Monday, December 20, 2010

Right Whale Mother and Calf Tour Our Coast

The mother and calf spotted by the FWCC aerial survey team on 16 Dec (Thursday) near the St. Augustine Inlet and reported at the St. Augustine Pier on Friday evening through the MRC Right whale hotline were very tentatively identified as right whale #2413 and calf. The pair made their way south over the weekend. The MRC hotline reported a whale on Saturday morning, just north of Marineland, headed south and we picked them up just south of Marineland. From a 6th floor perch at Surf Club we photographed them to confirm it was #2413 again. We followed them as they continued south, then, late in the afternoon, between 16th Road and Jungle Hut Road, they turned north for a short while and then headed southeast out of sight as the sun set.

Yesterday, 19 Dec., one of our Sector 4 surveyors spotted them around 1:00 pm from his condo in Ormond Beach. This time they were headed north. We lucked out as the pair hung out in front of another surveyor’s condo, also in Ormond Beach, giving us a great view from the 17th floor. After several hours of circling in the same general area, mother and calf headed north and then out to sea as daylight faded.

If the ID is confirmed, Right whale #2413 has visited our section of coastline twice before, in February 2003 and February 2005. In 2005, we sighted her with a calf.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, 21 Dec., is forecasted to have light winds and calm seas. We are planning an AirCam survey and hope to see this pair again. A total of three mother/calf pairs have been documented in the Southeast US this season. Keep your eyes peeled!

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Whales Are Here!

The first confirmed right whale sighting in our area was made Wednesday, 15 Dec. by the AirCam crew! Joy and Becki braved the cold weather for the first Marineland Project aerial survey of the season and discovered a single right whale about three miles east of Ormond-By-The-Sea, swimming steadily south, escorted by a handful of bottlenose dolphins. The whale’s identity is unknown at the moment and we see no resemblance to photos of right whales that could potentially give birth this season. Given the cold temperatures and windy weather, it quite likely that whales are moving into our area without being detected further north. A mother and calf were spotted near the St. Augustine Inlet yesterday by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) aerial survey team and Julie Albert of Marine Resources Council received a report of a mother and calf near the St. Augustine Pier around 5:30 pm today, 17 Dec., headed south, too late in the day for us to respond. So, if you haven’t done so already, it’s time to dust off those binoculars and turn your eyes toward the ocean. There’s no telling where the whales will appear!

New Information on the Web

Several good resources have just been posted on the web.

Marine Resources Council’s latest Right Whale Volunteer Newsletter can be seen at the following link:

The December 2010 issue of Right Whale News has been posted at Click on Right Whale News, and "Current Issue." The issue reports the population estimate, changes in science and management for North Atlantic right whales, and a report on Whale Fest 2010.

The 2009 – 2010 Marineland Right Whale Project season report is available at Click on “Right Whale Report ‘10”

Monday, October 25, 2010

Important Dates for the Season

Greetings to all! We trust that you had an enjoyable summer and fall and are looking forward to another year’s adventure with the whales. A couple of weeks ago, it was really feeling as though right whale season was fast approaching, with morning temperatures in the 50’s and the air conditioning turned off all day. The return to warmer days will end soon enough and it will be time to turn our eyes seaward in anticipation of the whales’ return.

Our eleventh season will get underway much the same as in past season, except that we are scheduling three training sessions instead of two. The extra one will be held in St. Augustine Beach to attract more interest in that area. The Flagler training session will be held on the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway, since so many volunteers come from Palm Coast. Here are the dates for these sessions, the orientation and survey dates. As with last season, we are planning for ten weeks of survey that we can shorten if the whales depart early.

The Right Whale Festival in Jacksonville Beach is returning for its second year and will give us the chance to celebrate the return of the whales to our area and raise awareness in the community. See below for details.


Training Sessions for new volunteers and anyone wanting a refresher.

