Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Thrilling Start to Second Half of Our Right Whale Season

During our mid-season update last Saturday night, we described the poor weather and the paucity of whale sightings, suggesting that this season might be mirroring the last, when sightings picked up in the second half. How prophetic! At 9:01 Sunday morning the phone rang. Team Leader Larry Bell, en route to meet with Team 4, had sighted whales from the road. The Team, Becki, Jim, and the Georgia Aquarium Travelling Trevallies converged on Highbridge Road and verified a mother and calf, well to the south and moving very little. The Air Cam arrived shortly after 11:30 and obtained photos.

The pair was provisionally identified to be Catalog #1604 with her 5th calf, the same pair that eluded us in the fog off Ormond Beach on 13 January. They were difficult again this day, too, remaining nearly stationary the entire day in an area of North Peninsula State Park where there was no parking along the road and, thus, no access to see them. We hoped the pair would come south to Ormond-By-The-Sea, but this did not happen.

Continuing south on their survey track 1.5 nm offshore, the Air Cam crew soon spotted a large group of dolphins about a mile to the east and flew out to investigate. As they approached, two right whales surfaced…another mother and calf! Circling for photos, the whales treated the crew to some noteworthy interactions, including the calf lying across mom’s back as seen in this
image. The mother was provisionally identified as Catalog #3693. The pair was last seen on 22 January off Melbourne and reported by the Marine Resources Council (MRC). Wow, two pairs in one day, within a few miles of one another. What a great start to the second half of our season!

Then, Monday dawned and it got even better. Photographer Ed Siarkowicz, on Flagler Pier, called Team Leader David Ogg at 6:50 to report two whales headed north. At nearly the same time, Julie Albert from MRC phoned Jim with the same report from fisherman “Big Mike” Lussier, who was also on the Pier. Dave called Assistant Team Leader Terry Clark and she and Char Crawford quickly acquired the whales while Jim got on the road. Terry, Char, Gary Phillips, and Chris Young (the Monday Team 3) kept the whales in sight using our leapfrog method. The Air Cam arrived shortly before 11:00 and recognized Catalog #1604 and calf! The two were quite active and the Air Cam crew photographed mom on her left side, with her right eye visible above the water and the calf resting its head on her pec flipper, a rare sight.

This time, the whales cooperated by slowly swimming north, close to shore, in excellent sighting conditions. They were visible all day, including a report from the Georgia Aquarium Travelling Trevallies survey team at 4:15 pm that the pair was at Jungle Hut Road in The Hammock.

Also in the last several days, two new mother/calf pairs were added to the list, Catalog #2611, Picasso, and Catalog #1611, Clover, bringing the total to 12. We have documented both whales in our survey area, Picasso in February 2009, and Clover twice in February 2006 and several times in March 2009. With any luck, we will be seeing them off our shores again soon.