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Dramatic Video Shows Huge Whale Breaching Just Feet Off Rockaway Beach

By Katie Honan | September 25, 2013 6:47am
Rockaway Beach Whales Swim Off Shore
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Bobby Leonard

ROCKAWAY BEACH — A trio of whales — possibly humpbacks — has spent the last two weeks off the coast of Queens, feasting on local fish, playing in the water and putting on a show for those on shore.

The giant mammals have been spotted along miles of Rockaway Beach, usually traveling in a pack.

In a dramatic recent video taken by Belle Harbor resident Bobby Leonard, 40, a whale can be seen rearing its head above the water to eat just feet from his boat.

"They're coming in, eating, hanging out," he said. "They're not going to leave until they eat all the bunker." Bunker, or menhaden, also attracts dolphins and bluefish.

Leonard, who owns the Spy Store in Manhattan and is an avid fisherman, said he watched the whales from the beach last Friday and decided to go out on his 23-foot Steiger Craft boat for a closer look with his father and brother.

 The whales have been swimming off the coast of Rockaway Beach for a few weeks.
Rockaway Beach Whales Swim Near Surfer
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While out in the water, a few hundred feet off the coast near the Beach 70s, Leonard captured a whale leaping out of the water to eat. He said he also saw dolphins.

"It was like the Discovery Channel that day," said Leonard, a married father of two.

A spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Shelley Dawicki, said it's "normal" to find whales along the coast this time of year.

"There's probably a very good source of food there and people are noticing them closer to shore," she said.

Siobhan Mullen, a surfer who lives in Rockaway Beach, rode by the whales on her stand-up paddle board last week and captured photos as the whales breached.

"I was kinda just like in awe and super stoked to be able to see them cruising and feeding in their natural habitat so up close," she said. "I felt really blessed and enlightened to see that."

A lifelong Rockaway resident, Mullen said she'd never seen anything like it.

Rob DiGiovanni, the director of the Riverhead Foundation, said the whale sightings are "unusual, but not surprising."

"We've had a busy year for strandings, so usually we have whale sightings," he said.

Several dolphins, sea turtles and even a whale washed ashore in the area and the south shore of Long Island in recent months, according to the NOAA.

The beachings were linked to a measles-like virus that killed some and left others stranded.

There was no suggestion that the whales were sick, DiGiovanni said.

He added that the whales are likely humpback whales, which are federally protected — which means it's illegal to be within 50 yards of the mammals.

He warned against getting too close, both for legal reasons and for the protection of the animals.

"The general public should not be getting that close, and they can exacerbate the animals," he said.