Saturday, Dec. 4

9:30 am to 11:00 am
Flagler County Public Library
2500 Palm Coast Parkway, NW
Palm Coast

Saturday, Dec. 4
2:30 pm to 4:00 pm
Ormond Beach Public Library
30 S. Beach St., Ormond Beach

Thursday, Dec. 9
6:00 pm to 7:30 pm
Anastasia Island Branch
St. Johns County Public Library
124 Sea Grove Main St.,
St. Augustine Beach

«« Orientation Session for all volunteers, new and returning, who are planning to participate in the dedicated survey effort:

Sunday, Jan. 2
3:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Center for Marine Studies, Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience
9505 Ocean Shore Blvd., Marineland

Surveys Start: Mon., Jan. 3

Right Whale Festival

The 2nd Annual Right Whale Festival will be held on Saturday, November 20, 2010 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm at the Sea Walk Pavilion in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. The festival includes a beach clean-up, live music, kids’ activities, arts & crafts, exhibits, including Marine Resources Council and Marineland Right Whale Project, a silent auction and a beach run. Weather permitting, the AirCam will overfly the festival just before noon. The festival poster is attached. Please visit for more information.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Right Whale News Available

The September 2010 issue of Right Whale News has been posted on the Right Whale Consortium website (

Monday, April 5, 2010

Wrong ID Yields New Record

Identifying whales from our photos is a relatively new skill for us. Most of the database photos that we use for comparison are aerial shots. Identifying individuals from land-based photos is a bit trickier, but we've had a number of successes, bolstering our confidance. Then there came the sighting when we were confident of our provisional ID, but we were wrong. On 30 March we photographed a mother-calf pair from Surf Club III, just south of Marineland. We recorded the sighting as mother #2614 and calf. Later in the day, colleagues at Florida Fish and Wildlife obtained aerial photos. It in fact was mother #3360 and calf. The callosity patterns of these two individuals are similar, so we didn't feel too bad. But it was a lesson learned. Yet, there is an upside to the story--because #3360 was an additional mother-calf pair for us this season, bringing the total to eight--the highest number recorded for our area to date.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Stealth Whales

The right whales are heading north, bound for their summer feeding grounds in Cape Cod, the Gulf of Maine, and Canada. Our last photographed sighting (female #1620 and her fifth calf) was on 8 March, south of Hammock Dunes. The last sighting (verified but not photographed) in our area was 13 March in Daytona Beach. But, we have had calls most every day since. We have responded from land and air. Our ability to obtain verifications has been between poor and dismal. Such was the case only yesterday, when a whale was reported just south of Flagler Pier by one of our long-time survey volunteers. The AirCam crew had one brief (should we say extremely brief) glimpse, and despite searching for nearly an hour, never saw it again (the figure shows our search pattern; 243 is the location of the brief sighting--how could we POSSIBLY miss it??). These are almost certainly humpbacks. We now call them "stealth whales."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The End of Right Whale Season is in Sight

Yes, we really are into the end of our season. Whale sightings south of Amelia Island have dropped off drastically indicating that the whales have begun their northward migration. Here are reports of recent sightings and a plan for the next couple of weeks.

On 28 February, Mobile survey team 2 sighted mother #1701, Aphrodite, 23 years old, and her fifth calf from the Marineland Mound. We last sighted her in 2004.
The next day, Jim and the acoustic boat crew recorded the pair northeast of St. Augustine in deeper water, still heading north.

On 2 March, Mobile survey team 3 phoned with a sighting. It was a familiar mother, #3123, swimming south off Flagler Beach.

During our "Whale Blitz," on Monday, 8 March (and good weather for a change), a Hammock Dunes team member called in a sighting around 10:30 a.m. The AirCam was on site shortly and identified them as female #1620 ("Mantis") and her fifth calf. This was our first sighting of this pair for the season. Mantis was last seen in the Southeast in 2007. We saw her only once, in February, with her fourth calf. Mantis is at least 24 years old, yet the verified sightings of her are few in comparison to her age, indicating that she may generally prefer habitats that are not regularly surveyed.

Mantis and her calf were sighted for the first time this season well to the south by the Florida aerial survey team on 21 February. The calf may be as young as 2-3 weeks, and we wonder if this pair will stay around longer to allow the calf to develop before beginning their journey northward. Jim and the acoustic boat recorded this pair, and we await results.

