Friday, March 28, 2014

Right Whale #3546 & Calf on Schedule and Elusive

Once again, the Marine Resources Council’s Hotline came through as Julie called Jim just after noon with a report of whales at Hammock Dunes, about where we expected them to be based on yesterday’s position and behavior. Forty minutes later, Sharon Ralston, leader of the Hammock Dunes Survey Team, sighted them at the clubhouse and Jim brought the camera. Finding a
mother and calf right whale already well to the north, Jim barely had time to squeeze off a few photos before they moved out of range.

Jim and Sharon repositioned at Jungle Hut Road, where Joy joined them, but the whales were nowhere to be seen. Meanwhile, in the space of less than an hour, the sea state had increased from a Beaufort 2 to a 5! A beach-goer passing by told us that he had seen a whale at Jungle Hut before we arrived and it was heading north. This suggested that the whales had increased their swim speed, so Joy moved to 16th Road. She finally spotted a vigorous blow to the south and Jim repositioned here, but the whales were now moving rapidly north and east, very low in the water a mile or more from shore, out of reach of the camera. We kept track of them through their infrequent blows.

Concerned that the photos we had would not be enough to ID the whales, we called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) aerial survey ground contact to check if their survey plane was available to respond. They were and arrived at our position just before 3:00 pm, although the sea state, now bordering on a Beaufort 6, obscured the whales on their first pass and we radioed them from the ground to relay a new position. It worked and the observers confirmed our suspicion that they were likely Catalog #3546 and calf. Given their rate of travel, they could be off St. Augustine tomorrow!