes me as inherently wrong and dangerous.

When I reached the esplanade at Battery Place, I planted myself at vantage point across the river from Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty where the whale had been spotted and asked a couple of nearby anglers if they had seen the whale. They told me they hadn’t even heard about it then proceeded to crack wise about illegal migration, Jonah’s return and needing bigger hooks. It was just after 3:00 p.m., an hour-and-a-half before sunset this time of year. Between sun glare, wind and boat motor racket, filming conditions would only have been worse if it was raining but I set my cell phone for video recording and panned the length of the river for twenty minutes or so. The whale eventually surfaced about 200 yards from where I stood and puffed a shower of water into the air, bringing hoots of excitement from the wisecracking fisherman and drawing a crowd of onlookers. The appearance took me by surprise and I missed the shot but continued to scan the river with my phone, missing the whale each time it surfaced — except for one brief moment, indicated by an orange circle in this brief video.

Eventually the sun began to set and I had to tear myself away from the 40-50 whale-watchers who had gathered along the esplanade. I left hoping ship operators on the river (including the Staten Island Ferry) would heed river police warnings to slow down and steer clear of the animal as it headed back to sea –wishful thinking, it turned out, as it was later spotted seven miles upriver near the George Washington Bridge, the farthest north a whale has been seen in the river in recent memory. It’s presence near the bridge means it likely passed within 500 yards of my west side apartment. Had I known, I might have caught a glimpse of the whale, subsequently identified as a humpback, from the overlook in nearby Riverside Park.

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Humpbacks are counted among the most endangered whale species, with only about 80,000 individuals, or less than 10% of there original numbers remaining. They range across all the world’s oceans circumnavigating the globe from summer feeding grounds to warm seas in the winter. Of the three distinct humpback populations –Southern, North Pacific and North Atlantic–the Hudson whale was likely a wayward son or daughter of the last group.  Northern humpbacks reach an average length of 49 to 52 feet with mature adults weighing in at 35 to 50 tons. Humpbacks are baleen whales with 14 to 35 long throat pleats that expand when they take in water while feeding. Given the amount of garbage and raw sewage floating on the Hudson at any given time, this is a source of concern.

Whales that turn up in unusual places are often sick or disoriented and end up washing up dead or badly wounded. In this case, the whale was behaving in a manner that indicated it was feeding on migrating fish. Bunker (Menhaden) and other fish humpbacks feed on are reportedly plentiful in the Hudson these days.  That’s a good sign, but another source of concern due to the temptation great schools of fish present to feeding ocean mammals and the potential the busy river holds for their collision with boats. I hoped  that the whale ate it’s fill, realized it was in the wrong part of town and headed back down the river to the open ocean, never to return. But this too was wishful thinking as sightings continued throughout the week.

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Image courtesy of WCPD Special Operations Official Instagram account of the Westchester County Police Special Operations Division. publicsafety.westchestergov.com

The number of humpback whale sightings in the Hudson has been on the rise over the last five years. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and New York environmental officials issued alerts to boaters to slow down and watch out for whales following three strikes in 2013, including one in which a cruise ship dragged a 55-foot finback whale into the Hudson River.

2015 was the worst year to date for whale mortality in the Metro area with nine whales, mostly humpbacks, washing up on Long Island beaches. The majority of the carcasses reportedly had wounds consistent with ship strikes. Ships are not the only threats to whales. Propellers and engines produce sounds in frequencies similar to those whales use to communicate, leading to signal scrambling and increasing the potential for disorientation and stranding in unfamiliar waters.

But the biggest human impact on whales in the region may be climate change.

“Warming waters may already be responsible for a large increase in sightings of humpbacks in recent years near the entrance to New York Harbor,” Paul L. Sieswerda, the founder of Gotham Whale, a local non-profit that tracks marine mammal populations in Metro-area waterways, recently told The New York Times. In 2012, he said, whale watchers spotted 25 whales; by 2014 the number had spiked to 107. Warming oceans are drawing vast schools of whale prey fish from their usual range off Chesapeake Bay north to New York, said Mr. Sieswerda.

