Sunday, January 19, 2014

Survey Team 5 Gets First Whale Sighting

Robert Unger is the first Project surveyor to make an initial right whale sighting this season. Hooray for Robert! He spotted the single whale around 9:30 this morning at Riverview Street in Daytona Beach. Kudos to him and wife, Doris, who hung on to the rapid southerly moving whale until the response team could arrive. We had to leapfrog through several stops to get ahead of the whale for identification photos and it did not cooperate, making brief appearances low in the water. By 12:25 PM, we were waving good-bye from Sunglow Pier.

Although the whale kept a low profile, all of us could see the large patch of white on its right fluke. Closer examination of the photos revealed a recent injury, still healing. This and the partial head shot enabled our Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission colleagues to provisionally identify the whale as the yearling calf of Whale #3294, first seen off Georgia on 15 January. We did not see this calf and its mother last season in our area.

This yearling’s swim speed was fast enough to initially suppose it might have been a humpback, bolstered by recent humpback sightings in this area. Last Thursday, Bob Jackman on Team 4 sighted a humpback from the Gamble Rogers State Park in South Flagler Beach. Nice work, Bob! Yesterday, the Sunglow Pier bait shop personnel alerted us to 3 to 4 humpback whales traveling south. In both cases, the sightings lasted a short time and were far from shore.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

More Right Whales Identified

Our colleagues with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) have provisionally identified three additional right whales from our 8 January sighting at Marineland. We documented all three whales in our area from the Air Cam in previous seasons, so we can say welcome back!

In January 2010, we were the first to ever photograph Whale #4040, Chiminea, off Ormond Beach. The whale’s gender and year of birth are unknown.

Whale #4094 is four-year-old female. We saw her once before in January 2011 off Daytona Beach as a two-year-old.

We are the first to document Whale #3860 in the SE US this season. She is a six-year-old female. We had sightings of her in 2009, 2010, and 2011. In 2011, we had her on the same day as our sighting of Whale #4094, but roughly two miles apart.

There are 22 right whales photo-identified in the SE US to date, including three mother/calf pairs. The most recent mother, Whale #2645, is one that we saw in February 2005 off St. Augustine Beach. We’ll keep our eyes peeled in case she brings her current calf to into our area this season, too!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Our First Right Whales of the Season

Kudos to the staff of Marineland Dolphin Adventure for being the first to spot right whales in our area this season. Curator Kevin Roberts called just before 2:00 PM and within 30 minutes we were able, with their help, to confirm three adult/juvenile right whales at the south end of the facility, slowly drifting south. 

Photographs were difficult in the flat gray light cast by the heavily overcast sky and the whales were a bit stingy with lifting their heads above water for identification shots. We did obtain clear photos of one whale with a distinctive white mark on the left side of its rostrum, seen in this photo. The tentative ID is Whale #4092, a female of unknown age that was sighted off Fernandina on two days in mid-December and then not again until today. We saw her from the Air Cam off New Smyrna in February 2010. Since then, she has acquired massive scars on her peduncle and flukes, not evident in our photos from shore.

Following the whales south along the Marineland boardwalk, Kevin called again to report a fourth whale to the north of the others. As this sighting came level with the boardwalk, we counted another two whales, bringing our total to five. Although the clouds hampered visibility somewhat, no one who came out to see this first sighting of the season went away disappointed. Will we see them tomorrow? We know that Thursday's teams will give it their best shot. Stay tuned!