Thursday, February 20, 2014

Whales Keep Us on Our Toes

Two sightings of whales yesterday, within six miles of each other and rather far out to sea, had us working hard to figure out exactly what we were observing and underlined the importance of good coordination and data collection.

Team 3 started with a sighting that appeared to be a right whale just after 9:30 AM to the northeast of Beverly Beach Town Hall. About an hour later, Becki was able to confirm it was a right whale from Flagler-By-The-Sea Campground. As Jim headed south with the camera, Team 2 called that they had whales at Malacompra Avenue in the Hammock. Jim detoured there and eventually saw the backs and blows of what he thought at the time were two whales, but they were too far out for photos.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) aerial survey plane was reasonably close, and Jim contacted them about our sightings. About an hour later, they confirmed a humpback whale east of Malacompra. Considering how far from shore the whales were in both sightings, we began to wonder if we really had seen right whales. The FWC team checked further south where Team 3 had reported their sighting and located a single right whale, heading steadily south. Yes, Team 3 had seen a right whale!

The single continued south, videotaped by Dale Hench at the Nautilus Condo in S. Flagler Beach around 4:00 PM. We thought it might be an adult male,
Catalog #2510, that the Air Cam had photographed on Monday, one-and-a half-miles offshore from Crescent Beach, heading steadily south, surfacing only briefly to breathe. Our colleagues at FWC told us that yesterday’s single was a different whale, young, perhaps a yearling or two-year-old, who will be harder to identify.