“If this keeps up more humpback whale sightings in the Hudson River might not be so rare,” Sieswerda told NJ.com.  He asks that anyone who spots a whale send a photo, location, time and, if possible, species to paul@gothamwhale.org.

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In a related story, a humpback whale spotted feeding in Moriches Bay, Long Island  on November 13 was euthanized by veterinarians when it got stuck in a shallow area of the bay called Hart’s Cove and attempts to free the whale and help it swim away failed.

America’s Cup Racing Returns to New York for First Time In Nearly a Century To Delight of 1%

A warm-up regatta for next June’s America’s Cup Race in Bermuda took place in New York Harbor  May 7 -8, marking the first time an America’s Cup event had been held in the city since 1920.

Six teams hailing from the U.S., England, France, Japan, New Zealand and Sweden raced 50-foot catamarans in a series of short races up and down a stretch of the harbor between Chambers and Rector Streets.

The 165-year-old sailing contest, which began as a yacht race the Brits challenged the Yanks to around the Isle of Wight (Yanks won), has evolved into the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series, a succession of races that culminates in the America’s Cup Championship every four years.

Lousy with class privilege, the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series is hugely aspirational, so it made good PR sense to base the event village (team gear, sailing accessories, Moet champagne)  in front of the Brookfield Place Waterfront Plaza luxury brand mall.

The America’s Cup is a test of sailing skill, yacht design, and fund-raising prowess — somebody’s got to pony up the $100 million dollars required to compete for “The Auld Mug.”  The Hudson’s choppy, dun-colored waters are a far cry from Bermuda’s turquoise baby bath so the publicity payoff a comeback to New York Harbor promised had to be pretty sweet. But like the Rio Olympians required to swim in favela run-off, the elite yachting crews that scrambled around the boats and occasionally got washed off were probably a bit skeeved.

Water quality aside, the Hudson is a working river and one can only marvel at the skill of the fixers who managed to divert hundreds of ferries, tugs, barges and cargo vessels to accommodate the race, which got off to a slow start on Sunday when I watched from the sidelines, picking up speed dramatically in time for the 2:00 p.m. starting time. Aided by the Hudson’s famously rapid current, the boats ultimately raced near the 40 mph speeds they were designed for.

Touted as one of the most exciting events to hit the harbor in recent memory —which it probably was for those sipping nautical-themed cocktails aboard the Manhattan Yacht Club’s floating clubhouse, “Willy Wall,” anchored just north of Ellis Island — it was a bit baffling for those of us packed three-deep along the benches and tree planters of Battery Park.

I think this clip, from a very different context, nicely sums up the average New Yorker’s take on yacht racing in the Hudson:

Oyster Restoration Effort Underway Along Hudson

Mike Bloomberg’s million trees may soon have some pollution neutralizing company if The New York Harbor Foundation succeeds in it’s effort to repopulate the harbor with a billion oysters. The Foundation has been working with students from the Governor’s Island-based New York Harbor School over the last six years to foster oyster nurseries and conduct long-term research projects at locations throughout the harbor.

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The kids recently set up a riverside nursery along a stretch of Hudson River Greenway on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Municipal signage warns would-be harvesters to steer clear of the oysters, which may be contaminated by raw sewage and industrial waste. I’m all for leaving harbor oyster colonies alone to thrive but wouldn’t mind watching Anthony Bourdain knock back a few between beers and a couple of butts.

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Dipping Into New York’s Waterways In The World’s First Floating, Self-Filtering Pool

Architect Dong-Ping Wong is preparing to launch the world’s first floating, self-filtering pool on New York’s waterways. I recently interviewed Wong for a story in Tech Times while his sneakers got soaked as the tide rose along the recently made-over East River Esplanade. The following post is taken largely from that story.

