Thursday, December 20, 2012

Dead Right Whale Washes Up on Beach in Flagler and the Calf Count Rises to Nine

The Volunteer Sighting Network made two valuable contributions to right whale conservation and stewardship in the last several days. On Tuesday afternoon, 18 December, a boater, Tom Dillon, sighted a floating carcass about 3 miles east of the Palm Coast area of Flagler County. He reported the sighting and location, and sent photos to his fiancee, Jennifer Kureen, of Melbourne Beach. Jennifer had recently been to a class on right whales and the sighting network given by Julie Albert, Marine Resources Council (MRC). Jennifer called the right whale sighting hotline maintained by the MRC and forwarded the photos, confirming it was a dead right whale with fishing gear wrapped around its tail. It was too late in the day to start an aerial search for the carcass, but overnight, onshore winds deposited it about a mile south of Varn Park in Flagler County where it was discovered Wednesday morning. A necropsy was conducted beginning yesterday afternoon and went into the evening. It will likely take a few weeks to process the samples and to know what might have been the cause of the whale’s demise.

But wait! The news is not all bad. Ron Ginn, a resident of A Street in Crescent Beach, sighted whales close to shore just north of the SR206 Bridge at noon yesterday. He too phoned the MRC hotline. The information in turn was relayed to the AirCam that was northbound on its aerial survey and coincidentally was just approaching Crescent Beach. The AirCam crew spotted the whales where Ron had reported and confirmed a mother and calf pair, plus a large group of dolphins swimming around them. The mother has been tentatively identified as Whale #3540, named Blackheart. (All known right whales are given a four-digit number when they are entered into the Catalog curated by the New England Aquarium. Over time, many of them have been given names.) Two other new mother/calf pairs were sighted by aerial survey teams to the north, bringing the season total to 9 calves so far. Given the low number of calves born last year, to have this many this early in the season is very encouraging.

Birth and death…the cycle of life continues. Many thanks to all of you who are keeping watch to provide this invaluable data.