Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mother and Calf Right Whale Sighted in the SE US

Exciting news! The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's aerial survey team spotted a mother and calf right whale yesterday, 20 December, just off the Southern Georgia coastline. The identification of the mother is pending. Water temperatures in our area remain a bit warm, but the whales are headed south!

The 2011 season report for the Marineland Right Whale Project is now available on the Project website, The link is located toward the bottom.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Right Whales Sighted in the SEUS

The aerial survey teams to the north of us are beginning to see right whales in the Southeast US. On 15 December, two adult/juveniles were confirmed off of the South Carolina coast and two adult/juveniles a few miles east of St. Simons Island, GA. Our temperatures this December are significantly warmer than last year, no doubt influencing a later arrival for the whales. Nevertheless, we are ready!

The Project’s AirCam made its first flight of the season yesterday, 16 December. We flew a 3 nmi and a 1 nmi line between Matanzas and Ponce Inlets. We saw no whales, but did spot a manta ray on the 3 nmi line east of Daytona Beach. It’s unusual to see one so late in the year.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Welcome to the start of our twelfth season! The whales are still north of us, but we have been busy making preparations for their return. It won’t be long now.

Right Whale Introductory Talks for new volunteers, surveyors and spotters alike, and anyone wanting to know how to spot right whales:

Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011
10:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Ormond Beach Public Library
30 S. Beach St., Ormond Beach

Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011
3:00 PM to 4:30 PM
Anastasia Island Branch
St. Johns County Public Library
124 Sea Grove Main St.,
St. Augustine Beach

Monday, Dec. 5, 2011
1:00 PM to 2:30 PM
Flagler County Public Library
2500 Palm Coast Parkway, NW
Palm Coast

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Right Whale Survey Plane to Appear at Wings Over Flagler Fly-In

We have wanted to do this for some time. The AirCam is an important part of the Project. However, most people only get to see our plane at a distance, flying along the shoreline or circling over whales. Now, the opportunity to see the Marineland Right Whale Project’s AirCam aerial survey plane up close is coming next weekend. We have teamed up with the Flagler County Airport to bring the AirCam to the Annual Wings Over Flagler Warbird Fly-In at the airport on Saturday, March 26th from 9am to 5pm and Sunday, March 27th from 9am to 3pm. The AirCam will be on exhibit along with the equipment used for aerial survey and displays showing various aspects of the Project.

Tickets may be purchased in advance at the Flagler County Airport Office or online at Select Tickets on the Home page for the online link.

Advanced Purchase Tickets
$5.00 Adults 18yrs and over
$3.00 Teens 13-17 years old

At the Gate General Admission
$7.00 Adults 18yrs and over
$5.00 Teens 13-17 years old
Free for kids 12 and under w/Adult

In addition to the AirCam, there will be over 60 warbirds to view up close, aerobatics and flight demonstrations, opportunities to meet pilots and crews, and other events. For a list, select What to See from the website’s home page.

The Flagler County Airport is located 1.4 mi west of I-95 (Exit 284) on State Road 100. The address is 283 Old Moody Boulevard. Palm Coast, FL 32164.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Right Whale News Available

The February issue of Right Whale News has been posted at From the main menu, select Right Whale News, and "Current Issue."

Highlights include a mid-season report from the Southeast US calving grounds and a review of the outcomes from the Southeast Implementation Team’s 17 November 2010 meeting.

Previous issues also are available.

A new mother and calf pair were sighted a few days ago and confirmed as the 19th calf born this season. The female is Catalog #3020, Giza, with her second known calf. The pair was spotted by the South Carolina aerial survey team.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Whales Keep Us Guessing…Again

Just as we thought that the season may be drawing to a close, the phone rang on Friday afternoon, 25 February, with a sighting from Surf Club, about a mile south of Marineland. To our surprise, we confirmed a mother and calf, heading SOUTH! We followed them to Washington Oaks, then to Malacompra Park, where we left them still swimming steadily south. They obliged by coming within a quarter mile of shore and we were able to identify them as #2660, Gannet, a fifteen-year-old female, and her third calf, born sometime before 21 December. This was our first view of the pair in our area this season. Gannet has a white belly and you can see the white chin of her calf in the photo.

Naturally, we looked forward to sighting them again on Saturday, but coastal fog kept surveys and the AirCam on hold. By 3:00 pm, the fog had finally lifted enough to launch the AirCam, but despite calm seas and surveying out to 3 miles offshore, Gannet and calf were not to be found.

