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.