Monday, December 30, 2013

Right Whale Updates and A Benefit Raffle

First Right Whale Calf in the SEUS
The first calf of the season was spotted on December 20th by the Georgia aerial survey team offshore from Talbot Island. The mother is Whale #2040, named Naevus. Although we have not seen her in our area, the acoustic research team recorded her and her previous calf in February 2011, north of the St. Augustine Inlet. To date, eight right whales have been identified in the SE US, spotted off Fernandina Beach and areas to the north. Wind, rain and fog have grounded aerial surveys for the last week and the whales could be moving south by now, so keep those eyes peeled when you are along the coast!

Art Show Opening Includes Benefit for Project
In conjunction with the art show opening reception for photographic artist Bob Carlsen, Ocean Books & Art will raffle a 16” X 20” matted and framed print of “Dawn at Flagler Pier” to benefit the Marineland Right Whale Project. It all takes place this Friday, 3 January, 5:30 to 8:30 PM across from the Flagler Beach Pier. Hope to see you there!

Happy New Year to All!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

First Right Whale Report in Jacksonville

Last Friday, a Navy vessel reported six right whales very near the mouth of the St. Johns River. Following up, we learned that no photos were taken to verify the sighting and no other sightings have been reported in the area. Yesterday, staff at Marineland Dolphin Adventure spotted a whale close to shore that definitely had a dorsal fin, possibly a humpback.

So, while the sightings and species have not been verified, we could be seeing the start of whales arriving to our coastline. We have readied our response bags and cameras just in case. Time to dust off those binoculars and turn your eyeballs toward the ocean whenever you are at the beach! Call the Right Whale Hotline 1-888-97-WHALE (1-888-979-4253) if you spot one.

Friday, November 1, 2013

2013-14 Season Schedule

The recent cooler temperatures are inspiring us to get ready for the whales! Season #14 will arrive soon and we have our schedule in place. See below.

The summer was an unusual one for Northern right whales. They were largely absent from their normal summer feeding grounds in the Bay of Fundy. To learn more, see the New England Aquarium’s research blog at Joy spent August and half of September with the NEAq team in Lubec, ME, surveying for right whales in the Bay of Fundy, and wrote one of the blog entries.

In December, we will offer Introductory Talks in Ormond Beach, Palm Coast, Flagler Beach, and St. Augustine Beach. The Training Class is scheduled the day before surveys begin and will focus on the training of surveyors. If you plan to join the dedicated surveys, please do your best to attend to have the latest information on data collection and our plans for the season.

Right Whale Introductory Talks for new volunteers, surveyors and spotters alike, and anyone wanting to know how to spot right whales. If you are a returning volunteer and would like a refresher, by all means join us. (Encourage friends and neighbors to attend!):

Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013
1:00 PM to 2:30 PM
Flagler County Public Library
2500 Palm Coast Parkway, NW
Palm Coast

Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013
10:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Ormond Beach Public Library
30 S. Beach St.
Ormond Beach

Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013
3:00 PM to 4:30 PM
Anastasia Island Branch
St. Johns County Public Library
124 Sea Grove Main St.,
St. Augustine Beach

Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013
6:00 PM to 7:30 PM
Ocean Books & Art
200 S. Oceanshore Blvd.
Flagler Beach

«« Survey Training Class for ALL SURVEY volunteers, new and returning, who are planning to participate in the dedicated survey effort:

Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014
2:00 PM to 4:30 PM
Center for Marine Studies, Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience
9505 Ocean Shore Blvd., Marineland

Surveys Start:
Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014

Surveys End:
Saturday, March 15, 2014

celebrating the return of Right Whales to our waters
The 5th Annual Right Whale Festival will be held on Saturday, 23 November, 2013 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm at the Sea Walk Pavilion in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. The festival includes a beach clean-up, live music, kids’ activities, arts & crafts, exhibits, including Marine Resources Council and Marineland Right Whale Project, a silent auction and a beach run. Please visit for more information.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

End-Of-Season Report

Right Whale Sightings
In the Southeast region, from South Carolina to NE Florida, the final number of mother/calf pairs sighted was 19. About 21 other whales were also identified, bringing the total to about 59 right whales sighted in the Southeast for this season. Including the mother/calf pair in Cape Cod, having 20 calves born was a welcome improvement from the seven of last season. Missing from the Southeast were the large numbers of juvenile whales that had been making the journey in previous seasons, with the exception of last year. Where they spent the winter is not fully understood.