The acoustic boat was out again on Tuesday, 9 March, and was surprised by breeching humpbacks at the end of the day, just as they were returning to the harbor.

Now for the plan. Mother-calf pair #2430 has not been seen coming north, and there are several potential mothers that have been seen without calves that could appear most anywhere with new calves. So, even though, our formal surveys end this Sunday, 14 March, we are requesting everyone to be on the lookout for season-end sightings.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Whale Blitz

The weather and sighting conditions for much of the season have been marginal. As a result, we only have a glimpse of what the whales are doing this year. The calf count is now up to 15, but we wonder how many have been missed. And, there are whales to the south of us that we expect to pass through our area.

Now, we have three days of good weather coming--Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. This is our chance to get good information at the tail end of our TENTH season. The AirCam will be flying. The boat will be out conducting acoustical work. We are asking everyone to be at full strength and full search mode. We are declaring a WHALE BLITZ!

On a sad note, it appears that one mother may have lost her calf in the last few days. If so, the calf may wash up on the beach in our area. Recovering it could give us important information on its cause of death. Please look on the beaches as well as scan the ocean.

As always, thanks for your help!

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Big Picture

The weekend of February 19, 20, and 21 brought good weather and good sighting conditions. The six survey teams, aerial and on the ground, from South Carolina to Florida covered the usual areas. In addition, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Team flew a survey offshore and south past Cape Canaveral. This combined effort recorded 71 sightings in three days, which were widely distributed throughout the region. The key to the plot is MC=mother-calf pair, GROUP=groups of 3 or more individuals, and SPR=singles and non-mother-calf pairs. Click on the plot to see a larger version.

Mother-calf count update ... as of this date, 14 mother-calf pairs have been reported. The number is slowly creeping up. In one instance, female #3260 was observed by two aerial survey teams alone on one day and then by another team on the next day with a calf.

The February issue of Right Whale News is now posted to the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium website at Click on the "current issue" tab for the February 2010 issue. Back issues are also available.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Humpbacks Depart and Rights Return

With the winds finally abating enough for the AirCam to fly, we had hoped to photograph some of the humpback whales that frequented our coast all week, but they have vanished. No sightings were reported on Friday or Saturday anywhere and the AirCam crew saw none on either day, despite flights down to Canaveral Seashore on Friday and Cape Canaveral on Saturday.

Happily, the right whales made a number of appearances throughout our area. Today, Saturday, just before 8:30 am, Mobile Team 1 called in a sighting from St. Augustine Pier. The sighting had an unexpected aspect and reminds us about a part of our work, documenting human impacts. One of the ten individuals had two sets of propeller scars across its back as seen in the photo. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission team identified the whale as #3745, a three-year-old male, who received these scars sometime in the last year from an unknown vessel impact.

Some familiar whales were sighted by shore teams and the AirCam. Female #3123 and her calf swam by Flagler Beach Pier on Friday, allowing our land camera to capture this great close-up of the two. They also appeared further south today, along with two other mother-calf pairs, #3157 (about a mile north of Matanzas Inlet) and #2430 (5 miles north of the shuttle launch pads in Cape Canaveral). This indicates that these pairs are lingering in our area.

On another note, we often see dolphins with the whales. This is an image of a single individual with a dolphin escort photographed by the AirCam crew east of Canaveral Seashore.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Better Weather Ahead for Whale Watching

After days of wind and cold, it looks like we are finally getting a break. Starting tomorrow, Friday, the winds should diminish and temperatures should begin to climb back into a more Florida-like range through Sunday. We are planning to fly the AirCam all three days. In addition, while the humpbacks have kept us busy chasing after them up and down the coast, there are indications that right whales are out there, too. We confirmed two adult right whales at the north end of Butler Beach, near St. Augustine. We also had a right whale sighting report from Surf Club, just south of Marineland, but the whales headed out to sea before we could arrive. So, here’s to light winds and heavy whales over the next few days!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Humpbacks Make a Mid-Season Appearance

On Monday, 15 February, Mobile team 4 called just after 9:00 am to alert us of a possible whale sighting. As they watched to confirm, the team spotted dorsal fins – humpback whales!

