Thursday, January 19, 2017

Program Update

This is the hard part! We are 2 ½ weeks into our surveys. The water is warm, the ocean is quiet, and right whales are few in number. What lies ahead? We don’t know! But good science and conservation calls for us to stay with it.

So far, there are only three mother-calf pairs reported for the southeastern U.S. And, only a single adult male, Catalog #3530, Ruffian has been reported. None of these have been sighted in our area. But there is hope. Catalog #1711 and her 
calf were photographed south of Cape Canaveral, off Satellite Beach on 14 January (image to right) and off Sebastian Inlet the next day. There is a chance they will come back north into our area. And, we are always on the lookout for additional mother/calf pairs.

On other news: Team 1 and Joy were interviewed for Channel 12 news on Monday, 16 January ( And, the January 2017 issue of Right Whale News has been posted (, select Right Whale News, and then Current Issue).

Here are wishes for “Light Winds and Heavy Whales.” Keep your flippers crossed!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

MLD Right Whale Program Update for 10 January 2017

Our surveys began on 2 January. In the first week, we had four days of good conditions, including an AirCam flight on Thursday. Despite a good search effort, there were no sightings. In fact, taking into account the Florida Fish & Wildlife team, there were no right whale sightings in Florida waters.

There is news from elsewhere in the southeastern U.S. The first right whale mother/calf pair for the season was sighted by the Georgia aerial survey team on New Year’s Day, about 2 miles off St. Simons Island. She is Catalog #1711, a 30-year-old with her third calf. We saw her off Crescent Beach in February 2001 (our first season!) with another female. 

Next, on 5 January, the Florida Fish and Wildlife aerial survey team sighted an entangled right whale, with lines through its mouth, off the Georgia coast. The Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources team attached a telemetry buoy to the trailing gear, allowing the whale to be tracked. The following day, 6 Jan., the combined teams from FWCC, Georgia DNR, and NOAA Fisheries successfully removed all visible lines and retrieved a round net/trap that the whale was dragging. This all took place some 20 to 30 miles offshore east of Cumberland Island, Georgia.

This rescue is relevant for us because the whale involved was Catalog #3530, named Ruffian, a 13-year-old male whom we have sighted nine times from the year he was born in 2004 to 2011. And, Ruffian experienced entanglement before, in 2008. Though he was not sighted while entangled, it must have been brutal because the extent and severity of his wounds had us all wondering if he would survive. We sighted him about two years after this entanglement event from the AirCam, on 19 Jan 2010, with a large group of whales over 3 miles east of Ormond Beach. As can be seen from this photo, Ruffian, on the right, still had significant scarring. The following year, on 16 Jan 2011, we again saw Ruffian with a large group of whales that stretched, in small groups, close to shore, from Granada Blvd. in Ormond Beach to Main St. Pier in Daytona. 

Week #2 began with cold, windy weather and cancelled surveys. Today, 10 January, the weather is improving and looks promising for the next few days. We will be able to see if the wind and cold of the past several days have persuaded any whales to head our way.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


We certainly hope that this finds everyone recovering well from the turmoil of Hurricane Matthew. The Project was very fortunate; our office at the GTM NERR Science Center was undamaged as well as the hanger in Hastings where we keep the Air Cam. The majority of our survey locations are useable and we are developing alternatives for those that may not be serviceable in time for the surveys. We are making preparations for Season #17 and look forward to seeing all of you who will be able to help out this winter. As a possible harbinger of the season to come, the first right whale has reached the SEUS! South Carolina’s Dept. of Natural Resources reported a sighting of a single adult on 16 Nov. near the SC/GA border. We can hardly wait to see what is in store for us!


Right Whale Introductory Talks for new volunteers, surveyors and spotters alike, and anyone wanting to know how to spot right whales. If you are a returning volunteer and would like a refresher, by all means join us. (Encourage friends and neighbors to attend!):

Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016
11:00 AM to 12:30 PM
Southeast Branch
St. Johns County Public Library
6670 US 1 South
St. Augustine

Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016
10:00 to 11:30 AM
Flagler County Public Library
2500 Palm Coast Parkway, NW
Palm Coast

Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016
6:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Ocean Art Gallery
206 Moody Blvd.
Flagler Beach, FL

Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016
10:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Ormond Beach Public Library
30 S. Beach St.
Ormond Beach

Survey Training Class for ALL SURVEY volunteers, new and returning, who are planning to participate in the dedicated survey effort:

Friday, Dec. 30, 2016
2:30 PM to 5:00 PM
Center for Marine Studies, Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience
9505 Ocean Shore Blvd., Marineland

