There’s wildlife everywhere by the Jersey shore. From fish and marine mammals by the beaches and bays to bugs and furry friends in the forests, parks, and wildlife refuges, it’s hard to find places where you can’t spot animals. Here is just a small selection of the Jersey shore wildlife you can look for on your next visit.
The Humpback whale is massive, growing up to sixty feet long. They’re baleen whales, meaning that they feed by opening their mouths and letting krill – more than 1 ton a day – flow in rather than hunting fish. Although labeled endangered, partially due to getting caught in fishing nets, this magnificent mammal comes to New Jersey every summer to eat. While you can find them all along the shore, the best way to ensure spotting them is to go whale watching in Cape May.
The Delaware Bay is the primary habitat for horseshoe crabs, which have been around for 400 million years. Their numbers have dwindled because fishermen use them for bait and medical researchers use their blood, which has the unusual property of clotting when exposed to bacteria. It’s important to protect this creature, often found dead washed up on the shore rather than alive and thriving, because birds rely on their eggs as a source of food while migrating.
Bottlenose dolphins visit the Jersey shore in the summer after spending the winter by North and South Carolina to eat and breed. These outgoing animals travel in pods of up to hundreds of other dolphins. The best way to see them is on a dolphin watching tour.
Northern Diamondback Terrapin
The NJ native Northern Diamondback Terrapin is one-of-a-kind: the only species of terrapin that lives in a mix of fresh and saltwater. They lay eggs on the shoulder of roadways, so be careful not to hit them on your trip to the shore! Look for them in marshes, especially in Little Egg Harbor Township.
Also known as mole or sand crabs, these are one of the tiniest species of crabs at about an inch. They inhabit the place where waves break on the beach and hide in holes they make in the sand, only their eyes poking out and looking towards the ocean. They use their antennae to catch plankton to eat, while some beachgoers snack on them! So is the Circle of Life. They are especially common on Long Beach Island. The best way to find them is to dig where they live!
These adorable animals are more common on the Jersey shore, especially Sandy Hook, Barnegat Light, and Ocean and Atlantic Counties, during the off-season, when they attempt to stay away from predators. You might want to pet them, but unfortunately, it’s illegal and actually dangerous (They bite!) to even go near them.
The only bear species that inhabits the state, these omnivores eat almost anything, even trash!
These howling canines aren’t the kind you would want for a pet! Like black bears, they aren’t picky about their food. They are quick, intelligent, and careful. This past summer, reported coyote sightings have increased down the shore.
The national symbol of the United States, this carnivorous bird nests near bodies of water, feeding their babies fish and other meat. Although previously endangered, protective efforts have taken this species off of the list, and populations have flourished in New Jersey ever since!
Great Blue Heron
At 4 feet, this wading bird is the tallest in the state. It moves slowly and stands still until fish or frogs approach before catching them in its mouth.
Named after the dark feathers by its neck, this bird uses its brown feathers as camouflage to match the leaves on the ground in the woods. When necessary, they can fly extremely fast.
You’ll hear this bird before you see it as it pecks to trees to search for and eat insects. They also use their beaks to make square holes in trees for nests. As if they weren’t loud enough already, their call sounds like laughter.
This dark-eyed owl actually doesn’t hoot: it hisses and whistles instead. They eat the rodents that wreak havoc on livestock and crops.
These furry creatures live in tree hollows or leaf nests and eat the acorns of the New Jersey state tree, the red oak. They store these acorns underground for the winter. Despite their name, not all gray squirrels are gray: some are actually black!
There are thousands of other species of Jersey shore wildlife, so be sure to look for them all on your next trip!