The relationship between sea surface temperatures and right whale movements continued into the latter half of our season. The area of colder water around 16˚C never developed further south than Jacksonville. Plotting right whale sightings in the Southeast for the several days around 1 February (generally the coldest days of the season), revealed that most of the whales were located around the Florida/Georgia border. A similar pattern was observed in 1999, also a warm winter. It remains to be seen if warmer winters and alterations in right whale distribution are related to climate change. Our work is becoming more challenging.

The Marineland Right Whale Project had ten sightings, a below average number for us, but far better than the two of last season. Eight were of mother/calf pairs and included five different females with their calves. Observing 25% of the total number of mothers and calves in the Project’s study area is about average, with the exception of last year, when all of the mother/calf pairs remained well to the north.

The other two sightings consisted of a pair of juveniles on 23 January and a single right whale that moved through Daytona Beach so rapidly on 8 February that we were unable to take photos to identify it. In addition, there was the 2-year-old entangled male that came ashore on 19 December.

Humpback Whale Sightings
Throughout the season, we responded to humpback whale reports or spotted them from the Air Cam. We positively identified six as humpbacks, including three from the Air Cam. Six more we listed as probable, based on behavior and descriptions from surveyors and others present. In previous seasons, humpbacks were more likely to been seen in December/early January and March/April rather than throughout the season. They appeared to be juveniles. Comparing notes and photos with our colleagues at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, we learned that some of the humpbacks were seen more than once along the Florida coast. Perhaps, these whales are remaining in the Southeast US instead of migrating to their wintering habitat on Silver Bank near the Dominican Republic? More investigation is warranted.

Shore Surveys
In ten weeks (and a total of 70 days), the nine teams compiled 1,814 survey hours. Thanks to all for the diligent recording of environmental conditions during surveys.

Human Impacts
On 5 February, several people used paddle boards to closely approach Whale #1612 and her calf, who bore scars from a recent vessel strike. Thankfully, no one was injured. Concerned about the potential danger to humans and the impact of harassment to the whales, we met with both Flagler Beach City and Flagler County Law Enforcement, reviewing the 500 yard no-approach rule and emphasizing the human safety issue. We encountered a very positive response. We are now looking at ways to reach the board sports community.

Monday, March 4, 2013


The February 2013 issue of Right Whale News has been posted to the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium website ( Articles cover what has been happening this season and introduce an educational video associated with a new effort to raise awareness of threats to right whales. 

Click on the Right Whale News link on NARWC’s home page, and then click on “Current Issue” at the top left. Back issues are also available by clicking on “Back Issues” also at the top left.

Thursday, February 28, 2013


We had been waiting for them. When the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s aerial survey team reported a mother and calf right whale pair 8 nm north of St. Augustine Inlet on 22 February headed south, we thought that there was a good chance that they would appear in our area. Four days later, we were rewarded.

At 10:16 on 26 February, the MRC Hotline called with a sighting report from Fort Matanzas National Monument. A visitor to the beach access ramp reported seeing whales and the staff had checked it out, watching for 20 min. as the two right whales swam slowly south. Jim and Sheila responded and searched for an hour along old A1A, with no luck. They secured the watch at 11:30 and returned to the office.

The Marineland Dolphin Adventure staff called at 13:55 to report sighting right whales, heading south. Jim and Sheila dashed across the street to the Marineland River-To-Sea boardwalk and picked them up immediately. The mother and calf were just beyond the surf line and slowly making their way south, as seen in the photo above. They were very likely the same pair reported in the morning, but, from a scientific perspective, we cannot conclusively make that claim.

The mother was Whale #3515 with her first calf. Born in 2005, we saw her in our area as a calf in February and March, then again the following 2006 season as a yearling in early March. Her mother is Whale #1315, who is here in the SE US with a new calf, although we haven’t seen them in our area yet. The total for the 2012-13 season is now 20 calves, including the one spotted in Cape Cod.

Providing an excellent opportunity for viewing from shore, Whale #3515 and calf meandered south throughout the afternoon and evening. Sheila and Jim secured the watch around 17:30, when the light became too low for photos. Observers from the Surf Club Condo to the south called until after 18:00 with sighting reports.

The next morning, winds had dropped considerably and we launched the AirCam to assist in finding the pair again. Despite scouring the area from land and air, the whales had disappeared. Such is the unpredictability of right whale movements. With any luck, they will turn up again in the next few days. Keep your eyes peeled!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Marineland Right Whale Mid-Season Update

A total of 18 right whale mother/calf pairs have been identified so far this season. Seventeen were sighted in the SE US and one in Cape Cod Bay. Approximately 17 other adult/juveniles have also been identified.

