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Marine Protected Resources

Photograph of a humpback whale feeding in the Great South Channel
Humpback whale feeding in the Great South Channel.
Photo by: Nicole Starkweather

NYSDEC is responsible for the management and conservation of marine animals that are protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and/or the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and New York State Conservation Law and Environmental Conservation Regulations. We work in close coordination with federal partners at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Greater Atlantic regional offices and other partners within the state of New York.

The New York Ocean Action Plan (OAP) outlines long-term goals and actions led by the State over a ten year period (2017-2027) to yield a healthier ocean ecosystem that will benefit both people and the environment. Several of the activities and programs described in the OAP involve the important species that we dedicate our efforts to.

Marine protected resources (marine mammals, sea turtles, and Atlantic sturgeon) overlap with a number of human activities in New York waters such as boat traffic, commercial and recreational fishing activities, and offshore wind energy development. They are also impacted by pollution and the consequences of climate change. Ensuring protection of these species while also allowing legal activities that positively contribute to New York State to remain sustainable is our primary focus.

Report any sightings of marine mammals to DEC by using our Flipper Files digital survey. If you suspect a marine mammal or sea turtle is sick or injured, please call the New York Stranding Hotline at 631-369-9829 to report the animal.

Stranding Response and Responsible Viewing

Marine life and boater safety: Give space, go slow, report, and stay informed.

DEC supports marine mammal and sea turtle stranding response performed by the NY Marine Rescue Center (NYMRC) and the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society (AMSEAS) (links leave DEC website). While these groups work to respond to and maintain the wellness of protected species, responsbile viewing of these animals by the public is an essential part to preserving the health of local populations.

While viewing these unique animals responsibly, you can contribute to the state's data on marine protected resources occurrence and distribution. DEC's digital survey Flipper Files provides a platform for the public to report sightings of marine mammal and sea turtles.

For more information visit NOAA's Marine Life Viewing Guidelines(leaves DEC website).

Marine Mammals

New York Bight Whale Monitoring Program

DEC is nearing completion of a three-year baseline study of large whales in the New York Bight. The New York Bight Whale Monitoring Program consists of monthly aerial surveys and year-round passive acoustic monitoring. Both methods have recorded the presence of each large whale focal species in the area. Data will be used to inform management measures to mitigate human impacts and the development of a focused, long-term monitoring program.

Photograph of humpback whale, property of NYSDEC and Tetra Tech
Aerial photograph of a humpback whale. (Property of NYSDEC
and the aerial survey contractor, Tetra Tech).
Photo by: Kate Lomac-MacNair
Take Reduction Plans

Implemented under the MMPA, take reduction plans are created and maintained with the goal of reducing incidental mortality or serious injury of strategic stocks of marine mammals from commercial fishing to insignificant levels approaching zero.

New York adheres to three Take Reduction Teams (links leave DEC website):

Sea Turtles

DEC works closely with partners from federal agencies and non-profit organizations on the monitoring and conservation of sea turtles. With authorization by NOAA Fisheries, the NY Marine Rescue Center (NYMRC) and the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society (AMSEAS) (links leave DEC website) work together to respond to stranded sea turtles. They conduct these activities under contract with DEC and authorization by NOAA Fisheries, and help to provide entanglement and stranding data to DEC.

  • Acoustic and satellite tags are used by NYMRC to track the behavior and movement patterns of sea turtles being released after rehabilitation. Tracking data derived from these tags allows NYMRC and DEC to better understand habitat use by sea turtles in New York waters and to determine if the animal was successfully rehabilitated.
  • Sea turtle sightings are also recorded during the New York Bight Whale Monitoring Program aerial survey.

DEC is currently working on developing and implementing a comprehensive monitoring plan for sea turtles in the New York Bight. An experts' workshop was held in the winter of 2018 to identify the best monitoring methods. To learn more about this effort, view the Summary Report of the New York Bight Sea Turtle Workshop (PDF).

For more information on the sea turtle species found in New York and the threats they face, visit Sea Turtles of New York.

Atlantic Sturgeon

Photograph of a reported Atlantic Sturgeon
Photograph of a reported Atlantic sturgeon.

Declared endangered in 2012 by NOAA, Atlantic sturgeon are an anadromous species commonly found off the coast of Long Island during the spring and fall. During this time they may be injured or killed as a result of human activities like commercial fishing and boating. To better understand the species, carcasses that wash up on beaches are collected and necropsied. Please report any Atlantic sturgeon they may encounter, live or dead.

