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!