Friday, January 22, 2016

Whales to the North and Whales to the South

The mother and calf right whales spotted yesterday off S. Ponte Vedra were initially sighted by our colleagues on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission aerial survey team. Since the whales were about 5 miles north of the St. Augustine Inlet, Jim relayed their coordinates to the Air Cam crew to conduct follow up documentation. With excellent weather conditions, the Air Cam team spotted the pair and succeeded in obtaining photographs.

The mother is Catalog #3317, a 13-year-old whale with her second calf. We saw her in our area in 2003, when she was a calf, and again in 2006 as a juvenile. She and her calf were first sighted this season on 10 December by the FWCC aerial team.

To the south, two right whales were reported in the Cape Canaveral area on 19 January. Our colleague, Julie Albert of Marine Resources Council, verified them to be a mother and calf and obtained photos. The mother has been identified as Catalog #3450 (Clipper) with her first known calf.

This brings the total number of calves born this season to eight! Progress indeed. Plus, we know that at least one pair of whales has traveled through our area. We have to think that more will follow as the sea surface temperatures take on the profile that, in the past, has generally been correlated with sightings on our area. Take heart and keep looking seaward! 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

You Can See Whales in Sea State 5

The last two days have brought rough seas with numerous white caps, difficult conditions under which to see whales. But, not impossible, as Pat LaMee in Sector 5N (Daytona Beach) discovered when, surveying from Andy Romano Park yesterday, he spotted a breaching whale. The whale breached numerous times over several minutes, then disappeared. There was no time to mount a response and the short viewing time coupled with challenging sighting conditions made it difficult for the team to see the details necessary to positively identify it as a humpback or a right whale.  Hats off to Pat for a good catch and providing encouragement for the rest of us! 

The next two days should have much improved conditions and we plan to have the Air Cam flying. Let’s see if we can find more whales!

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!