Saturday, April 12, 2014

Right Whale #3546 Update & Earth Day Event


The last sighting of Catalog #3546 and calf occurred on 3 April in Cocoa Beach, confirmed by our colleague Julie Albert of Marine Resources Council. The pair travelled very little the entire day, giving us no hint of where they might appear next. Two days later, Julie relayed information from a Hotline call reporting whales in south New Smyrna Beach. Jim and Joy flew down in the Air Cam and searched the area thoroughly, saw no whales, but did see dozens of manta rays, including some of the largest we have ever observed. Mistaking manta rays for right whales has happened before with less experienced observers, so we believe that the mantas were the source of the whale reports. With more than a week passing since the last sighting, it’s becoming more likely that mother and calf may have slipped past us and are on their way north. Nevertheless, we remain ready to respond in the event the duo reappears.

“Ocean Frontiers” on Earth Day

A free screening of the full (80 minute) version of “Ocean Frontiers” is scheduled for 6:30 PM on 22 April at the Whitney Laboratory Center for Marine Studies building (where we hold our Gatherings). “Ocean Frontiers” chronicles the collaboration of some unlikely allies to devise solutions to environmental problems that benefit both the users and the ecosystems. One of the examples involves reducing ship strikes of right whales in the Northeast.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Right Whale #3546 and Calf at Canaveral Seashore



There were no phone calls yesterday alerting us to where Catalog #3546 and calf might have traveled overnight and for a good reason. Joy and Becki, flying in the Air Cam, spotted the pair about a mile-and-a-half south of the Canaveral National Seashore Headquarters, where there are
very few humans to see them. They were a scant quarter mile from the beach, in near perfect conditions, and quite active at the surface. The photo to the right is of the mother upside-down with the calf lying over top of her chest between her pectoral fins. And, yes, they were STILL headed south!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Right Whale #3546 and Calf Still Swimming South


Our first report of the day came early as Julie Albert of Marine Resources Council called Jim with a Hotline report of whales in Daytona Beach Shores shortly after 8:00 am. With the weather better than originally forecast, we decided to launch the Air Cam. Jim took a turn as aerial observer while Becki headed to the site. As she came to A1A from Dunlawton Avenue in Port Orange, Becki
spotted them through her windshield. Yes, Catalog #3546 and calf were just offshore and heading south. When the Air Cam arrived about two hours later, the pair had traveled south of Sunglow Pier. In the photo to the right, the calf appears to be lying on the top of Mom’s head.

Becki stayed with them for another three hours, securing the watch at 3:17 pm from North Turn Restaurant. If they continue like this, mom and calf could be back in New Smyrna Beach or as far as Canaveral Seashore tomorrow. We plan to have the Air Cam flying to follow them!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Right Whale #3546 & Calf Continue South


On their way home from church this morning, veteran surveyors Dale and Peach Hench cruised north along A1A in Ormond-By-The-Sea while, of course, watching the ocean when what did their trained eyes see? Catalog #3546 and calf just south of the World War II tower! They stopped and then stayed with the whales, moving south until Jim and Joy could arrive with the camera. We followed the steady progress south of mother and calf all afternoon. Periodically, they would
stop for a short while and the mother would roll on her back with pectoral fins extended in the air. See the example photo to the right.

We left them at Granada Blvd. just after 5:00 pm. Julie Albert of Marine Resources Council emailed us this evening that at 7:35 pm a Hotline report placed them in north Daytona Beach. We can hardly wait to see what they will do next!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Right Whale #3546 & Calf on Schedule and Elusive


Once again, the Marine Resources Council’s Hotline came through as Julie called Jim just after noon with a report of whales at Hammock Dunes, about where we expected them to be based on yesterday’s position and behavior. Forty minutes later, Sharon Ralston, leader of the Hammock Dunes Survey Team, sighted them at the clubhouse and Jim brought the camera. Finding a
mother and calf right whale already well to the north, Jim barely had time to squeeze off a few photos before they moved out of range.

