New York City’s underwater inhabitants are often
overlooked because they are seldom seen except by anglers,
fishmongers, marine and freshwater researchers, and divers.
Yet in number and diversity, fishes and numerous other water
creatures certainly equal land-dwelling wildlife in interest
and importance. This section portrays some of New York City’s
water neighbors. Because of their importance in the city’s
economic history, and an abundance of excellent ichthyological
art, illustrations of local fishes predominate. But images
of the myriad invertebrates, and of two water mammals, are
also on view.
New York Harbor, the Hudson, East, and Harlem
rivers, Jamaica Bay, and satellite inlets and streams are
often erroneously considered separate entities, but in fact
all are part of an enormous ecosystem, the Hudson Estuary.
Twice a day, high tides send saltwater upstream, with fresh
water flowing downstream with the receding tides. The mixed
salt and fresh (brackish) water, which extends 153 miles up
the Hudson River to Troy, has historically supported a rich
variety of animal life. Regrettably, New Yorkers, from colonial
times, have responded to Nature’s bountiful gifts by exploiting
them – overfishing to the point where species eventually disappeared
– and by using waterways as giant sewers for organic and industrial
wastes. By the end of the 19th century, local waters were
in sad shape.
The Federal Clean Water Act of 1972 spurred
governmental and private efforts to reverse these conditions,
and the last thirty years have seen dramatic improvements
in water quality. There have been encouraging increases in
the diversity and numbers of aquatic creatures in New York’s
major waters, and also in smaller watercourses such as the
Bronx River, Newtown Creek, and the Gowanus Canal. (Not very
long ago, Newtown and Gowanus were often compared to smelly
open sewers.) Despite these heartening developments, serious
problems persist, including toxic PCB residues in bottom sediments
and many animals, and continuing risks of oil spills.
Check out the sighting
log to record your interaction with some of the native
New York City wildlife featured in Urban Neighbors.
You may also browse the sighting log by animal, borough, park
or natural area, and/or habitat to view a sighting you have
submitted or to read others’ observations.
Blue Crab / NYPL
Atlantic Cod / NYPL
American Shad /
Harbor Seal / NYPL