Arriving on scene, Dr. Jim and Sheila set up on the fifth floor of the Nautilus Condo, one of our community teams. They observed diving birds and one to two humpbacks surfacing repeatedly in a manner that identified this as a humpback feeding area. Unlike right whales who rarely, if ever, feed here due to low concentrations of their preferred food, copepods, humpbacks that do visit are often seen feeding.

This rare opportunity had everyone’s nearly undivided attention, except, thankfully, Nautilus’s co-team leader, Dale, who scanned the ocean to the south and discovered right whales in the distance. Initially, they appeared to be two adult/juveniles. Happily, they swam closer and revealed themselves as a mother and calf pair. Despite a sea state 4, the photos were clear enough to identify them as female #3123 and her calf. The calf must have been feeling at bit exuberant, leaping out of the water and showing off a white belly as seen in the photo.

While Dr. Jim and Sheila focused on photographing this pair, humpback sighting reports continued to come in from teams as far north as Varne Park in Beverly Beach and to the south in Ormond Beach. We surmise that there may have been up to four humpback whales working the area throughout the day. In seasons past, when we have seen humpbacks, they have appeared later in the season, in mid to late March. Last weekend, we responded to sighting calls where we could not find whales. Perhaps, these humpbacks were teasing us with glimpses as they often do. They may remain in our area for another day or two, so keep a sharp eye out for a whale that rolls at the surface like a dolphin and has a small dorsal fin about two-thirds of its body length from its head.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Whales in the Rain

Every day and every season is different! This season so far has been cold and windy. On some days, we add fog and rain. These conditions have kept the AirCam on the ground for almost two weeks. Yet, we have sightings. On Thursday, 4 February, we had mother # 3123 and her first calf (see below). On Tuesday, 9 February, we had a mother and calf, possibly #3123, in Ormond, and probably another pair just south of Hammock Dunes. The whales are around! We are hanging on as best we can, awaiting a stretch of good weather--when we hope for "light winds and heavy whales."

Tenth Mother and Calf Identified

Last week, the Traveling Trevallies, a group of Georgia Aquarium volunteers who seek out volunteer opportunities with other organizations to broaden their experience, augmented our mobile surveys. On Thursday, 4 February, they were on an afternoon survey in Sector 4 with Mobile team leader, Becki Smith. The group spotted a mother and calf in Ormond Beach. After Jim Hain and Sheila McKenney arrived with the land camera, the two whales moved close enough to shore for photos and were subsequently identified as #3123, a nine-year-old with her first calf.

This is the third time this season that Marineland Project responders have photographed a new female right whale with a calf. It is uncommon for this event to occur once in a season. To have three such occurrences suggests that right whale movement patterns may be different this year. This new mother brought the season’s total in the Southeast to ten.

So far, we have seen four different mother and calf pairs. Three of these we have not documented in our area since the Project began in 2001. Could the extreme cold weather last month have influenced some pregnant females to travel farther south? The next few weeks, when sightings here tend to peak, may provide clues to answer that question.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Whale “Daze”

The end of last week will certainly be one for the Project’s record books. Thursday and Friday, 28 and 29 of January, produced some of the highest numbers of sightings and right whales that we have seen in nearly a decade of working in this area. We also benefited from nearly ideal conditions to spot and photograph the whales.

As the AirCam prepared to take off on Thursday, whales had been reported off St. Augustine Beach, Marineland, South Flagler Beach and Main Street Pier in Daytona Beach. Flying north from Matanzas Inlet, the AirCam did not find whales despite searching between the Pier and Butler Beach, but did find a large pod of dolphins about a mile offshore. Flying south, we spotted and photographed female #1950 and calf just south of Marineland and include one of the photos here. From there, the AirCam continued south and confirmed two more females with calves, #2430 in South Flagler Beach and #3157 in Daytona Beach Shores along with numerous adult/juvenile pairs and groups just north and south of Flagler Beach Pier. In all, we counted 16 whales. This was the first time we had three mother/calf pairs in one day. This also was the first time in the Project’s history that we have seen female #1950 in our area.

