How I Sea: Paul Sieswerda, Founder of Gotham Whale

Meet Paul, the man bringing attention to NYC's growing whale populations.

New York City (a.k.a. Gotham) is more than just a center of global commerce and a melting pot of cultures. It’s actually home to some of the largest animals on Earth, whales!

And there’s one whale in particular that has caught the world’s attention, the Gotham Whale.

We spoke with Paul Sieswerda to learn more about this incredible story, and to hear about the work he and his team are doing to track whales around New York Harbor.

Paul is a retired Aquarium Curator who has dedicated his free time to founding Gotham Whale, a non-profit organization dedicated to learning more about the migrations of marine mammals around the New York area, and connecting communities here to marine life.

What motivated you to first join the field of marine science as an Aquarium Curator? That must have been an incredibly interesting path!

Interestingly enough, I actually became captivated by the field of marine science not through the ocean, but through my curiosities around Space.

When I was growing up it felt like the age of exploration, where big things were happening outside of Planet Earth for the first time! But I realized that there was a whole other world to be explored right here on our own planet, the ocean!

I grew up seeing people like Sylvia Earle and Jacques Cousteau uncover this world that nobody yet knew much about. And it contained life more fascinating than anything we could hope to find in outer space.

So I started from the bottom at the New England Aquarium as a volunteer, and worked my way up the ladder. Now I have 41 years of experience as an Aquarium Curator, and I couldn’t be more happy of the decisions I’ve made to spend my life in this field.

Why start to Gotham Whale? And what are some of your goals for the near future?

The decision to start Gotham Whale came after my retirement, and was really a natural progression for me. I was just taking one step in front of the other.

I was living on Staten Island and heard that a ferry called The American Princess was looking for an experienced naturalist to come on board and help survey local marine life.

What first caught my eye was the abundance of seals in the area. New York is known to have both Harbor Seals and Gray Seals as seasonal visitors, and that first Summer I noticed something bigger (literally). I observed 5 different whales right off the coast.

I thought to myself, this is a great opportunity to help to track these animal’s movements around New York, and more importantly get the public involved.

Photo: Michael Unhold, Used with permission of author.