HIGHLANDS — The Jersey Shore has a rather large visitor this weekend and State Police are asking people to keep their distance.

A humpback whale was spotted in the Shrewsbury River near the Route 36 bridge about 9:25 a.m. Friday.

The Marine Mammal Stranding Center considers the whale to be healthy but the organization's executive director told the Asbury Park Press that a boater had inadvertently struck it. 

State Police asked boaters to avoid getting a closer look as it could scare the whale from leaving the river.

Whales have been sighted several times in the past few years. In 2011, according to the nonprofit Gotham Whale, five sightings were reported in the Atlantic Ocean from New York harbor to Fire Island and  the Manasquan Inlet. In 2018, the sighting count topped a whopping 270. Many sightings occurred less than 2 miles from the shoreline.

Researchers say the most likely reason for the sightings is a growing population of Atlantic menhaden, a major food source for the whales.

Brian Shea, a member of Long Branch Ocean Rescue, encountered a whale on Sunday while on his rescue board. Shea told NBC New York the whale was swimming up and down the shoreline.

In September, a 19-foot minke whale that washed up at Island Beach State Park in Berkeley was starving to death when it was euthanized.

A dead humpback whale washed ashore at Sandy Hook in August days after what appeared to be the same carcass was spotted floating off the Jersey Shore.

Previous reporting by Dino Flammia and Erin Vogt was used in this report

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