We have learned that this whale was identified by the New England Aquarium’s Right Whale Catalog curators as the 2011 calf of Whale #3293, named Porcia. The small size of the beached whale had led investigators to initially conclude that it was a yearling. When no matches to last year’s calves could be made, the Catalog staff began looking at 2-year-olds and made the match to this juvenile. Although we did not sight Whale #3293 and her male calf in our area (between St. Augustine and Ponce Inlets) in 2011, Jim Hain and crew encountered them in the acoustic research vessel about 10 nm ENE of St. Augustine Inlet on 14 February (Valentine’s Day).

The final report on the cause of death for this whale is still pending.

In the nearly 30 years of monitoring whale populations in Cape Cod Bay, this is the first time that a mother and calf right whale pair has been documented in the Bay in winter. First discovered on 12 January in Plymouth, the calf was determined to be too small, and thus too young, to have been born in the Southeast and migrated north with its mother, Whale #1140, Wart. Mother and calf were spotted again and confirmed on 21 January in the Bay. On 29 January, scallop fishermen reported the two, but confirmation was not possible. At that time, the water temperature in the Bay was 41˚F, cause for concern for the long-term survival of the calf, but reports suggest that mother and calf appear healthy.

On a local note, Wart is the mother of Whale #3540, Blackheart, who we saw from the AirCam on 19 December off Crescent Beach with her first calf—two more generations.

Right whales are the least cooperative and most difficult of the great whales to assist when they are entangled in fishing gear. Braving certain risk to attempt disentanglement, the highly trained teams often do not know if the benefit to the whales outweighs the significant stress caused by the procedure. This season there are three examples of benefit to the whales individually and to the species as a whole, as three previously entangled whales gave birth to calves. They are; Whale #1140, Wart (see above), Whale #3294, Equator, whom we have not seen in our area, and Whale #2753, Arpeggio, a whale quite familiar to us, who became our record-holder for the earliest whale to arrive in our area, making an appearance on 29 November 2012. There has been concern that entanglements affect calf production, but here are three examples where disentangled females have continued on.

Tagged last September in Cape Cod Bay, the great white shark given the name “Mary Lee” made headlines in early January when her satellite tag showed her to be along the shoreline in Jacksonville Beach. Her presence in the area at the same time as right whales raised the concern that she may have been drawn by the presence of the calves. Although photos have documented great whites scavenging a dead right whale carcass, there hasn’t been evidence gathered of an attack on a healthy right whale calf. When tagged, Mary Lee was 16 ft. long and weighed 3,456 lbs., which could present a threat to a calf were it not for its, on average, 50 ft. long and 60 ton mother, who would be a formidable obstacle to any shark attack. As it happens, Mary Lee did not stick around. Less than a month later, on 3 February, her satellite tag showed her on the edge of the continental shelf offshore from New York. You can follow Mary Lee and other tagged great white sharks at

Our survey season began in the best way possible, with a mother/calf sighting on the morning of the first day, 6 January. Whale #2413 with her fourth calf was spotted in Crescent Beach. As reported earlier, she lost her third calf in 2011. We saw her in December 2010 with that calf, as well as in 2005 and 2003 with previous calves. One of the many benefits of a long-term research effort is the opportunity to develop a history with returning whales and their offspring.

After a significant dry spell, two juveniles turned up on 23 January. We have seen both whales in previous seasons. Whale #3860, a female born in 2008, was here in 2009 and 2010, but we did not see her as a calf, nor have we seen her mother, Whale #2040 in our area. Naturally, it is possible that we missed seeing them if they happened to be here when the weather was too poor for surveys or they remained far enough offshore. The other juvenile, Whale #4057 and gender unknown, we saw six times in 2010 as the first calf of Whale #3157.

The AirCam crew spotted a humpback whale on 28 January, north of SR206 in Crescent Beach. In past seasons, humpbacks tended to appear in December and May, following the humpback migration to Silver Bank offshore from the Dominican Republic. This season, humpbacks are being sighted through January, so it’s a good idea to be aware of the differences between them and right whales. When surfacing, humpbacks roll much like a dolphin and have a dorsal fin about 2/3 of the way down their backs. These are the characteristics you are most likely to see. They also have long white pectoral fins.

On 3 February, a late afternoon call to the Marine Resources Center’s Hotline alerted us to a mother and calf in front of the boardwalk in the Town of Marineland. These were identified as Whale #1612 and her sixth calf. We also learned that the calf, sometime between 21 and 29 January, had been struck by a vessel, as evidenced by scarring on its back. When the pair appeared off Beverly and Flagler Beaches on 5 February, then Ormond Beach on 6 February, we took great care to document these wounds. If you look closely at the photo to the right where the arrow is pointing to the calf’s back, you will see the short white parallel marks of the prop and the long, perpendicular line of the engine’s skeg. It appears that the injuries were relatively minor and are healing well. The calf looks robust and was acting normally, a good indication that it will recover in time.

