The ocean water may still be a cold 44 degrees and the beaches along the South Jersey shore largely barren.
However, the water is never too cold for the largest regular visitors to the waters off the South Jersey coast, who can be sighted along the coast from Long Beach Island to Cape May and in Delaware Bay year round.
The Cape May Whale Watcher has begun its 2017 whale watching season from Cape May with weekend trips through April before daily trips start in May. Before taking the winter off, Captain Jeff Stewart of the Cape May Whale Watcher was seeing whales off of South Jersey through early December last year.
Stewart said some whales migrate south in late fall, but many spend weeks or even months at a time off South Jersey throughout much of the year.
Whales have also been seen in Delaware Bay deep into winter.
“I’ll have captains on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry call me in January to report whale sightings on the bay,” Stewart said.
The northward return migration then begins each spring.
Ocean water temperatures have been running above average for much of the winter season, which was also warmer than average overall.
But Stewart said the ocean temperature has nothing to do with determining whether whales will swim off South Jersey’s shore.
“It’s all about the bunker, and when the bait is there, the whales will be there, eating 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of food per day,” Stewart explained.
Most of the whales off South Jersey are humpback whales, about 95 percent of them, according to Stewart. They usually range from 25 to 50 feet in length.
A few other whales can be found, including finback, minke and right whales.