Surveys Start:
Monday, Jan. 2, 2017

Surveys End: 
Sunday, March 12, 2017

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Right Whale Updates

On 5 May a dead right whale calf was discovered floating off the southeast corner of Cape Cod and towed to shore for a necropsy. The New England Aquarium identified the male calf as this year's offspring of Catalog #1281 (Punctuation). There were several large propellor cuts along the calf's body and the preliminary necropsy results point to possible ship strike as the cause of death. We await the results of tissue analysis to confirm if the propellor wounds occurred before or after the calf died. Punctuation and her calf were last seen in Cape Cod Bay on 28 April. The Seasonal Management Area protecting right whales in this area by requiring ships to slow down to 10 knots or less ended for the season on 30 April. This is the second of the 14 calves born this season to be lost.

If you have been at the beach between St. Augustine Pier and Ormond Beach and thought that you saw the Air Cam going by, it wasn't your imagination. We assisted the Georgia Aquarium with their manta ray research by flying surveys throughout April and May. If the weather cooperates, we might get one more in before we end on 31 May.

We made some improvements to the video of our volunteers in action this past season. The new YouTube link is: The link below has been updated, too.

The answers to this question range from the aesthetic (the world would be a lessor place without these magnificent creatures) to the moral (we have no right to wipe out a species that existed long before ours). Now, there is a very practical reason to devote time and energy to preserving whales, one that directly benefits humans, too. Watch this excellent and interesting video on the role that whales play in supporting life in the ocean: 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Thank you to our Dedicated Volunteers

The Marineland Right Whale Project could not function without the countless hours of volunteer assistance to find and follow the whales. Teams of trained surveyors brave cold and wind to carry out their observations, often without seeing a whale on their survey days. There are also the many opportunistic spotters, who likewise contribute. Many lasting friendships have blossomed during the 10 weeks the teams are together. This video is a compilation of team photos and other recollections of the past season. Our heartfelt thanks to everyone who contributes to the science and stewardship of right whales. (Note: A higher-resolution version is available on YouTube with this link:


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Another Humpback: Caught “Napping”

Humpback whales are generally a challenge to photograph, whether from land or air. They tend to move quickly, sometimes erratically, and spend very little time at the surface. On Monday, 28 February, the Air Cam crew spotted a humpback about a mile southeast of Surf Club (condos south of Marineland) that conveniently remained virtually motionless at the surface the entire 15 minutes or so we circled for photos. This behavior is known as logging and is likely how whales rest. 

Once we had our photos, we circled well to the east to report the whale’s position. When we returned to resume our aerial survey, the humpback was gone. They are unpredictable like right whales, and it is good to know that at least a few are out there! 

A 14th right whale calf has been confirmed! Catalog #3101 (Harmonia) was seen with her second calf off Amelia Island on 17 February. We saw Harmonia once before, in December of 2002, when she was two years old. We have also learned that Catalog #3450 (Clipper) and #4094 were sighted off the Georgia coast on 27 and 28 February. They slipped by us going north and we are wondering if this is signaling the end of our season. But, because the whales are unpredictable, we always leave room for surprises. No telling what might happen in the month of March!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Offshore Humpback Whale

The Air Cam crew spotted a humpback whale yesterday, 22 February, about two miles east of Varn Park and Beverly Beach while flying southbound on the 1.5 nm track line. The humpback surfaced briefly, taking several breaths, then submerged for several minutes, repeating this pattern while swimming steadily to the southeast as the Air Cam circled for photos. The one below shows the distinctive characteristics that let us know that this is a humpback and not a right whale; small dorsal fin and long white pectoral fins.

The surveyors in Sector 3 saw the Air Cam circling, but the whale was too far offshore and too low in the water for them to see.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Right Whale Double-Header

Any day that contains a right whale sighting is a day to celebrate. To have two mother and calf pairs in one day? That’s over the top!

On Wednesday, 17 February, flying southbound on the 1.5 nm track line, the Air Cam crew was startled (and thrilled!) when the first pair surfaced almost next to the right side of the aircraft just south of Sunglow Pier in Daytona Beach Shores. We were not surprised, however, since Catalog #3450 (Clipper) and calf had been confirmed just north of Ponce Inlet the day before. As the Air Cam circled for photos, the mother’s tail came to the surface, and it had two complete flukes. This was not Clipper! Instead, we provisionally identified them later as Catalog #4094 with her first calf.

In this photo, the calf has its flukes draped over the mother’s rostrum.