Friday also brought the good news of a newly sighted mother and calf pair just to the north of our area. Female #2790 and her third calf brought the total count of calves born this year to eighteen.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Another New Right Whale Mother and Calf

With the quickly rising sea surface temperatures, it appears that the 2011 season may be drawing to a close. Whale sightings have diminished over the last week and when they are sighted, the whales are mostly offshore and out of sight of land. Surprises remain, however. On Tuesday, 22 February, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission's aerial survey team sighted a mother-calf pair 6.4 miles northeast of St. Augustine. It was the 17th pair for the season, #3130 with her second calf (the previous was in 2008).

The Marineland Right Whale Project’s acoustic sampling boat, on the water that day, received the whales’ location from the FWC team. As the winds calmed and the sun brightened, the curious calf and its mother came by for a close approach. The team recorded and photographed this pair over the course of the afternoon.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Where are the Whales?

The short answer to the above question is, “not where we anticipated they would be, based on past seasons.” Our most recent sightings, a humpback whale on 18 February and female right whale #3430 and calf on 19 February, were both offshore, on the 3-mile trackline now flown regularly by the AirCam. Shoreline sightings are remarkably non-existent. This reminds us of the 2008 season, when the right whales departed our area early, and our last sighting of the season occurred on 12 Feb. However, that season was the warmest of our eleven seasons and the current season has been one of our coldest. Last season, another very cold one, the whales seemed to linger in our area, not completely departing until well into March. We still have much to learn about what influences the whales’ movements. They may yet reappear, with water temperatures warming over the last several days.

 On a very positive note, the FWC aerial survey team spotted a new mother and calf on 13 February. They have been provisionally identified as #1245, Slalom, a 29-year-old female with her fifth calf. This brings the total for the season to 16, a very respectable number.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Offshore Sightings

As the sightings from shore became scarce, the AirCam altered its survey track to fly a coastal, 1 nm line south, then shift east and fly a 3 nm line north. The result is a couple of sightings we would otherwise have missed. On 9 February, Jim and Joy flew this pattern and discovered right whale mother #2413 (provisional ID) and calf 3 nm east of New Smyrna Beach. About 15 minutes later, they spotted a single right whale, provisionally identified as #3560, 3 nm east of Daytona Beach.

We last saw #2413 and calf on 17, 18 and 19 December. In those three days, the pair traveled from St. Augustine Pier to Ormond Beach. They were subsequently spotted several times to the north of our study area, apparently making the rounds this season. The sighting of #3560, a six-year-old of undetermined gender, was our first this season.

On Sunday, 13 February, Jim ventured out of St. Augustine Inlet in a 24-foot rigid-hull inflatable boat to collect sound recordings of right whales. The FWC aerial survey team relayed two of their sightings some 9 nm east of Vilano Beach, one a mother and calf. The AirCam flew out to photograph the boat and the whales, recognizing mother #1604 and calf, a pair that we’ve seen several times this season.

 In a pattern reminiscent of last season, when temperatures were on the colder side, the whales are around, but currently further offshore. With a warming trend between now and the end of the week, the whales could move in and be visible from shore. Plus, we are still looking for some females, #1622 and #2753, to appear with calves. The season is far from over!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Whale Blitz a Success

Our concerted effort by land and air over the weekend and into the beginning of this week to find whales paid off, resulting in several sightings of mothers and calves in our area, including one pair that we had not seen before. It began on Saturday, 29 Jan, with calls from the MRC Whale Hotline of whales near Sunglow Pier in Daytona Beach and Cinnamon Beach in Palm Coast and from Team 2 with a sighting off Washington Oaks. Joy and Sheila in the AirCam responded to all three, but did not see any right whales. Toward the end of the AirCam survey, northbound near Anastasia State Park, Sheila spotted a mother and calf who proved to be #3270, Pico.

The next day, Sunday, 30 Jan, Julie from MRC called early with reports of whales in Crescent Beach. Fog rolled in and obliterated the view before the response team could arrive. As the fog lifted, Team 1’s Leader acquired them at the walkover just south of Spyglass Condo. It’s Pico and calf again! As the AirCam photographed this pair, Jim and Sheila responded to a Surf Club team report and confirmed another mother/calf pair, #3430. After photographing this pair, the AirCam with Joy and Becki continued south to Cape Canaveral, sighting a humpback whale near the beach along Canaveral Seashore.

After this flurry of activity, Monday, 31 January was strangely quiet, despite near perfect sighting conditions. The phone didn’t ring once and the AirCam surveyed along a 3 mile offshore track from Matanzas Inlet to south of New Smyrna Beach with no whales to be seen.

Events picked up again on Tuesday, 1 Feb as Team 3 spotted whales at Beverly Beach, a near miracle at 1.5 miles offshore in hazy conditions. The AirCam confirmed these as Pico and calf, making this pair and #3430 the most frequently sighted whales for us this season.