Jim and Sharon repositioned at Jungle Hut Road, where Joy joined them, but the whales were nowhere to be seen. Meanwhile, in the space of less than an hour, the sea state had increased from a Beaufort 2 to a 5! A beach-goer passing by told us that he had seen a whale at Jungle Hut before we arrived and it was heading north. This suggested that the whales had increased their swim speed, so Joy moved to 16th Road. She finally spotted a vigorous blow to the south and Jim repositioned here, but the whales were now moving rapidly north and east, very low in the water a mile or more from shore, out of reach of the camera. We kept track of them through their infrequent blows.

Concerned that the photos we had would not be enough to ID the whales, we called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) aerial survey ground contact to check if their survey plane was available to respond. They were and arrived at our position just before 3:00 pm, although the sea state, now bordering on a Beaufort 6, obscured the whales on their first pass and we radioed them from the ground to relay a new position. It worked and the observers confirmed our suspicion that they were likely Catalog #3546 and calf. Given their rate of travel, they could be off St. Augustine tomorrow!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Right Whale #3546 and Calf Finally Headed North?


Tuesday, 25 March, and today, 27 March, brought fresh sightings of Catalog #3546 and her calf. On both days, the initial calls came through Julie Albert and the Marine Resources Council’s Hotline. On Tuesday, the pair was in New Smyrna Beach and Julie herself drove up to take photos (she has the same 600 mm telephoto lens as we use) with Jim making the trip south to lend a hand. This morning, the initial reports around 10:00 am had the whales at the north end of
Daytona Beach, heading north at a steady pace that brought them to Ormond Beach by the time Jim could reach the area. Becki, with the help of Team 4 surveyors, Elaine and John Kelley, kept them in sight until Jim arrived.

If mother and calf continue on the same heading at a comparable swim speed, we could see them in Flagler Beach tomorrow. Of course, they gave us the slip before and reversed course, but, perhaps, the urge to head north to find the dense swarms of copepods (right whale food) is making itself felt. It’s worth keeping an eye out!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Right Whale Season Isn't Over Yet!


The hunt for Catalog #3546 and calf was on. They were last seen in Daytona Beach Shores on Monday, 17 March, slowly heading north. The weather was finally cooperating on 20 March and Jim had notified the team to be on the lookout. The Air Cam launched at 10:30 am. As it approached Matanzas Inlet to start our aerial survey, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) right whale aerial survey team radioed that they had a sighting just to the south of Washington Oaks State Park, near Sea Colony in the Hammock. Joy called Jim from the Air Cam to alert him. At the same time, the circling FWC Skymaster aircraft caught the attention of Sea Colony surveyor Sue Hecht and she called Paula Treidel, Sea Colony Team Leader, who notified Jim.

Finished with photographing, the FWC team radioed the Air Cam and relayed that the whales

were Catalog #2746 and calf, NOT #3546 as we had expected! After finishing our northern track line, the Air Cam came south and circled for photographs. The pair remained in the area, close to shore, throughout the day, affording us one of the best sightings of the season.

So, where did Catalog #3546 and her calf go? The answer became clearer yesterday as Julie with Marine Resources Council received a report of whales in Cocoa Beach. With the help of an FWC vessel, Julie was able to get photographs. They were provisionally identified as, you guessed it, Catalog #3546 and calf! We still have a chance to catch them on their way north, so keep your eyes peeled. Our response bags are ready to go!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Rainy Day Whales


Pouring rain…the perfect weather to work on data and straighten up the files. We call it an “indoor sports day.” We were well into it when, at 12:30, Julie Albert from the Marine Resources Council called with a Hotline report from Judith Terman of two whales, one small, from The Towers in Ponce Inlet. We were amazed! How could anyone see whales in this rain? Before setting out in this awful weather, Jim asked Julie to see if anyone could confirm that they were right whales. She called Michael Brothers of the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet and, heading to the beach, he reported seeing a mother and calf right whale, swimming north.

Jim and Joy arrived in the area around 2:30 PM and Julie provided contact information for one of the spotters, Sheila Lipp, who called in a recent report. In a stroke of very good luck, the whales

were still visible to the north from Sheila’s 7th floor condo, which came with a covered balcony overlooking the ocean. We were able to photograph the whales from this sheltered location. Suspecting this was Catalog #3546 and calf, we shared the photos with our Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission colleagues, who agreed.