We thought that was a day not to be repeated very soon; and then came Friday. Calls reporting whale sightings began just after 7:00 am. The locations given were scattered from North Flagler Beach to Ormond Beach. The AirCam located a large group of adult/juvenile whales clustered in twos and fours, spread out north and south of the Flagler Beach Pier up to two miles offshore. We counted 15 whales. In the midst of this group, but off by themselves and closer to shore, was female #1950 and calf. To the south, near Grenada Blvd. in Ormond Beach, the AirCam photographed female #2430 and calf, bringing the total for the day to 19 whales.

Saturday capped off the week with an early call from staff at Marineland of Florida reporting whales just to the east of the facility. Threatening storms kept the AirCam grounded and we were able to confirm at least three right whales from the Surf Club as the scattered group headed south.

We are still sorting out the photographs and flight data to figure out which adult/juvenile whales were in our area and for how many days. This second photo shows the dramatic white belly of one of the whales seen on 28 January. The whale’s head is toward the top of the photo.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Whale “Show” at Marineland

Right whale female #2430, also known as Minus One, and her calf appeared in the nearshore waters of Marineland yesterday and provided a great opportunity for observation. Several calls reporting her presence came into our office nearly simultaneously, from Marine Resources Council relaying a call from the hotline and from Mobile team 2. The timing was near perfect. The AirCam was just beginning its survey from Matanzas Inlet and received the information via radio. In less than 15 min. we were circling over the pair for identification photos.

Minus One and calf drifted south over the course of the day, remaining relatively close to shore. Our last call came around 6:15 pm. They were directly off Moody Blvd. in the Hammock.

We last saw these two exactly one week before, on 20 January. At that time, they were in the New Smyrna Beach area.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Familiar “Face” Reappears

Early this morning, the Marine Resource Council’s hotline rang with a whale sighting from Ormond Beach. Responding, we found a mother and calf just south of Grenada Blvd. The pair was about three-quarters of a mile offshore and rather quiet, barely showing themselves and moving very little. We were fortunate to have access to an 11th floor condo for photos since they were very difficult to see from lower elevations. We stayed for over an hour, but the whales showed no inclination to move any closer for better pictures. This is the best of the morning and it was good enough to tell us that she was female #3157 and her calf, who we sighted previously on 13 and 14 January.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Whales Galore--Offshore!

For the sixth day in a row, a group of adult/juvenile right whales was sighted east of Ormond Beach. Mobile Survey team 4 has found them on most days and today was no exception. The group of whales was originally photographed by the AirCam last Wednesday, well offshore. They remain barely visible, particularly in the windy conditions we’ve had the last several days, and we have not been able to obtain good photographs of them from shore.

This was just one of four sightings on this gray, windy day. Mobile team 2 had distant whales off Malacompra, in the Hammock, and a member of Mobile team 1, not on survey, was riding her bike and spotted a distant group off Ocean Trace just south of St. Augustine. Lastly, Mobile team 4 also spotted a single adult off Flagler Pier and moving rapidly south. Of the four sightings, this was the only one that was close enough to photograph.

We expect another windy day tomorrow (Monday) but then improving conditions. So keep your eyes peeled. The whales are here!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

New Right Whale Mother and Calf Sighted

The Marineland Project’s AirCam took advantage of the spectacular weather on Tuesday and Wednesday and made several flights with great results. Interestingly, all but one of the sightings was of single, pairs or SAG’s (Surface Active Group) of adult/juvenile whales located two to five miles east of Ormond and Daytona. The exception to this was a mother and calf seen on Wednesday just east of New Smyrna Beach. The sighting, reporting, response, and photography that resulted in the addition of these two as a new mother-calf pair for the season provides an example of how the sighting network operates as well as the awareness level that is being achieved.

