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.