Our first sighting of #4094 came in January of 2011 when she was a yearling and part of a large aggregation of some 13 right whales spread out in small groups from Granada Blvd. in Ormond Beach to south of Main Street Pier in Daytona. We also saw her again in the 2014 season, a year before she would become pregnant with her current calf.

Continuing south, the Air Cam crew harbored the hope that Catalog #3450 (Clipper) was out there and she did not disappoint. Returning northbound on the 0.5 nm track line, the crew spotted her and the calf about 4 nm south of Ponce Inlet. The two were quite close to shore, just beyond the surf line in turbid water. The calf was very active, swimming around, under and over Clipper. In this photo, the calf has its chin on Clipper’s back.

On the ground, Jim made calls to volunteers, Volusia Beach Safety, and the Marine Discovery Center. Numerous people responded and sent reports and photos of both sightings throughout the afternoon. It was a very effective synergy!

We showed a video that nicely described Clipper’s adventures in Sebastian Inlet. Here is a link to view it on Vimeo: Jim presented plots of dates showing the first and last sightings of the season in previous years and described the data as having a great deal of variability. He underlined how the complexity of short and long term weather and climate cycles and trends make predictions of right whale behavior very difficult.

The Project has a new research tool to enhance collection of right whale behavior. We recently acquired a DJI Phantom 3 Pro Unmanned Aircraft (drone). We also received the necessary NOAA Fisheries permit and FAA authorization for approaching right whales with the UA. We demonstrated it at the Gathering and one of our volunteers videoed the short flight.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Sighting Update

Late yesterday, Julie Albert, our colleague with Marine Resources Council, received a photo of a right whale swimming south along Canaveral Seashore and we assumed that is was likely Catalog #3450 (Clipper) and calf. However, Julie also received a reported whale sighting just north of Ponce Inlet, where we saw Clipper the day before. These two locations are too far apart to be the same whales, so the possibility exists of additional whale(s) unknown to us. Many thanks to Becki and Team 5 for extending their land survey south to check out the area. Nothing has surfaced so far today, but we know that the whales can appear at any time! 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

First Right Whales Give Us Several Days of Viewing

It was a long wait to see our first right whales and, thankfully, they stayed around several days, giving us multiple opportunities. The first came on Friday, 29 January. Julie Albert of Marine Resources Council, received a Right Whale Hotline call around 11:15 AM from Gary Carter in Ormond-By-The-Sea that he had two whales in sight. Julie called us. Becki, who happened to be in the area, was on scene less than a half hour later. She confirmed a mother and calf. Joy and the Air Cam were in the middle of an oil change. Sheila responded with the
big camera, acquiring excellent photos that identified the pair as Catalog #3450 (Clipper) with her first known calf. 

Clipper and her calf’s presence in the SEUS was first documented by Julie of MRC on 19 January, in the Cape Canaveral area. The two whales were subsequently sighted and confirmed on the 20th and 21st in this same general area. Knowing this, we anticipated that we might see them again.

Early the next morning, Saturday, 30 January, Carlos Diaz of Ormond Beach called Becki shortly after 8:00 AM with news that he had whales in sight. By 9:20 AM, Becki had them at Cardinal Drive in Ormond Beach. The whales were a
mile and more from shore, moved little, stayed low in the water, and disappeared for minutes at a time, making them very difficult to see. The Air Cam crew, on site about 11:30 AM, did spot them and the photos confirmed that Catalog #3450 and calf were still in the vicinity. 

Sunday, 31 January, was a perfect day with the best sighting conditions so far this season. Yet, despite survey teams out and the Air Cam flying, Clipper and her calf were nowhere to be seen. Just after 9:00 AM on Monday, 1 February, Julie called with a Hotline report from Ray Walker of whales in Wilber-By-The-Sea, about 3 miles north of Ponce Inlet. The Air Cam photographed them, confirming Clipper and calf once again. This day, the pair came in closer to shore and offered a much better view for observers. 

Clipper’s sighting history began in 2004, but her age at that time was unknown. She has been documented during several winter seasons in the SEUS, but not by the Marineland Right Whale Project, so this was our first sighting of her. Perhaps, it won’t be our last!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Whales to the North and Whales to the South

The mother and calf right whales spotted yesterday off S. Ponte Vedra were initially sighted by our colleagues on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission aerial survey team. Since the whales were about 5 miles north of the St. Augustine Inlet, Jim relayed their coordinates to the Air Cam crew to conduct follow up documentation. With excellent weather conditions, the Air Cam team spotted the pair and succeeded in obtaining photographs.

