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.