An unknown aviator in the New Smyrna Beach area contacted a Hubbs-Sea World dolphin survey plane to report that they had a whale sighting. Hubbs-Sea World then contacted the Marine Resources Council, who in turn relayed the information to the Marineland Project. The AirCam had just begun its flight for the day, and the information was passed to the crew by radio. After locating and photographing two adult/juvenile right whale sightings off Ormond, the AirCam continued south to New Smyrna Beach, and sighted the mother-calf pair just south of the inlet.

The mother has been tentatively identified as #2430 ... "Minus One" ... and is the eighth mother-calf pair for this season. The calf looks small in comparison to its mother, indicating that it may have been born recently. If so, it would be very interesting to know where.

This is a female with a southerly and coastal habitat preference that we saw in 2005: Feb 16 & 19; and in the 2006-07 season: Dec 27, 29, and 30; and Jan 3, 4, and 5.

Our sightings and photos are also on the NEAQ catalog page for this individual (, so have a look.

Right Whale Info on the Web

Looking for more information about right whales? Here are some excellent web resources:
Website for the Marineland Right Whale Project. Buttons located toward the bottom of the home page will take you to the Project’s page, information on the AirCam, and downloads for the Volunteer Handbook and the 2009-10 Season Report.
Website for the Marine Resources Council. Downloads for newsletters are here along with right whale information.
Website for the North Atlantic Right Whale catalog. Allows you to search for individual whales and see photos and sighting histories.
Website for North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium. Extensive information on right whales as well as the source for current and back issuesof Right Whale News, a quarterly newsletter covering right whale topics published by Associated Scientists at Woods Hole.

Friday, January 15, 2010

First Right Whale SAG of the 2010 Season

For the third day in a row, right whales appeared in the Project’s area. At 08:20 the Marine Resources Council relayed a sighting report from the vicinity of Frank Butler Park, south of St. Augustine Beach. Survey Team 1 arrived shortly thereafter to find a Surface Active Group (SAG) of right whales putting on quite a show. There was lots of white water, flippering, head-lifting and blowing. The team monitored the whales, drifting south, throughout the morning. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission aerial team reported the count at 10 whales. By the afternoon, the group had moved further offshore, where the AirCam crew took these photos. Note the white belly on one of the individuals, in the image to the left. Please be on the lookout, as we can't predict when or where a group such as this may reappear.

Right Whale Mother #3157 and Calf A Second Day

Sector 3’s Thursday survey team takes the honors for the first Project sighting of the 2010 season. They spotted mother #3157 and calf from Beverly Beach at 9:45 am. The two whales stayed close to shore, ambling steadily south and providing good viewing to all who were able to come out for a look. The AirCam flew down for aerial photos as the whales swam through north Flagler Beach.

Mother and calf drifted past Flagler Pier just after 2:30 pm, creating an excellent opportunity for this photo. We left them just after 3:00 pm, still swimming south at a leisurely pace.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Mother & Calf Right Whale Sighting

The AirCam made its first flight of the season yesterday, 13 January, departing Hastings at 12:30 pm. No sooner had the plane crossed Matanzas Inlet and begun its north track line than the crew spotted a mother and calf right whale. They were about 2 miles north of the Matanzas Inlet and about a mile offshore. What a great way to start the aerial season!

The mother has tentatively been identified as #3157. She is nine years old and this is her first calf. A photo of the two is attached. This sighting is the first of her as a new mother.

Also yesterday, Julie Albert of Marine Resources Council photographed two whales off Melbourne Beach. It’s shaping up to be an active season!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The southern-swooping jet stream that has provided the frigid temperatures to start our season may have nudged the whales our way as well. Last week, a single right whale was confirmed off the coast of Indiatlantic, south of Cape Canaveral. In the last two days, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission aerial survey team reported right whales between 4.8 and 13 nm east of the St. Augustine Inlet. The sightings included one mother/calf pair and two groups of five whales headed in various directions. Today, they had three sightings between 8 and 13 miles north of Ponce Inlet, including another group of five whales. While the whales in the last two days traveled too far east for us to see and photograph from shore, it appears that they are moving into our stretch of coastline. Keep those eyes on the ocean!