Early on 8 February, a MRC hotline call turned up a single right whale in Daytona Beach. Jim Pearson, Sector 5 surveyor, was able to locate the whale and follow it as it dashed south. By the time the response team arrived with the camera, it was in South Daytona and headed out to sea. Although we confirmed it as a right whale, it was too far out for photos.

Many thanks to those of you who have contributed to the Marineland Right Whale Project by making your online purchases using the website Since we began using this website in April 2012, your contributions have amounted to $670 that otherwise would have gone to web search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing as a commission. We appreciate these donations that help to fund the Project’s operating expenses such as fuel for the AirCam. Using this website won't cost you a penny more for your online purchases and it is considered a charitable donation!

If you haven’t used this website for your online purchases and would like assistance, or have questions, please call Becki Smith on 703-304-7832, She will gladly assist you.

Seeking to better understand what influences right whale movement, we have become attuned to the weather. We review forecast maps, looking for high pressure centers that signal good survey weather. We study jet stream charts, that high altitude wind current that can channel cold Canadian air into our area and lower water temperatures. Published reports suggest that right whales seem to prefer 15˚C to 16˚C water. In 2010, when Florida experienced one of its coldest winters on record, we had our highest number of sightings in a season, 63. Last season, coastal temperatures in our area averaged around 18˚C and we had two sightings. Our temperatures for this season have been similar, and we have had nine sightings so far. The greatest number of right whale sightings is north of us, near the Florida and Georgia border, where colder water appears to be developing, but it not yet in the 16˚C range.

The question of climate change is a definite issue. We wonder whether we are seeing a warming trend or a short-tem variation. Whichever it is, a variety of species are definitely being affected. Butterflies and birds are shifting their distribution. So, the question about right whales could be the same - will we see a change in the trend of right whale distribution? Our work is getting more challenging.

In the current recognized population of 509 right whales, there are now about 100 potential reproductive females. So, there should be 25-30 new calves born each season. The number of births this year is certainly well below that number. The reasons for this low birth rate are not fully understood and are under investigation.

The culmination of scientific investigation is to publish results in peer-reviewed journals. We recently published an article titled “Swim speed, behavior and movement of North Atlantic right whales (Eubaleana glacialis) in coastal waters of northeastern Florida, USA,” J. Hain, J. Hampp, S. McKenney, J. Albert, and R. Kenney, PLoS ONE 8(1): e54340. PLoS (Public Library of Science) is a wholly electronic-based collection and represents a growing trend of publishing scientific journals online.

We are interested in the behavior of right whales, particularly in the learning and development of calves. We would like to better understand how the mother imparts important life skills to her calf. Video is a more effective way to capture play and other behaviors, along with how close approaches from humans (i.e. paddleboarders, surfers, kayakers and boaters) may impact mother/calf interactions. Cameras that attach to our very long lens are now much better at shooting video. We will be incorporating more video recording during sightings.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Sunday’s Whales Reappear in Flagler Beach

Sharp-eyed Terry Clark and Team 3 made our day this morning, sighting a mother-calf pair heading south in Beverly Beach. Maryanne Gustafson, also with Team 3, got us access to the roof of the Aliki Condominium in Flagler Beach (16 floors up and a great vantage point). Conditions were near perfect. Whales right out front and in close. We took video from the roof. Joy and Sheila in the AirCam took aerial photos. It was Whale #1612 and calf, the same pair as on Sunday evening off the River To Sea Boardwalk in the Town of Marineland. Check back next week to hear the rest of the story!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Second Right Whale Identified and Humpback Sighted

With the help of additional photos, including some from David Ogg of Mobile Team 3 (one is to the right), the second right whale in the 23 January sighting has been identified as Whale #4057. This juvenile was born in 2010 and we saw him/her (gender unknown) as a calf six times in January and February. The following December, we sighted him/her again as a yearling. The identity of Whale #3860 also was confirmed, so we have previous history with both of these whales.

Our colleagues with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) documented these two juveniles on 26 January about 13 nm SE of the St. Johns River Inlet during their aerial survey. The whales didn’t stay in our area for long, but what a treat they gave us!

