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.