After thanking Sheila, her husband, and friends for opening their home to us, we drove a little north to see if we could catch the whales straight out from the beach. Finding a walkover with a shelter, we searched the ocean, but mist descended quickly and within minutes it began to rain harder. With almost no visibility and no whales in sight, we secured the watch and headed home.

Since Catalog #3546’s calf was born somewhat later in the season, she may be lingering in the area to allow the calf more time to mature before beginning their migration north. Thus, if you happen to be along the coast in the next several days, take your binoculars with you and watch the ocean!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sebastian Right Whale Adventure


The data we collect contributes to a greater understanding of trends in right whale behavior and habitat use, but we also are intensely interested in what we can learn from the “outliers,” the whales that make use of the edges of the habitat and beyond. Yesterday, 10 March, we assisted our colleague Julie Albert of Marine Resources Council (MRC) to confirm the identity of one such pair of outliers.

On Saturday, 8 March, mother and calf right whales were reported to the MRC Hotline and photographed at Jensen Beach (just north of Stuart, FL). The photos provided confirmation of the species, but not the identity. Yesterday, Julie received a Hotline call just before 9:00 AM reporting whales in Sebastian (south of Melbourne) from a surf fisherman who had kept the yellow phone card he’d received years ago. Julie contacted Jim to see if we could help and Jim called Joy to prepare for a possible flight to Sebastian.

Julie called again shortly before 11:30 AM to report that she had the whales in sight. The Air Cam was already flying south on its regular survey and we decided to continue on to Sebastian. Two hours later, Joy called Julie for the whales’ current position and within minutes, Joy and Becki were circling for photos above the beautiful turquoise water.


The pair is provisionally identified as Catalog #3546 with her first calf. They were previously photographed by the Air Cam on Sunday, 2 March in New Smyrna Beach and are likely the same whales seen in Jensen Beach on 8 March. Assisting MRC in this endeavor accomplished two objectives; we confirmed the whales’ unusual journey south of the right whale critical habitat and have a better idea of how to position the Air Cam to respond to sightings further afield if desirable.

Having flown so far from its home base in Hastings, the Air Cam landed at Sebastian Airport and took on necessary fuel for both aircraft and crew before making the two-plus hour return trip to Hastings. Based on continuing Hotline reports, the whales are headed north and could arrive in our survey area on Friday or Saturday, just in time for our last two days of dedicated survey!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Monday’s Right Whale Identified



Thanks to our Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) colleagues, we have a
provisional ID for the mother right whale sighted in Ormond Beach on Monday, 3 March. She is Catalog #2645, an 18-year-old named Insignia. We last saw her in 2005. Photo attached.


The two female whales we sighted on Sunday, 2 March, Catalog #2746 and #3546 are an interesting coincidence…they are aunt and niece. Catalog #1246 is the mother of #3546 and the grandmother of #2746. We have not seen #2746 in our study area prior to this season, but we saw #3546 as a calf in 2005, then in the company of groups of whales in 2009, 2010, and 2011. She is also the only first-time mother so far this season. To date, there are ten mother/calf right whale pairs identified.


Right Whale News

The February issue of Right Whale News has been posted at www.narwc.org. Highlights include a mid-season update from the SEUS, Ship-Strike Final Rule, Navy funded research projects, proposed seismic testing, and information on the Black Sea Bass pot/trap fishery in the southeast.

And, if you have not already done so, please add or update your entry on the subscriber list via this link: http://eepurl.com/JvmKf. Beginning with this issue, all communication regarding Right Whale News will be delivered through the new subscriber service ("Mail Chimp") and the old distribution list will be deleted. The link is also available via the Right Whale News tab on www.narwc.org.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Right Whale Bonanza!



Sunday morning, 2 March, dawned with a thick blanket of fog over most of the coastline we survey, a condition we have faced quite often this season. To the very south, though, there was a break and, just after 8:30 AM, Debbie Cook, working the Sunglow Pier Bait Shop, called Becki with a whale sighting. Minutes later, Julie Albert with the Marine Resources Council Hotline, called Jim with a report from the same area. Doris and Robert Unger, Team 5, responded and confirmed right whales at Herron St. in Wilbur by the Sea. Jim and Pat Schubert headed south and Joy and Becki headed for the airport.