On Monday, 28 January, the AirCam survey team discovered a humpback whale off Crescent Beach near State Road 206. It remained mostly submerged, surfacing only to breathe. We were able to obtain photographs that Katie Jackson of FWCC compared to those of two other humpbacks sighted by their aerial teams. Our photographs were of a different whale. Note the long white pectoral fins and small dorsal fin about 2/3’s along the whale’s back from its head that differentiate it from a right whale.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Whale Drought Ends

Sixteen long, empty, lonely days ... and then ... YAHOO! The phone rang at 08:00 on Wednesday morning, 23 January. Julie Albert from Marine Resources Council relayed a hotline call from Ken and Lonnie Merrifield, Canadians from Port Elgin on Lake Huron who are vacationing here for several months, and who attended Jim's right whale talk at Gamble Rogers State Park on 12 January. They picked up the phone card, and knew what to do! Their initial sighting was from the Ocean Beach Club II in South Flagler Beach at 07:50, and we tracked the pair south until 14:30 when they were off Capistrano Drive in Ormond Beach. The sea state was at least 4 and probably 5, but volunteers kept them in sight for 6 1/2 hrs. We thought we were looking at a mother-calf pair, but, because the "younger" animal had fully developed callosities, we wondered whether it was a mother and a yearling.
Conferring with Katie Jackson, our colleague on the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission team, we were told, in fact, they were likely both juveniles. The whale with the "broken" callosity pattern is tentatively identified as Whale #3860, while the whale with the "continuous" pattern is not identified at present. If confirmed, Whale #3860 is a female born in 2008. We saw her in the '09 and '10 seasons, and Julie at MRC saw her in the '11 season off of Indian Harbor Beach in the Melbourne area. We are told that both of these individuals are new reports for this season. Compliments to all for a job well done!

For more information on callosity patterns and how to identify right whales, visit the Associated Scientists website,, and download the “Volunteer Handbook” toward the bottom of the Home page.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Where the Whales Are

We began the season with a handful of sightings. Now, for more than a week, the majority of whale sightings are being reported from the Jacksonville area and north. To see an interactive map of whale sightings along the entire East Coast, click on this link; This site allows you to display sightings based on various time frames.

Whales and weather are hard to predict. An interesting note is that most of the Southeast US sightings to date are of mother and calf pairs. Very few of the sightings in the last couple of weeks have been of singles or pairs and none of large SAGs (Surface Active Groups). Will the cooler weather bring a change?

As if the season wasn’t unusual enough, the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, headquartered in Provincetown on Cape Cod, posted Saturday, 12 Jan. on its Facebook page a photo of whale #1140, named Wart, with a calf swimming in Cape Cod Bay! The mother and calf pair were never sighted in the SEUS, making them the 14th mother/calf pair this winter. Coincidentally, whale #1140 is the mother of whale #3540, Blackheart, who we saw on 19 December with her first calf just north of SR 206 in Crescent Beach. Two more mother/calf pairs were identified recently from aerial photos off the Georgia coast, so the total for the season is now sixteen calves. Very good news indeed!

Additionally, in the last week we have learned that a mother and calf right whale were reported from Miami and the Key Biscayne area on 9 January. Recall back in December 2005 when we sighted a rapidly moving southbound mother/calf pair (#2503) that subsequently was sighted off Miami and went into the Gulf of Mexico. Anything can happen, and sometimes does! These events underline that, although we can draw some conclusions from observations of general whale movement based on sea surface temperatures, individual whales can show great variability, and we do not know all of the factors and how they influence the whales.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Mother and Calf Pair Starts Our Survey Season on the “Right” Track

Two hours and eleven minutes into our first day of dedicated surveys, Joy Hampp (Project Coordinator) happened to be at a public walkover about a mile north of Matanzas Inlet waiting for Mobile Team 1 to arrive when her eyes spotted a disturbance in the water just to the north. Yes, it was a right whale mother and calf! Even better, it turned out to be right whale #2413, who lost her third calf in 2011, but is now happily back after a short interval with her fourth. We saw #2413 in 2011 with her calf, and then also in 2003 and 2005, so she is a regular to our study area between St. Augustine Inlet and Ponce Inlet. Now in our thirteenth season, the opportunity to observe these returning right whales is affording us insights into their biology.

Mother and calf moved slowly north along Crescent Beach, where no public access exists for miles. Thankfully, they remained within a half mile of the shoreline, so we employed a combination of inviting ourselves onto some private property and walking along the beach to take photos and collect data with the help of Team 1. In the photo, the mother’s head is pointing to the left. The calf, on the right, is on its right side, with its head on mom’s. The calf’s eye is visible and indicated with an arrow.

We followed the pair until 14:00. They hadn’t moved much in the last half hour and we had the photos and data we needed. What a promising way to start the season!