The winds were brisk. The seas were lumpy with lots of whitecaps. At about 9:00, the phone rang. Julie Albert, Marine Resources Council, relayed a call: whales in south Flagler, moving slowly south. The initial call came from Linda Grissom, an off-duty team member (her neighbor alerted her and she in turn went to confirm). Team 4 was alerted. They re-positioned. At 09:10 team leader Stephanie York called: yes, further confirmed as right whales. The responders and drone operators got on the road. Lookouts at a walkover at the Flagler/Volusia line reported a possible mother-calf pair. At 10:39, the whales were approaching Highbridge, within the Peninsula State Park. A mother-calf pair was confirmed. In windy and challenging conditions, drone operator Ralph Bundy obtained the identification photos we were looking for. Images were relayed to our colleagues with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Team in Ponte Vedra.
Soon, the information came back: Katie Jackson, Florida Fish & Wildlife, identified the mother as Catalog #3370 with her 2nd calf. Wait! The story gets better. This was a new report for the season—a new mother-calf pair! This brings the total to six—we are inching forward!
The whales are like mirages. They appear and disappear. Female #3370 was sighted without a calf on 1 January. At the time, she was with another adult female, #2503, Boomerang, also without a calf. Six weeks later she appears in south Flagler—with a calf. Since the 1 January sighting, Boomerang has also had a calf.
The Marineland Right Whale Project has prior experience with this right whale. She was also seen by us in February 2005 and March 2009. There are some unknowns: her age is unknown; her mother is unknown.
The drone (and drone operator) has/have once again proved its/their value. On a day when windy conditions precluded the survey aircraft from flying, the Marineland Right Whale Project’s volunteer sighting network, supported by the drone photography, was able to add a noteworthy finding to this season’s right whale research.
The research is conducted under NOAA/NMFS research permit #20626. The drone is flown by an FAA-certificated drone pilot.