Saturday, February 18, 2012

Warm Weather, No Whales, and Now…Insects!

Valentine’s Day brought a glimmer of hope when Team 2 talked with an opportunistic spotter near Matanzas Inlet who reported seeing blows. Both Teams 1 and 2 made a valiant effort to locate and confirm the report, but could not. The next day, we received word through the MRC Hotline of a possible whale in Vilano. The FL Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s aerial team checked it out, and then we flew over the area with the AirCam later for another try. Neither of us could find a whale. Humpback? We can only wonder.

While the whales have been scarce, at least surveys in the warmer weather have been pleasant. That is, until the “no-see-ums,” tiny, gnat-like insects with a very unpleasant bite, began to swarm about a week or so ago. They are worst when winds are out of the west. Bring insect repellent with you for surveys.

The right whale calf count is holding at six (with one lost brings it down to five). The total count of whales documented in the SE US is 62 and the small group of whales remaining here is being sighted to the north in Georgia and South Carolina. We are not the only ones experiencing an unusual season. We have a report from Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies (thanks Devon and Penny!) that the water temperature in Cape Cod Bay has been a couple of degrees higher than normal, the copepods favored by the right whales as food peaked earlier than usual and are now dropping off, resulting in the whales feeding earlier in the year and in what now appears to be an early departure of the whales from the Bay. PCCS reports that conditions are differing noticeably from those observed during the last 25 years of research.

What does this mean for us? It adds weight to our observations that this is an atypical season and underlines the importance of continuing to watch and record as we have done in past seasons. Collectively, along with all of the research groups up and down the coast, we will gather information and hopefully draw conclusions about right whales, the ocean, and the environment in 2012. A huge thank you for your persistence and dedication.