  • If you encounter an Atlantic sturgeon on Long Island, please call (631) 444-0444.
  • To report an Atlantic sturgeon in the Hudson River region, please call (845) 256-3073 or (845) 256-3199.

For more information, visit our Atlantic Sturgeon webpage.

Shark Salvage and Research

Dead sharks are retrieved by the Marine Protected Resources Unit whenever possible. We respond to any species except dogfish, unless there is a mass die off event. We record information such as species, sex, and length, and document the carcass with pictures and its stranding location coordinates. The Unit works cooperatively with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) (leaves DEC website), whose experts complete in-depth exams on recovered sharks stored in their large refrigerators. Weight, morphology, biopsy samples, and diagnostic testing are done by WCS at the New York Aquarium or Bronx Zoo (links leave DEC website).

Visit Coastal Sharks for more information on current research, management, and public safety.

Fishery observer measuring a striped bass
Fishery observer measuring a striped bass
Fishery Observer Program

From December 2015 through March 2019 an increase in observer coverage was implemented on commercial fishing vessels landing catch in New York and using trawls, gillnets, or pot/traps. The DEC provided funds to NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Observer Program (NEFOP) to ensure fisheries landing in New York remain open by complying with the federal requirement for an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) of protected species (marine mammals, sea turtles, and Atlantic sturgeon). The observer coverage increase provided the best available data for the ITP application, including data on incidental captures of Atlantic sturgeon and bycatch by state permit only vessels.

For more information about the Fishery Observer Program visit NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Observer Program (leaves DEC website) for more information.

How You Can Help

Seal Viewing Guidelines Sign

1. Report Observations of Marine Protected Resources: There are many ways you can help support in its marine protected resources work. While enjoying the marine environment, it's likely you will come across one or more of the species mentioned above. If it is safe to do so, you can notify the state and/or the stranding organizations (as appropriate) of animals sighted on the beach or in the water:

  • Sturgeon: To report a sturgeon carcass on Long Island or in New York City, please call (631) 444-0444. In the Hudson River region, please call (845) 256-3073.
  • Sharks: To report shark sightings, use the Shark Spotter survey.
  • Marine mammal and sea turtles: Report using Flipper Files survey. *To report sick, injured, or dead marine mammals and sea turtles, please call the 24-Hour New York Stranding Hotline at (631) 369-9829.*

2. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rethink: This is something you may hear frequently, but these are simple steps to help protect marine species!

  • Reduce the amount of materials you use, which will ultimately reduce the amount of waste you create.
  • Reuse and repurpose items that you may no longer use.
  • Recycle everything, from plastic to e-waste! Making an effort to separate your items for recycling will help reduce the number of items ending up in landfill.
  • Rethink your daily activities, the materials you use and the items you discard. There are many simple changes we can make in our lifestyles to help the environment, which ultimately help marine animals.
  • For more information, visit the NYSDEC Recycling and Composting webpage.

3. Do your best to not litter: Though it may happen accidentally, unwanted trash makes its way just about everywhere, including into our waterbodies. If you're unable to find a trash or recycling receptacle right away, hold on to your garbage until you can properly dispose of it. Learn more about waste management on the NYSDEC Waste Management webpage.

4. Don't release balloons or lanterns: The intentional release of balloons into the environment is potentially fatal for marine species. Balloons and plastic bags are commonly mistaken as prey (such as jellyfish) by many marine species, such as sea turtles. Once ingested, the animal's digestive tract can be blocked, causing it to eventually starve to death. If possible, try avoiding helium balloons and plastic bags entirely to reduce the possibility of them getting away and contributing to pollution. Visit the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service webpage (leaves DEC website) for more information about balloons and wildlife.

5. Volunteer your time and make donations: There are many organizations that are fighting to protect ocean habitats and marine wildlife. Getting involved at a local level is a great way to help marine species. Consider donating to or volunteering with local organizations. Beach and park clean ups are a great opportunity to connect the community and help protect the environment. If you can't find a local event, just gather your friends and family members and create your own!

6. Stay Informed and share your knowledge: One of the best things you can do is to stay informed and continue to learn about the issues the ocean faces. The more you learn, the more you'll want to help ensure the marine ecosystem remains healthy. As you continue to educate yourself, you can share your knowledge with those around you and continue to inform others of how crucial it is to protect the marine environment.