Doris and Robert held on to the whales until Jim and Pat could meet them around 11:15 AM at Winter Haven Park. They worked the sighting south and confirmed two right whales, but distance and fog prevented them from knowing if they were a mother/calf pair or two individuals. We needed the Air Cam. With the fog seeming to thin, Joy and Becki made final preparations and started the engines. At 12:17 PM, just as Joy was ready to taxi to the runway, Jim called and said to shut down, the fog had moved back in. Both teams grabbed some lunch and waited for the fog to clear again.


An hour later, conditions had improved, but the ground crew could not find the whales and assumed that they had moved south of Ponce Inlet. Fog was still clinging to the coast from Daytona north, so Joy and Jim decided to launch the Air Cam and fly inland to the south end of New Smyrna Beach, then out over the water and survey north with the sun behind them. At 3:30 PM, minutes after beginning to survey in New Smyrna, Joy and Becki spotted the whales and confirmed a mother/calf pair, Catalog #3546, along with a large number of dolphins. Photo attached. This pair had been sighted two days before, in the early evening, from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) aerial observer house in S. Ponte Vedra.

Meanwhile, in St. Augustine, Penny Bellas of Team 1, frustrated at having to cancel the morning’s survey due to zero visibility, decided to conduct her own survey in mid-afternoon when the fog had finally dissipated. Arriving at Crescent Beach Park at 3:45 PM, she picked up her binoculars for a closer look at a slick area in the water and spotted a very tall V-blow followed by a black head. With a longer look, Penny realized she
likely had a mother/calf pair and called Jim. As soon as Joy and Becki had finished photographing the New Smyrna pair, Pat Schubert radioed the location of this new sighting and the Air Cam headed north. At 4:45 PM, Joy and Becki spotted this second pair, Catalog #2746, who we last saw on Valentine’s Day.

But wait, there’s more! The FWC aerial survey team sighted a third mother/calf pair, Catalog #3157, about 5 miles east of Flagler Pier, bringing the day’s count to three mother/calf pairs, all of whom came south in the last week. Thus, it wasn’t a surprise when Monday, 3 March, brought news of another sighting.

Team 5 was at Al Weeks Park, Ormond Beach, just getting their survey sheet ready when, at 8:02, Pat Lamee spotted a mother/calf pair. They moved slowly south and east. At mid-day, the calf became quite active and breached several times along with some tail-slapping, much to the delight of those watching. Conferring with our FWC colleagues, our photos do not appear to match any of the three mothers from Sunday! Stay tuned for an update!

Friday, February 28, 2014

What About All These Humpbacks?!



Tuesday morning (25 February) brought another humpback whale sighting, this time in Beverly Beach, near the two campgrounds and City Hall. Martha Demers of Team 3 was the first to spot the large black shape around 10:30 am. An alert observer at the Flagler-by-the-Sea campground also called Julie at the Marine Resources Council hotline. In previous seasons, humpback sightings seemed more common early in the season (November, December) and late in the season (March,April). To date, we have had several humpback sightings throughout this season. Who are these humpbacks and what are they doing here?

On the 25th Becki Smith took photos (image below) and we shared them with our colleagues at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), who have collected humpback whale photos for a number of years and have assembled an informal catalog
of the whales seen by the SE US survey teams. Humpbacks are usually photographically identified by the pattern of white splotches on the underside of their tail and the formal catalog is curated by the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies (PCCS) on Cape Cod. But, unlike the situation in New England, the humpbacks here rarely raise their flukes. So we (collectively) have focused on dorsal fins and any body scars. Happily, these photos have been sufficient to distinguish between most individuals and indicate that some humpbacks are making repeat appearances. For example, yesterday’s humpback has a distinctive dorsal fin, and has been sighted twice before, on 30 December off Georgia and 9 February off Jacksonville Beach. Humpbacks, like right whales, appear to move around throughout the habitat.

