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.