Wong calls the concept +Pool and describes it as a giant water filter that draws river water through the pool walls and uses a succession of geotextile layers to sift increasingly minute contaminants out of the water. Filtered pool water is then released back into the river, helping to clean it. He likens the floating pool to a barge that will enable New Yorkers to immerse themselves in the river safely. The pool’s distinctive “plus” shape results from intersecting a lap and sports pool with a lounging pool and kids pool.

The +POOL is envisioned as a floating structure that’s permanently moored at a single location with additional pools being built according to demand. The pool would be open year-round, providing heated water for swimming in winter.

Wong and partner Oana Stanescu at Family, a Manhattan architectural design firm, launched the project five-and-a-half years ago, largely on a whim.

“We just thought it’d be a funny idea and silly (but) it kind of made sense,” says Wong, a 30-something, San Diego native who moved to New York 13 years ago to train as an architect at Columbia University. “When we started it we had no idea what impact this could have on the city, let alone if anybody would want it, so we designed it very simply and put a website up.”

Within two weeks, a deluge of inquiries from around the world crashed the site and the +Pool team got a call from Arup, the international engineering giant behind the Centre Pompidou in Paris, The Sydney Opera House and New York’s Second Avenue Subway. Suddenly they had a real project on their hands.

Two Kickstarter campaigns followed in quick succession. The first was a $25,000 campaign in 2011 to raise money for water quality testing.

“I think we hit our mark in six days and raised about $40,000-$45,000,” says Wong. “We were sampling every 15 minutes so the amount of data we collected was just immense and the most detailed that’s ever been collected on the river, as far as we can tell.”

Wong and his team partnered with Google to set up a +Pool Dashboard that live-streamed the data that was being collected, providing the public with real-time information on the health of the river.

Wong is on track to launch the first +Pool in the summer of 2020 and is currently in the thick of dealing with the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Department of Health, the Department of Environmental Protection and other regulatory agencies that manage public works like municipal pools, boat basins and wastewater discharge facilities around the city.

“Our pool is really interesting because it actually falls between certain codes,” says Wong. “It doesn’t exactly fit into anything that’s written because nobody wrote a code for this kind of thing before. It’s really exciting but it’s also an ongoing conversation to figure out how we modify our project to fit into codes and are there even ways to modify codes to fit into our project. That’s probably the longest ongoing discussion we’re having.”

This waterfront dialogue is taking place amid growing interest in rehabilitating urban waterfront zones around the world. Wong has been invited to speak about his pool in Copenhagen, Berlin, Munich and, in the U.S., in Houston and Memphis, and has found like-minded initiatives underway in all of these cities.

“There are other floating pools…. There’s a great one in Copenhagen…. There’s an existing project in Berlin which (consists of) finding a part of the river where they can plant a lot of reeds and maybe clarify the river a little bit,” says Wong. “They’re putting a pool into the Thames probably in the next few years…. There’s a group in Houston trying to cordon off a part of the bayou so people can swim.”

The level of interest has been such that Wong has started an informal coalition he calls “The City River Swimming Club” to create a network of urban waterfront pools that members can use in major cities around the world.

“There are parks coming back to the river, but the idea that you could actually go for a morning swim as part of your routine or have a lunch break and go for a swim and really have that be part of your daily life is pretty amazing,” says Wong from his wet riverside niche, where seagulls have begun to gather around him in anticipation of snack.

“Here, I actually live closer to the river than I ever have to the ocean but you never think of New York as a beach town. My life has nothing to do with the river on a day-to-day basis aside from this project, but you feel that starting to change in the city.”

Model To Monument 2014, Riverside Park South

"Harbor for Industry" by Lindsay McCosh

“Harbor for Industry” by Lindsay McCosh.

A new crop of sculptures was unveiled along the Hudson in Riverside Park South last week.

Artist Lindsay McCosh used the park’s industrial artifacts, including a defunct train and lifting station, as the inspiration and backdrop for her piece “Harbor for Industry,” an architectural vision of nature in which the four elements are represented by a pair of cement figures, a beacon, a wind turbine, and the Hudson River.