Humpbacks are generally the same length as right whales, but are more slender and weigh less. Their more stream-lined shape allows them to swim faster and, thus, chase faster prey, such as the small bait fish that school in our coastal waters. Most of the SE US humpbacks appear to be juveniles. The PCCS has a dorsal fin catalog for humpbacks in the Gulf of Maine and has matched one humpback from the FWC catalog to a Gulf of Maine humpback. Hopefully, there will be more matches in the future and we will begin to have a better understanding of the humpbacks visiting our coastline.

Note: For a more complete description of humpback distinguishing characteristics with photos, see the “Right Whale Team Handbook” available as a PDF on www.aswh.org.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Humpback Whales Show Off in Flagler Beach



Judy Bowman of Team 3 spotted blows, breaches and dorsal fins in south Beverly Beach around 9:30 this morning and reported multiple humpback whales. At the same time, Julie with the Marine Resources Council’s Right Whale Hotline relayed calls from other spotters at Flagler Beach. The Sighting Network at its best!

On this truly glorious day, a pair of humpbacks stayed relatively close to shore and quite active as they moved south, putting on a good show for everyone who came out to have a look. Dave and Maryanne Gustafson enabled Jim to locate our camera
on the roof of the Aliki, 15 stories tall, and photograph the whales from that excellent vantage point. In the image to the right, note the characteristic dorsal fin that readily identifies it as a humpback.

Whales Keep Us on Our Toes



Two sightings of whales yesterday, within six miles of each other and rather far out to sea, had us working hard to figure out exactly what we were observing and underlined the importance of good coordination and data collection.

Team 3 started with a sighting that appeared to be a right whale just after 9:30 AM to the northeast of Beverly Beach Town Hall. About an hour later, Becki was able to confirm it was a right whale from Flagler-By-The-Sea Campground. As Jim headed south with the camera, Team 2 called that they had whales at Malacompra Avenue in the Hammock. Jim detoured there and eventually saw the backs and blows of what he thought at the time were two whales, but they were too far out for photos.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) aerial survey plane was reasonably close, and Jim contacted them about our sightings. About an hour later, they confirmed a humpback whale east of Malacompra. Considering how far from shore the whales were in both sightings, we began to wonder if we really had seen right whales. The FWC team checked further south where Team 3 had reported their sighting and located a single right whale, heading steadily south. Yes, Team 3 had seen a right whale!

The single continued south, videotaped by Dale Hench at the Nautilus Condo in S. Flagler Beach around 4:00 PM. We thought it might be an adult male,
Catalog #2510, that the Air Cam had photographed on Monday, one-and-a half-miles offshore from Crescent Beach, heading steadily south, surfacing only briefly to breathe. Our colleagues at FWC told us that yesterday’s single was a different whale, young, perhaps a yearling or two-year-old, who will be harder to identify.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

New Right Whale Arrivals



AIR CAM SIGHTING
Braving the chill of Valentine’s Day in the open cockpit of the Air Cam, Joy and Becki were rewarded with sighting Catalog #2746 and her third calf 1.5 nm east of Marineland. This is the first time we have documented this whale in our area. Jim, observing from the Marineland Boardwalk, could barely make them out and they disappeared quickly.

CALF COUNT INCREASES
The number of calves documented in the SE US grew by two in the last few days and now totals eight. Both new additions are familiar to us. Catalog #3157 was sighted off Ponte Vedra on 10 February. In 2010, the Air Cam team was the first to sight her with her first calf and we saw her another four times. Catalog #3546 was seen yesterday off Georgia. We first made her acquaintance in 2005 when she was a calf with her mother, Catalog #1246. We also documented her in 2009, 2010, and 2011 in the company of other whales. Perhaps, both of these mothers will come our way this season!

HUMPBACKS AROUND
Team 3 was barely on watch yesterday when Julie (Marine Resources Council Right Whale Hotline) called with a sighting report of three to four whales at the south end of Beverly Beach. Although the team and Becki did not sight the whales, they met a couple from the nearby campground who had seen them earlier and had a photo that clearly showed a dorsal fin, confirming humpbacks.