Friday, January 15, 2016

The Whales are here, but not HERE

Our season is getting off to a slow start. We began our shore-based surveys on January 4  with high hopes of “Light winds and heavy whales,” but the reality was different. The initial six days were characterized by cancelled or partial surveys, gray and foggy skies, rain and drizzle, windy weather, and lumpy seas. In addition to the compromised shore surveys, the Air Cam, our survey aircraft, was grounded by poor weather throughout the week. The warmer air and ocean temperatures were not likely to encourage the whales to move south and we would have been hard-pressed to see them if they had appeared.

The second week started off with much cooler and calmer weather, allowing for all shore and aerial surveys to be out looking. There were a pair of adult right whales sighted on 11 January, northeast of St. Augustine, but that is as far south as sightings have occurred this season. The good news is that three new calves were discovered, although all were well to the north of us, off of the Georgia coast. The mothers are Catalog #1810, #2520, and #1281 (Punctuation). The total for the season is now six calves. This is the fifth calf each for the first two mothers and Catalog #1281 is here with her eighth calf. None of these three has been documented by the Project along our stretch of the coast. However, there are two females that have been sighted in the SEUS, Catalog #3560 and #4040 that could potentially give birth and we have documented these two in our area.

Jim Hain, our project scientist, analyzed mother/calf sightings south of St. Augustine and the results showed great variability. In the recent ten years, the first sighting of the season came as early as November 29 and as late as February 1. With cooler water now pushing south towards our stretch of coastline, this may be the week for our first sighting!