Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Humpbacks Make an Appearance

After all the wind and fog last week, Sunday through Tuesday provided three good days for aerial surveys and we took advantage of them. Although we saw no right whales, two humpback whales, on separate days, made the flights exciting.

On Monday, we spotted the first one about two miles east of Highbridge Road in North Peninsula State Park. It bobbed up and down slightly in the water and
blew a few times, but was otherwise motionless as though resting. The telltale white pectoral fins and small dorsal fin about 2/3’s from the head are clearly visible in the photo to the right.

Tuesday’s humpback whale was a completely different story. It surfaced as we passed over top of it, about a half mile from shore in S. Flagler Beach, very actively swimming north, accompanied by a phalanx of dolphins. We made a few circles and each time we were in range for
photos, it submerged. Rising gusty winds aloft forced us to abandon further attempts for photos and we had to be content with the one to the right. If you look closely at Monday’s whale, you will see a mottled white patch on the leading edge of the left fluke, which is not present in the photo of Tuesday’s whale, leading us to believe that these were two different whales.

In addition to the whales, these surveys revealed the arrival of large numbers of loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles just offshore. On Tuesday, when we sighted the greatest numbers, we documented just over 100 loggerheads and 60 leatherbacks.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Right Whale Mother and Calf in Crescent Beach

As if to underline our assertions that the season is not yet over, Julie Albert of Marine Resources Council called Jim Thursday shortly before 11:00 AM with a Hotline report of whales near the Crescent Beach Ramp. Team 1, led by Judi Kaczor, was valiantly working around the fog and hurried to Crescent Beach Park when Jim called them. Jim and Joy arrived about 30 min. later. Within another 20 min. or so, the obscuring fog suddenly cleared and Joy spotted a mother and calf right whale shortly afterward, to the north about a mile. Team 1 went to Judi’s house, about a 1/2 mile north on the ocean, and reported that the whales were to the north, but visible. Jim and Joy briefly checked Frank Butler Park to the north of Judi’s house, looking for possible public access to view the whales, but they were too far south, so Jim and Joy joined the team at Judi’s.

Mother and calf drifted ever so slowly south and Jim was able to get good photos. This southward motion stopped before they reached our position and they drifted back north again. We broke for a late lunch, then reacquired them from the Mary Street ramp (north of Frank Butler Park), virtually in the same position we had left them earlier. We moved back to Crescent Beach Park, where Judi contacted us around 4:15 PM to confirm our observations of little movement along the coast. We secured the watch about 30 min. later. 

Our colleagues with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission identified the whales as Catalog #2223, Calvin, with her third calf. Yes, Calvin was named before her gender was known. This is the first time that we have documented Calvin in our study area. We certainly enjoy seeing new faces and appreciate their timing to keep us fired up for our last days of survey.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Right Whale Season Déjà vu?

Hang on to your binoculars and cell phones! Despite our recent absence of sightings, the season may not be over yet. Reports from our colleagues have restored our optimism. Three new mother-calf pairs were sighted this past week. Nos. 15 and 16, Catalog #1620 (Mantis) and #2790, are females with calves that we have seen in our area in previous years. They were sighted by our colleagues with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Julie Albert with Marine Resources Council sighted no. 17 south of Cape Canaveral. This
mother is Catalog #3420 (Platypus) with her first calf in the photo to the right. Interestingly, she was documented off Georgia on
8 February while still pregnant and this is the first sighting of her with the calf. Yesterday, she was heading south, last seen in Melbourne Beach. Could she emulate Halo (Catalog #3546) from last year, who kept us busy with sightings until early April? It was one year ago yesterday that we flew the Air Cam to Sebastian to photograph Halo and her first calf.

This is a small, but promising late-season surge in activity. Keep your eyes peeled (when the fog lifts!) and your cell phone handy. Who knows how this will end!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Alert Volunteers Help with a Distressed Whale

Shortly after 10:00 AM Monday, Gary Phillips with Team 3 called Jim to report what appeared to be a dolphin in distress just off the end of Flagler Pier. Jim called George Beidenbach of the Georgia Aquarium Conservation Field Station (CFS), the organization authorized to respond to strandings in Flagler County.  George was already in Flagler Beach, north of the Pier, looking for the animal, which had stranded the evening before and had been pushed back out. Jim
called the Air Cam, which arrived at the Pier just before 11:00 AM, circling for photos as the small whale was being supported by a surfer.

Using a stretcher designed to carry small whales and dolphins, the CFS team, with help from bystanders, brought the animal ashore and identified it as a male dwarf sperm whale (Kogia sima). The scrapes and cuts on the whale in the photo to the right likely resulted during the stranding the night before. These whales typically live far from shore and are rarely seen, except when they are seriously ill and strand. The whale died shortly after being
brought ashore. The CFS team transported him to their lab in Marineland and will conduct a necropsy. Thanks to the alert Team 3, the whale suffered less and valuable information from this rare event was preserved. Way to go!

Note: If you see a whale or dolphin in distress at the shoreline, DO NOT push it back out to sea. It is stranding for a reason. Instead, call 1-888-404-3922 to report it.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

International Artist Donates Painting to Benefit the Project

Simon Bull, the English-born internationally known artist, donated a painting to help the Marineland Right Whale Project raise funds. Volunteers Penny Bellas and Becki Smith met Simon Bull at an art event in Orlando last year, where they shared their mutual interest in whales and art. Mr. Bull subsequently donated this painting “All About Love, XII” and we are holding a raffle.

The painting is valued at $625 and comes with a certificate of authenticity. It is on display at Ocean Art Gallery, 200 S. Oceanshore Blvd, Flagler Beach, Florida. Gallery hours are Tues. - Sun. 12 — 6 PM. Tomorrow and Saturday are a great time to preview the painting and buy your tickets. Ocean Art Gallery is having a reception featuring marine life art 6 — 9 PM on Friday and 1 — 4 PM and 6 — 9 PM Saturday. Refreshments will be served. Raffle tickets may be purchased, $10 each or 3 for $25, at the gallery. The drawing is on May 1 at 7:45 PM. All proceeds will benefit the Project.

The vibrant style depicted in this piece represents an evolution over a lifetime of painting that has included still life, landscapes, and abstracts. The heart motif has a personal significance for Mr. Bull and is found as a major theme in many of his recent paintings. His signature is often depicted with a heart. Mr. Bull was the official artist for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, serves as the official artist of the Muhammad Ali Foundation, and has received numerous awards during his lifetime of painting. To see the evolution of Mr. Bull’s work, visit his website at and his Facebook page. For more information about Ocean Art Gallery, see