“The Hudson River has a long history of industry and part of it for the park itself is the transfer bridge that was part of a freight train yard that used to go from Manhattan to New Jersey, ” says McCosh, a Detroit native who creates large-scale sculptures using industrial building materials. “They’ve kept a historic relic of the transfer bridge in the park as an icon. I believe it represents strength and industry and a vision of progress for New York,”

Located between West 59th and West 72nd Streets, along the Hudson River shore, Riverside Park South was turned into a public exhibition space for works by artists from the Art Students League four years ago as part of the Model to Monument Program (M2M)  which trains artists to create works for public spaces. This year’s theme, “The Architecture of Nature, ” was rendered by seven female artists: Phyllis Sanfiorenzo, Natsuki Takauji, Laura Barmack, Minako Yoshino, Ana-Sofia Marti, Janet Fekete-Bolton and Lindsay McCosh.

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Phyllis Sanfiorenz, Natsuki Takahuchi, Minaco Yoshio, Laura Barmack, Janet Ficket-Bolten, Ana-Sofia Marti and Lindsay McCosh.

Each artist underwent nine months of intensive training to learn to create monumental works that meet the standards of engineering and public safety required by the Parks Department.

The resulting sculptures took the form of McCosh’s homage to urban workers, a functional swing, a tabloid-reading merman, an abstract tangle of metal cords, a nine-foot statue based on two lovers from Japanese mythology, and 150 paint can lids suspended in a flying sombrero-like arrangement.

The sculptures will be in place until May 2015.

Lindsay McCosh studied Graphic Design and Typography at the School of Visual Arts in New York; multimedia sculpture and reliefs in handmade paper at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit; and at the Art Institude of Chicago.

Regarding her M2M piece, she states:

“I am using the visual language that already exists in the park history to express the architecture of nature. Through symbols of the four elements I am creating a monument to the train workers and the industriousness of New York City. My sculpture allows for a place to rest as well as inspires the curiosity of future generations through movement and technology.”

– See more at: http://theartstudentsleague.org/ArtistOpportunities/ModeltoMonument/M2MYearFour.aspx#sthash.CuhV4TxB.dpuf

Lindsay McCosh studied Graphic Design and Typography at the School of Visual Arts in New York; multimedia sculpture and reliefs in handmade paper at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit; and at the Art Institude of Chicago.

Regarding her M2M piece, she states:

“I am using the visual language that already exists in the park history to express the architecture of nature. Through symbols of the four elements I am creating a monument to the train workers and the industriousness of New York City. My sculpture allows for a place to rest as well as inspires the curiosity of future generations through movement and technology.”

– See more at: http://theartstudentsleague.org/ArtistOpportunities/ModeltoMonument/M2MYearFour.aspx#sthash.CuhV4TxB.dpuf

Lindsay McCosh studied Graphic Design and Typography at the School of Visual Arts in New York; multimedia sculpture and reliefs in handmade paper at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit; and at the Art Institude of Chicago.

Regarding her M2M piece, she states:

“I am using the visual language that already exists in the park history to express the architecture of nature. Through symbols of the four elements I am creating a monument to the train workers and the industriousness of New York City. My sculpture allows for a place to rest as well as inspires the curiosity of future generations through movement and technology.”

– See more at: http://theartstudentsleague.org/ArtistOpportunities/ModeltoMonument/M2MYearFour.aspx#sthash.CuhV4TxB.dpuf

Lindsay McCosh studied Graphic Design and Typography at the School of Visual Arts in New York; multimedia sculpture and reliefs in handmade paper at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit; and at the Art Institude of Chicago.

Regarding her M2M piece, she states:

“I am using the visual language that already exists in the park history to express the architecture of nature. Through symbols of the four elements I am creating a monument to the train workers and the industriousness of New York City. My sculpture allows for a place to rest as well as inspires the curiosity of future generations through movement and technology.”

– See more at: http://theartstudentsleague.org/ArtistOpportunities/ModeltoMonument/M2MYearFour.aspx#sthash.CuhV4TxB.dpu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sculptures will be in place until May 2015.

