Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Offshore Humpback Whale

The Air Cam crew spotted a humpback whale yesterday, 22 February, about two miles east of Varn Park and Beverly Beach while flying southbound on the 1.5 nm track line. The humpback surfaced briefly, taking several breaths, then submerged for several minutes, repeating this pattern while swimming steadily to the southeast as the Air Cam circled for photos. The one below shows the distinctive characteristics that let us know that this is a humpback and not a right whale; small dorsal fin and long white pectoral fins.

The surveyors in Sector 3 saw the Air Cam circling, but the whale was too far offshore and too low in the water for them to see.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Right Whale Double-Header

Any day that contains a right whale sighting is a day to celebrate. To have two mother and calf pairs in one day? That’s over the top!

On Wednesday, 17 February, flying southbound on the 1.5 nm track line, the Air Cam crew was startled (and thrilled!) when the first pair surfaced almost next to the right side of the aircraft just south of Sunglow Pier in Daytona Beach Shores. We were not surprised, however, since Catalog #3450 (Clipper) and calf had been confirmed just north of Ponce Inlet the day before. As the Air Cam circled for photos, the mother’s tail came to the surface, and it had two complete flukes. This was not Clipper! Instead, we provisionally identified them later as Catalog #4094 with her first calf.

In this photo, the calf has its flukes draped over the mother’s rostrum.

Our first sighting of #4094 came in January of 2011 when she was a yearling and part of a large aggregation of some 13 right whales spread out in small groups from Granada Blvd. in Ormond Beach to south of Main Street Pier in Daytona. We also saw her again in the 2014 season, a year before she would become pregnant with her current calf.

Continuing south, the Air Cam crew harbored the hope that Catalog #3450 (Clipper) was out there and she did not disappoint. Returning northbound on the 0.5 nm track line, the crew spotted her and the calf about 4 nm south of Ponce Inlet. The two were quite close to shore, just beyond the surf line in turbid water. The calf was very active, swimming around, under and over Clipper. In this photo, the calf has its chin on Clipper’s back.

On the ground, Jim made calls to volunteers, Volusia Beach Safety, and the Marine Discovery Center. Numerous people responded and sent reports and photos of both sightings throughout the afternoon. It was a very effective synergy!

We showed a video that nicely described Clipper’s adventures in Sebastian Inlet. Here is a link to view it on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/154985197. Jim presented plots of dates showing the first and last sightings of the season in previous years and described the data as having a great deal of variability. He underlined how the complexity of short and long term weather and climate cycles and trends make predictions of right whale behavior very difficult.

The Project has a new research tool to enhance collection of right whale behavior. We recently acquired a DJI Phantom 3 Pro Unmanned Aircraft (drone). We also received the necessary NOAA Fisheries permit and FAA authorization for approaching right whales with the UA. We demonstrated it at the Gathering and one of our volunteers videoed the short flight.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Sighting Update

Late yesterday, Julie Albert, our colleague with Marine Resources Council, received a photo of a right whale swimming south along Canaveral Seashore and we assumed that is was likely Catalog #3450 (Clipper) and calf. However, Julie also received a reported whale sighting just north of Ponce Inlet, where we saw Clipper the day before. These two locations are too far apart to be the same whales, so the possibility exists of additional whale(s) unknown to us. Many thanks to Becki and Team 5 for extending their land survey south to check out the area. Nothing has surfaced so far today, but we know that the whales can appear at any time! 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

First Right Whales Give Us Several Days of Viewing

It was a long wait to see our first right whales and, thankfully, they stayed around several days, giving us multiple opportunities. The first came on Friday, 29 January. Julie Albert of Marine Resources Council, received a Right Whale Hotline call around 11:15 AM from Gary Carter in Ormond-By-The-Sea that he had two whales in sight. Julie called us. Becki, who happened to be in the area, was on scene less than a half hour later. She confirmed a mother and calf. Joy and the Air Cam were in the middle of an oil change. Sheila responded with the
big camera, acquiring excellent photos that identified the pair as Catalog #3450 (Clipper) with her first known calf. 

Clipper and her calf’s presence in the SEUS was first documented by Julie of MRC on 19 January, in the Cape Canaveral area. The two whales were subsequently sighted and confirmed on the 20th and 21st in this same general area. Knowing this, we anticipated that we might see them again.

Early the next morning, Saturday, 30 January, Carlos Diaz of Ormond Beach called Becki shortly after 8:00 AM with news that he had whales in sight. By 9:20 AM, Becki had them at Cardinal Drive in Ormond Beach. The whales were a
mile and more from shore, moved little, stayed low in the water, and disappeared for minutes at a time, making them very difficult to see. The Air Cam crew, on site about 11:30 AM, did spot them and the photos confirmed that Catalog #3450 and calf were still in the vicinity. 

Sunday, 31 January, was a perfect day with the best sighting conditions so far this season. Yet, despite survey teams out and the Air Cam flying, Clipper and her calf were nowhere to be seen. Just after 9:00 AM on Monday, 1 February, Julie called with a Hotline report from Ray Walker of whales in Wilber-By-The-Sea, about 3 miles north of Ponce Inlet. The Air Cam photographed them, confirming Clipper and calf once again. This day, the pair came in closer to shore and offered a much better view for observers. 

Clipper’s sighting history began in 2004, but her age at that time was unknown. She has been documented during several winter seasons in the SEUS, but not by the Marineland Right Whale Project, so this was our first sighting of her. Perhaps, it won’t be our last!