Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Survey Season to End Early

After evaluating the lack of right whales in the Southeast US and the absence of sightings in our survey area, we have decided to end our survey season two weeks early. The last surveys will take place on Sunday, 26 February. We made a similar adjustment to our survey season in 2012, when we had a total of two sightings of the same juvenile right whale.
We are deeply appreciative of the continued diligence and enthusiasm that our volunteers have shown in maintaining survey effort. It is by this dedication that we can conclude that the whales are absent.
The Air Cam will continue to survey once a week throughout March. Despite the early end to our season, there is always room for the unexpected.  Volunteers, beach goers, mariners, and fishermen, are encouraged to continue to scan the ocean. If and when a whale (including a humpback) is sighted, please note time and location, photograph if you are able, and call toll-free 1-888-979-4253 (1-888-97-WHALE), or the Marineland project number, (904) 923-5050.

Media Coverage

The St. Augustine Record published a good article on the program and season results on page 3A, today, Tuesday, 14 February. It can be seen online here:

We expect a similar article in the News-Journal this week.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Humpback Revealed

The humpback whale that has caused our phones to ring over the last several days was finally captured on camera. Photographer Tony Caruso of Flagler Beach sent us images he took on 24 Jan. at 11:30 AM from N 23rd St. One example is shown here. 

Yesterday, 25 January, following on a call from Team 4 in Ormond-by-the-Sea, the Air Cam crew spotted it as well, about a mile and a half east of Flagler Pier. The whale was surfacing briefly and intermittently, and observer Terry Clark caught it just before the Air Cam flew past it. The humpback was swimming steadily northbound and the plane circled for nearly 20 minutes before Terry obtained enough photos. Below is one with the distinguishing characteristics highlighted.

Along with the humpback, the Air Cam crew also observed several manta rays breaching, which have also caused the phone to ring. This behavior involves the large rays hurtling out of the water, flipping headfirst upside down, and hitting the water on their backs, resulting in a very large and dramatic splash. The black back followed by a quick glimpse of the white belly has inspired many people to report that they saw a whale. Manta rays normally reach our survey area in late March or early April, after right whales have migrated north, and when ocean temperatures have warmed. The Air Cam documented the rays from Ormond Beach to Flagler Beach, something to keep in mind as you are surveying!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Teased by a Humpback

The phone is ringing! But, not for right whales. Since Saturday, we have had a humpback whale in the area from the St. Augustine Beach Pier south to Ormond Beach and back again to North Flagler Beach.

The whale is showing familiar humpback behavior: moving quickly, surfacing briefly, and showing little else. On Saturday, 21 January, just after noon at the St. Augustine Beach Pier, Team 1 made the initial sighting. They alerted their team leader, Diane, who verified it as a humpback from the small dorsal fin. Jim responded with the big camera, meeting Team 1’s Andris Duffy at Butler Beach. Together, they followed the whale south to Crescent Beach (photo above), but it moved too quickly and erratically to obtain photos. Their sighting form (excerpt below) allows us to make three notes: 1) the in the absence of photos, the reason for the species ID is recorded, 2) behavior is recorded, and 3) a drawing has been included showing the distinctive scraped and scarred dorsal fin. So, when your opportunity comes, these additions to the Notes section of the sighting sheet are valuable.

On other news: Joy and Jim were interviewed for the Palm Coast Observer, so check out the paper on Thursday.
Lastly, when things are going well, your help is valuable. When things are not going as well (as in no right whale sightings yet), your help is even more valuable.

And as always, here are wishes for “Light Winds and Heavy Whales.” Keep your flippers crossed!

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 (http://www.firstcoastnews.com/news/local/st-augustine/right-whale-watchers/386721627). And, the January 2017 issue of Right Whale News has been posted (www.narwc.org, 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: https://youtu.be/ga6jtCWcPYY. 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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M18HxXve3CM