 

Spanish Galeon Sails Up Hudson, Docks At Pier 84

 

A Spanish galeon sailed up the Hudson River for what may be the first time ever on August 11th and docked near the Intrepid for a little over a week, looking a bit like a Model T parked across from a Cadillac Fleetwood at a Barret Jackson event.

The ship, which is 175 feet long and weighs 470-plus tons, is a replica of the cargo ships used during the 16th and 17th centuries by Spanish traders and explorers like Ponce de León, who is thought to have used a similar vessel to sail from Puerto Rico to Florida in 1513 to search for the fountain of youth.

Constructed and owned by the Nao Victoria Foundation based in Seville, Spain, where it was was built using traditional methods, El Galeon Andalucia sailed to New York City from St. Augustine, Florida, where it docked for several weeks to commemorate Florida’s discovery by Spanish explorers 500 years ago.

While a galeon this size would have had trouble navigating the shallow inlets of Florida in places like St. Augustine, a river as deep and wide and the Hudson would have easily accomodated the ship, even if fully loaded with the sugar, tobacco, fruits, lumber and spices it carried north from the Caribbean as part of it’s trade route.

El Galeon’s 28-member crew work, dine, bathe and sleep in extremely close quarters, much like their seafaring forebears. These days, though, there are women on board — a situation that would have been unheard of back in the day.

“It took us 24 days to cross the Atlantic,” said crew member Lucrecia Moron Sanchez. “Sometimes you wake up and you look around and there is nothing but the ocean and you feel bad.”

But generally, the recent grad, who majored in art history, was enjoying the high seas adventure with the predominantly male crew of volunteers from Andalusia.

By the time they return to their home port in Seville, the crew of El Galeon will cover more than 900 nautical miles, working more than 9,600 square feet of sail like Spanish sailors did half a millennium ago.

Enter Sandman

 

A 20-foot sand castle recently rose up in a small plaza across from Water and Moore Streets, steps from the Staten Island Ferry Terminal in Lower Manhattan.  A steady stream of commuters disembarking the ferry have watched sculptor Matt Long spend his days carving the pint-sized palace out of a sand mound dumped amidst the steel and glass office towers that dominate the area.

What are you gonna do if it rains? Asks a guy on his way to the ferry.

“It rained like heck last night,” replies Long, an S.I. native. “It’s fine.”

Part of a campaign to occupy the privately owned public spaces in the Seaport Area through the middle of August, possibly to keep protesters out of them, the Water Street structure is one of hundreds of sand sculptures Long has made his living carving over the last decade.

When he isn’t busy sculpting towers and turrets, Long talks with the many onlookers who gather to watch him work. One of the most common questions they ask him is how he protects his sand sculptures from the wind and rain.

“I add a lot of water when I start and then once I’m done carving an area I have Elmer’s Glue and water thinned in a garden sprayer and I spritz that on. It makes a little tiny M&M shell on the outside.”

It seems like scant protection against the elements but Long has built his quixotic career on the formula’s effectiveness.

So how has he managed to make a living building sand castles for the last ten years?

“Ho, gimme the money!” is Long’s short answer.

Currently, in addition to selling his Can You Dig It? line of sand tools, he takes part in an annual round of competitions around the world and across the U.S. in beach towns like Hampton Beach, NH,  Revere Beach, MA,  Virginia Beach, VA and Siesta Key, FLA.

“The world championships were in Atlantic City a few weeks ago,” says Long. “I placed third in the doubles division against seventeen countries.”

Long will be spending much of August at the Jersey Shore, working on a series of kid-friendly sculptures for the Stronger Than The Storm campaign and carving a commemorative sculpture at nearby Monmouth Park Race Track during their annual tournament. Long says he also does team building events for large corporations, citing American Express as a recent client.

Despite it’s romantic appeal, Long isn’t sentimental about his castle-building work. The Water Street sculpture that was supposed to stand until July 31st was still standing on August 18 and Long says he fully expects to be driving a little back hoe and loading the Water Street castle into a dumpster before the summer is through.