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.