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!