Julie from MRC called again just after 1:00 pm with a sighting at St. Aug. Beach Pier. At this point, the AirCam was well to the south so Jim contacted the Florida State aerial team who conveniently were just taking off from St. Augustine. They confirmed a mother/calf pair, #2746, a 14-year-old female with her second calf.

After completing the coastal survey line south of New Smyrna Beach, the AirCam again flew out to a 3 mile track line and followed it north. This time, east of New Smyrna Beach, Sheila’s eagle eyes spotted a mother and calf new to us this season, #3240, Orion, age 9 with her first calf. With Orion, we have now seen seven of the fifteen mother and calf pairs reported in the SE US.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Returning Right Whale Mothers

Two right whale mothers that we saw earlier in the season were spotted over the last couple of days in the southern section of Volusia County. On Saturday, 22 January, a call to the MRC Whale Hotline from the resident of a beach condo in Daytona Beach Shores gave us the opportunity to document provisionally identified mother #1604 and her calf. The two were nearly a mile offshore in a Sea State 5 (LOTS of white caps) when the response team of Becki, Joy and Sheila got the camera in place, but the photos were just clear enough to make out her callosity pattern and a distinctive white dot near her left blowhole. Check this out in the lowest right hand photo on the Right Whale Catalog website ( We saw this pair on 28 December in Crescent Beach and on 11 January in Ormond Beach.

Yesterday, 24 January, the AirCam crew of Joy and Becki discovered a mother and calf two miles south of Ponce Inlet. For several minutes, only the calf appeared at the surface, intermittently, swimming north, causing Joy and Becki to wonder if they were observing a very small yearling or an orphaned calf. Then, mom rose into view through the turbid water. She has been provisionally identified as #3430, age seven years with her first calf. We photographed her from the AirCam on 4 January in Vilano Beach

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Yesterday morning, Wednesday, 19 January, just after 9:00 am, on her way to meet up with the Sector 4 Mobile team, Becki spotted a whale breaching in South Flagler Beach, about 1.5 miles from shore. The Sector 4 team joined her to follow the whale south. Shortly thereafter, the Sector 3 Mobile team called with a whale sighting from Beverly Beach, also moving south. To top off the morning, Julie from Marine Resources Council called with a sighting report via the Hotline of a whale a few miles north of Ponce Inlet. To complicate matters, a heavy fog bank moved ashore mid-morning, obscuring all trace of the whales. When it finally cleared, the wind came up, creating abundant whitecaps (sea state 4) and the whales could not be reacquired.
Thankfully, the fog dissipated and the low clouds lifted shortly after noon, enabling Joy and George to bring the AirCam out to help. They located Becki’s sighting first, now a mile or so south of Flagler Beach Pier. It proved to be a new mother/calf pair for the Marineland Project. The mother, provisionally identified as #1911, Mystique, is 22 years old and this is her fourth calf. She was last seen on 4 January off the coast of Georgia.

Feeling as though they may have missed a whale, Joy and George flew back north and located Sector 3’s sighting about a mile north of Flagler Beach Pier. This was a single whale, likely a juvenile. The ID is pending.

Flying south, the AirCam picked up the MRC hotline sighting. This proved to be a single whale, too, who was loitering about a half mile east of the entrance to Ponce Inlet. This ID is pending as well.

While the AirCam was busy in the Ponce Inlet area, the visiting team of volunteers from the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, conducting an afternoon survey in Sector 4, called with a sighting just south of North Peninsula State Park in Ormond-By-The-Sea. The whales were difficult to see and Sheila sent a text message to the AirCam, who received it about 5 miles south of the sighting. After several minutes of looking, helped significantly by Sheila on the aviation radio, Joy and George located a mother/calf pair, recognizing Pico, #3270, the pair they had photographed yesterday in Palm Coast.

The AirCam headed back to its home in Hastings, but the Georgia Aquarium volunteers were not finished. Late in the afternoon, they called with another sighting in South Flagler Beach. The whale was closer to shore and Sheila was able to get photos. Comparing these with the AirCam photos, they matched the single whale seen by the AirCam north of Flagler Beach Pier earlier in the day.

Sighting and documenting so many whales in such challenging conditions is a great example of how the Project’s components of trained and experienced shore teams, the AirCam, and the various communications channels complement each other to attain a successful outcome.