The mother is Catalog #3317, a 13-year-old whale with her second calf. We saw her in our area in 2003, when she was a calf, and again in 2006 as a juvenile. She and her calf were first sighted this season on 10 December by the FWCC aerial team.

To the south, two right whales were reported in the Cape Canaveral area on 19 January. Our colleague, Julie Albert of Marine Resources Council, verified them to be a mother and calf and obtained photos. The mother has been identified as Catalog #3450 (Clipper) with her first known calf.

This brings the total number of calves born this season to eight! Progress indeed. Plus, we know that at least one pair of whales has traveled through our area. We have to think that more will follow as the sea surface temperatures take on the profile that, in the past, has generally been correlated with sightings on our area. Take heart and keep looking seaward! 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

You Can See Whales in Sea State 5

The last two days have brought rough seas with numerous white caps, difficult conditions under which to see whales. But, not impossible, as Pat LaMee in Sector 5N (Daytona Beach) discovered when, surveying from Andy Romano Park yesterday, he spotted a breaching whale. The whale breached numerous times over several minutes, then disappeared. There was no time to mount a response and the short viewing time coupled with challenging sighting conditions made it difficult for the team to see the details necessary to positively identify it as a humpback or a right whale.  Hats off to Pat for a good catch and providing encouragement for the rest of us! 

The next two days should have much improved conditions and we plan to have the Air Cam flying. Let’s see if we can find more whales!

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Whales are here, but not HERE

Our season is getting off to a slow start. We began our shore-based surveys on January 4  with high hopes of “Light winds and heavy whales,” but the reality was different. The initial six days were characterized by cancelled or partial surveys, gray and foggy skies, rain and drizzle, windy weather, and lumpy seas. In addition to the compromised shore surveys, the Air Cam, our survey aircraft, was grounded by poor weather throughout the week. The warmer air and ocean temperatures were not likely to encourage the whales to move south and we would have been hard-pressed to see them if they had appeared.

The second week started off with much cooler and calmer weather, allowing for all shore and aerial surveys to be out looking. There were a pair of adult right whales sighted on 11 January, northeast of St. Augustine, but that is as far south as sightings have occurred this season. The good news is that three new calves were discovered, although all were well to the north of us, off of the Georgia coast. The mothers are Catalog #1810, #2520, and #1281 (Punctuation). The total for the season is now six calves. This is the fifth calf each for the first two mothers and Catalog #1281 is here with her eighth calf. None of these three has been documented by the Project along our stretch of the coast. However, there are two females that have been sighted in the SEUS, Catalog #3560 and #4040 that could potentially give birth and we have documented these two in our area.

Jim Hain, our project scientist, analyzed mother/calf sightings south of St. Augustine and the results showed great variability. In the recent ten years, the first sighting of the season came as early as November 29 and as late as February 1. With cooler water now pushing south towards our stretch of coastline, this may be the week for our first sighting!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

BOTL Injured Right Whale

We received a report that the Georgia aerial survey team spotted an injured whale, Right whale Catalog #3670 (Cherokee) yesterday near Jekyll Island. She has entanglement wounds and is missing part of her right lip. Cherokee’s physical condition is not good. Her skin is very light grey and appears white in some places, especially across the top of her head. This along with the missing chunk of lip will likely look different from a typical right whale when viewed from shore. At the time of yesterday’s sighting, she was traveling south at 3 knots, a fairly rapid speed for a right whale. She is very thin, so warmer water will not necessarily deter her from continuing south. Please keep this description in mind and Be On The Lookout for this whale if you are on the coast. Better documentation of her injuries is sorely needed.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

First Right Whales In the SE US

Despite the warmer temperatures, right whales have begun to appear in the calving grounds! Two days ago, our colleagues with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission aerial survey team discovered two mother/calf pairs, one, Catalog #3317, close to shore in Ponte Vedra. Click on this link to see photos from both sightings;

We documented Catalog #3317 in our study area as a calf in 2003 and saw her again as a juvenile in 2006. We have not seen Catalog #3115 in our area, but Jim Hain photographed her in the Bay of Fundy in August 2002.

Humpbacks, too, have made an appearance. One was documented by local photographer Tony Caruso around 12:30 PM from 16th St. N in Flagler Beach. Follow this link to see those photos:

Dust off those binoculars and get ready! The season is upon us and it’s time to start looking seaward for those telltale signs. We expect to begin flying aerial surveys with the Air Cam next week. To report a sighting, call me at 904-669-8615 or Julie on the right whale hotline 1-888-979-4253.