Monday, April 16, 2012

End of Right Whale Season Update

Shop Online and Donate to the Project
With the economy still in recovery, fundraising has become increasingly challenging and we have sought new avenues for support. We have teamed up with to establish an opportunity for shopping online to generate donations to the Project that won’t cost the shopper a penny more. has relationships with thousands of participating stores including Amazon, Apple, iTunes, Groupon, Best Buy, Expedia, 1-800-Flowers, Macy’s, Bloomingdales, etc. Commissions normally paid to search engines like Google and Yahoo for online purchases can now be directed as donations to the Project. Simply go to to join and download the Buy4 Shopping Reminder. Then, when shopping for plane tickets, clothes, books, etc., go to and a percentage of your purchase will be donated to the Project. It’s safe, fast, easy, and free! And, you will be helping to preserve the continuity of the Project’s work.

Southeast Region
The region, defined as South Carolina to Florida, hosted six mother/calf pairs plus 62 other right whales, documented and identified by all teams working in the area. Both the number of calves born and the number of other whales visiting the region were low compared to averages from recent seasons. We have become accustomed to calf counts in the 20’s and total right whales spotted during the season numbering 150 to 250.

Warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures likely contributed to the low numbers of right whales present in the region and to their remaining mostly to the north of St. Augustine. Despite the warm water temperature, right whale #1208 and her calf were sighted several times in the Jacksonville area until mid-March 15. The calf was first spotted in early February, and may have been born later than usual. Perhaps, they lingered to give the calf more time to prepare for the migration north.

Marineland Right Whale Project:
Shore Surveys
Although we ended our surveys two weeks early, our eight-week effort resulted in 1,702 survey hours plus 48 hours for the volunteers from the Georgia Aquarium who conducted independent afternoon surveys. This 1,750 total compares very favorably with prior years, despite the shortened season.

Better surveyor documentation of environmental conditions provided us with the ability to analyze surveys and weather conditions. Full surveys were conducted in good weather conditions on 32 days. On 23 days, full or partial surveys took place under moderate or poor conditions. Only 1 survey day was completely cancelled, the first day of the season. These results nicely documented the mild and mostly good winter weather and will allow for future comparisons of weather, survey effort and sightings. Although whale sightings were few, our dedicated surveyors understood how important it was for the monitoring and effort to continue so as to add to our long-term data and verify that indeed the whales were not present. With each year of data, no matter if whales are many or few, our efforts increase in value.

Aerial Surveys
Gusty winds kept survey hours in the AirCam to the second lowest in the six seasons that the Project has had the aircraft. In December, the AirCam flew a line parallel to the coast and 3 miles offshore along with its standard 1 mile coastal line. After the shore surveys began in January, the AirCam flew the 1 mile line north and south from St. Augustine inlet to the Cape Canaveral seashore area. Only three flights took place in February and two in March, due to the unfavorable wind conditions.

Whale Photo-identification
Our ability to obtain photographs capable of identifying right whales that we sight has steadily increased over the 12 years of the Project’s existence. This success is a combination of better equipment, the availability of the AirCam, the increasing knowledge and skill of our volunteers, and community awareness of the whales and the Hotline number. With just two sightings this season, the combination of all of the above resulted in a 100% success in obtaining these photos!

Some Thoughts on the Season
Two books, one published many years ago and one just recently, offer perspectives on this year’s survey results. The first is “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson, underlining the message that “…all things are connected.” The connection goes across space and time. The low number of calves born in 2012 may be explained by the fact that in the summer of 2010, there were record warm temperatures in the right whales’ northern feeding areas and copepod production was low and/or of poor quality. This compromised food source may have resulted in fewer whales entering into reproductive condition and behavior, resulting in fewer calves. If this connection does exist, then next season is likely to be a more productive year, since water temperatures were closer to normal and copepod levels were good last summer and fall. The second thought comes from D. Graham Burnett’s “The Sounding of the Whale” who, after some 675 pages, concluded that “…knowing things is hard.”  We know first hand, in our muscles and in our hearts, that this is true.