A Large Group and a New Mom

We are approaching the busy point in our typical season and the whales are turning up with more frequency. On Sunday, 16 January, the AirCam crew of Joy and Sheila confirmed a group of 13 adult/juveniles in Ormond/Daytona Beach. The Florida aerial survey team had documented the same number the day before in a similar location and it appears that they didn’t go far overnight. The whales were spread out in groups of one to four animals from Grenada Blvd in Ormond Beach to a half mile south of Main St. Pier in Daytona Beach. While most of the identifications will come later, there was one outstanding individual who we were able to recognize easily from the air, #3530, named Ruffian. Several years ago, Ruffian was photographed with serious wounds on his back and tail stock, possibly the result of a severe entanglement that he managed to resolve on his own. Thankfully, he survived, but carries the distinctive reminder of that incident. Ruffian was photographed in nearly the same area almost a year ago by Joy and George in the AirCam.

On Tuesday, 18 January, Sector 2 reported a sighting from Malacompra Rd in Palm Coast, about a mile or more offshore (good catch!). The low dense cloud cover lifted just long enough for Joy and Becki to bring the AirCam on site and document a mother/calf pair. The mother has been provisionally identified as #3270, Pico, with her first calf. This is the first time that we have seen her this season.

Sector 3 had a sighting from Golden Lion in Flagler Beach, also a mile or so offshore (more great eyes!). Sheila responded, but the single right whale was too far out for photos and the threatening weather prevented the AirCam from coming down to photograph.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mother and Calf Right Whales in Ormond

After several days of windy weather and no sightings, the Tuesday morning fog lifted and a soft sun emerged to reveal whales to a former surveyor, still on the alert, who phoned the MRC Right Whale Hotline number at 11:02. Mobile Survey Team 4 acquired them and followed ... working south to the North County Beach Patrol Tower in Ormond. Here, the whales came closer and the response team of Jim, Sheila, and Becki were able to get photos and confirm a mother-calf pair! They were provisionally identified as mother #1604, age unknown (but more than 25 years old) and calf number unknown. In the image, the thin white scar on the right lateral surface helped with the identification. We previously saw this mother and calf on 28 December off Crescent Beach.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

AirCam Helps Out

Our surveys began on Monday, 3 January and at 9:10 on Wednesday morning, 5 January, the

Hammock Dunes team became the first of the survey season to call in a whale sighting. Shortly thereafter, Team 3 called from Varn Park. Kudos to both teams, as the sky was heavily overcast, the light very flat, and the whales a bit offshore and low in the water. Jim and Sheila responded and initially agreed with the teams that the two whales were a mother-calf pair. One of the whales had the classic calf-shaped head, resembling a Morgan horse, but sporting a full set of callosities. It was a puzzle. The AirCam arrived and confirmed the pair to be two juvenile right whales instead of the mother-calf pair.

This shows the value of the plane to accurately report sightings, and underlines the importance of careful observation. The photos are of one of the whales, taken from the land and AirCam. Note the dolphin’s dorsal fin in the land photo and the unusual series of small callosities along the whale’s lower jaw in the AirCam photo. ID’s for both of the whales are pending.

On Tuesday, 4 January, a call to the Right Whale Hotline resulted in a sighting in north Vilano Beach being relayed to the AirCam via the FWCC aerial survey aircraft to verify and photograph. Although a little

to the north of the area we usually cover, the AirCam was in the vicinity on survey and gladly detoured to assist in documenting the pair. The female is tentatively identified as #3430, a seven-year-old female with her first calf. They have been sighted several times in this general area in the last week or so. We saw her as a calf in 2004 and again as a yearling in 2005.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

End of Year Right Whale Sightings

The year ended on a high note with right whale sightings on the 28th, 29th and 30th of December, including two mother/calf pairs we have not seen yet this season. On 28 December, a resident of Windjammer Condo in Crescent Beach called the whale hotline at 11:30 a.m. to report a right whale in front of her condo to Julie of Marine Resources Council. Julie called us and we responded, sighting at least two whales in the distance to the south of Crescent Beach Park. The whales remained mostly stationary, refusing to come within photographic distance to a public walkover, a challenge along this stretch of coastline. We finally gained access to a private walkover and discovered a female

tentatively identified as #1604 with a calf. She is an older female, 25 years or more, and has had at least one calf before this one. The Marineland Project documented her in our area on 25 January and 28 February in 2005.

29 and 30 December were stellar weather days and we took advantage of them by flying two surveys in the AirCam on the 29th, our typical coastal survey and an afternoon flight three miles offshore. On this flight, we sighted a single adult/juvenile right on the survey line east of New Smyrna Beach. We do not have an ID for this whale yet.

On 30 December we flew a standard coastal survey and spotted a female tentatively identified as #3010 and her calf just north of the St. Augustine Inlet, our turnaround spot. This was the first time we have documented this female and it was the first sighting of her this season with a new calf. She is at least 11 years old and this is at least her second calf.

Eleven mothers and calves have been provisionally identified in the Southeast US and we have seen three of them before the start of our regular survey season. This certainly bodes well for another active year!