Friday, January 23, 2015

Better Weather Yields a Juvenile Right Whale

At last, Monday the 19th dawned with blue skies, bright sun, and calm seas. Mobile Team 2 arrived at Washington Oaks State Park at 10:46 AM and were just getting their gear out when Mark Turner spotted white ruffles in the water. Day leader Donna Drevniak called Jim, who arrived quickly to confirm a single right whale. The Air Cam, with Joy and Becki, arrived just after 11:30 AM and almost passed it by since it was submerged for several minutes at a time. We forwarded photos to our colleagues at Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) for a provisional ID and learned that it was a juvenile, not readily identifiable in the Right Whale Catalog. This was the first sighting of the season by one of our teams, and the first photographs of the season from the Air Cam.

Calls came from the Marine Resources Council’s (MRC) Hotline reporting another whale just to the south of the St. Augustine Pier. Mobile Team 1 got into position and the Air Cam searched the area for over a half hour, without success. As further information came in, we believe that it may have been a humpback whale, whose movements tend to be quicker and more random than right whales, making them much harder to locate.

Tuesday arrived with some of the calmest seas we have observed in our many seasons. At 10:13 AM, Sally Thomas, who had recently attended an MRC right whale lecture, called the Hotline to report a sighting in New Smyrna Beach. Four minutes later, Mark Atkinson, on duty with Volusia County Beach Safety and Ocean Rescue, confirmed the sighting. Chad Truxall, Executive Director of the Marine Discovery Center in New Smyrna Beach, located and stayed
with the whale for position updates to the Air Cam, crewed by Joy and Jim, who located a single right whale at 12:04 PM. Circling, we soon realized that this was the same juvenile right whale as yesterday. Kem McNair, a local photographer, took this photo of the whale’s head and flukes from shore.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Right Whale Sighting Update

Last Tuesday, the 13th, proved to be a lucky day. The call to the Marine Resources Council’s Hotline alerting us to right whales in Ormond Beach came from Carlos Diaz. Although Team 5 and Becki arrived in good time, the fog rolled in too quickly to obtain many photos, leaving the mother’s identity and the documentation of the calf as inconclusive. Luckily, Carlos photographed the pair and his images both confirmed the presence of a calf and helped in making the identification.

Our colleagues at FWCC have provisionally identified the mother as Catalog #1604 with her 5th calf. Further, this was the first report of the season for this mother and her calf, bringing the total to three mother/calf pairs. We know Catalog #1604 from sighting her with previous calves in 2005 and 2011. To learn more about this mother, follow this link,, click “Agree,” then “Search for Individual Whales,” then the dropdown box for Catalog No., and scroll down until you reach 1604.

Starting tomorrow and continuing into next week, the weather and sighting conditions are forecast to improve. With the Air Cam flying and lots of team and collaborator eyeballs on the water, the luck may continue!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Right Whales Spotted Just Before Fog Rolls In

Just as this morning’s 8:00 AM surveys were scheduled to begin, Julie Albert of Marine Resources Council called with a sighting report from Ormond Beach via the Hotline. Becki and Team 5 converged on the Grenada Blvd. lookout and spotted a mother and calf right whale in the gathering fog about ¾ mile offshore, heading north. Becki was able to obtain some photos before the fog thickened and obliterated all trace of them. This is the head of the mother. We are working on the ID.
Jim and Joy joined the group and we leapfrogged north, estimating where the whales might be using past data we have collected on swim speed, hoping that the fog would lift to reacquire them. We hung on until early afternoon, but the fog showed no signs of abating. We called it shortly before 1:30 PM.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is discouraging, but any reasonable effort to look for these two will be well worth it. Although they were heading north this morning, we know from past experience that they could change direction and be anywhere from The Hammock to Ponce Inlet. Let’s give it a good try if the weather will allow!

Monday, January 5, 2015

First Florida Right Whale

With the warm weather we’ve had recently we started our land surveys Sunday with a hunch that it would take the cold front later this week to coax the whales to move south. And, once again, we were surprised.

Julie Albert of Marine Resources Council called Jim at 9:40 AM on Sunday morning with a sighting report from South Daytona Beach. Less than an hour later, Julie received video shot by Brian Brocious of Volusia County Beach Safety. This confirmed a right whale tail. In addition, it showed extensive peduncle scarring, as seen in this frame from the video.

Jim and Sheila headed south while Julie called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission aerial survey team. Jim, Sheila and the FWCC aircraft arrived in the Daytona Shores area about the same time, shortly after noon. The whale was now about a mile offshore and elusive. Jim and Sheila waited nearly 30 minutes before they had a brief glimpse of a black fluke tip and a V-blow. The FWCC team had to circle for some time to obtain photos.

Our FWCC colleagues have provisionally identified the whale as Catalog #4092, a potential mother with extensive peduncle scars likely caused by entanglement in fishing gear prior to her arrival in the Southeast. She was seen last week on 29 Dec. off Sea Island, GA. An interesting note is that this whale was part of a group of four that we saw off of Marineland last year on 8 January, also our first sighting of the season. We are now waiting to see if she will have a calf.

The coordination by several groups documented the first Florida right whale for the season! Particular credit goes to the Volusia County Beach Patrol for their video-documented sighting.