Thursday, January 26, 2017

Humpback Revealed

The humpback whale that has caused our phones to ring over the last several days was finally captured on camera. Photographer Tony Caruso of Flagler Beach sent us images he took on 24 Jan. at 11:30 AM from N 23rd St. One example is shown here. 

Yesterday, 25 January, following on a call from Team 4 in Ormond-by-the-Sea, the Air Cam crew spotted it as well, about a mile and a half east of Flagler Pier. The whale was surfacing briefly and intermittently, and observer Terry Clark caught it just before the Air Cam flew past it. The humpback was swimming steadily northbound and the plane circled for nearly 20 minutes before Terry obtained enough photos. Below is one with the distinguishing characteristics highlighted.

Along with the humpback, the Air Cam crew also observed several manta rays breaching, which have also caused the phone to ring. This behavior involves the large rays hurtling out of the water, flipping headfirst upside down, and hitting the water on their backs, resulting in a very large and dramatic splash. The black back followed by a quick glimpse of the white belly has inspired many people to report that they saw a whale. Manta rays normally reach our survey area in late March or early April, after right whales have migrated north, and when ocean temperatures have warmed. The Air Cam documented the rays from Ormond Beach to Flagler Beach, something to keep in mind as you are surveying!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Teased by a Humpback

The phone is ringing! But, not for right whales. Since Saturday, we have had a humpback whale in the area from the St. Augustine Beach Pier south to Ormond Beach and back again to North Flagler Beach.

The whale is showing familiar humpback behavior: moving quickly, surfacing briefly, and showing little else. On Saturday, 21 January, just after noon at the St. Augustine Beach Pier, Team 1 made the initial sighting. They alerted their team leader, Diane, who verified it as a humpback from the small dorsal fin. Jim responded with the big camera, meeting Team 1’s Andris Duffy at Butler Beach. Together, they followed the whale south to Crescent Beach (photo above), but it moved too quickly and erratically to obtain photos. Their sighting form (excerpt below) allows us to make three notes: 1) the in the absence of photos, the reason for the species ID is recorded, 2) behavior is recorded, and 3) a drawing has been included showing the distinctive scraped and scarred dorsal fin. So, when your opportunity comes, these additions to the Notes section of the sighting sheet are valuable.

On other news: Joy and Jim were interviewed for the Palm Coast Observer, so check out the paper on Thursday.
Lastly, when things are going well, your help is valuable. When things are not going as well (as in no right whale sightings yet), your help is even more valuable.

And as always, here are wishes for “Light Winds and Heavy Whales.” Keep your flippers crossed!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Program Update

This is the hard part! We are 2 ½ weeks into our surveys. The water is warm, the ocean is quiet, and right whales are few in number. What lies ahead? We don’t know! But good science and conservation calls for us to stay with it.

So far, there are only three mother-calf pairs reported for the southeastern U.S. And, only a single adult male, Catalog #3530, Ruffian has been reported. None of these have been sighted in our area. But there is hope. Catalog #1711 and her 
calf were photographed south of Cape Canaveral, off Satellite Beach on 14 January (image to right) and off Sebastian Inlet the next day. There is a chance they will come back north into our area. And, we are always on the lookout for additional mother/calf pairs.

On other news: Team 1 and Joy were interviewed for Channel 12 news on Monday, 16 January ( And, the January 2017 issue of Right Whale News has been posted (, select Right Whale News, and then Current Issue).

Here are wishes for “Light Winds and Heavy Whales.” Keep your flippers crossed!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

MLD Right Whale Program Update for 10 January 2017

Our surveys began on 2 January. In the first week, we had four days of good conditions, including an AirCam flight on Thursday. Despite a good search effort, there were no sightings. In fact, taking into account the Florida Fish & Wildlife team, there were no right whale sightings in Florida waters.

There is news from elsewhere in the southeastern U.S. The first right whale mother/calf pair for the season was sighted by the Georgia aerial survey team on New Year’s Day, about 2 miles off St. Simons Island. She is Catalog #1711, a 30-year-old with her third calf. We saw her off Crescent Beach in February 2001 (our first season!) with another female. 

Next, on 5 January, the Florida Fish and Wildlife aerial survey team sighted an entangled right whale, with lines through its mouth, off the Georgia coast. The Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources team attached a telemetry buoy to the trailing gear, allowing the whale to be tracked. The following day, 6 Jan., the combined teams from FWCC, Georgia DNR, and NOAA Fisheries successfully removed all visible lines and retrieved a round net/trap that the whale was dragging. This all took place some 20 to 30 miles offshore east of Cumberland Island, Georgia.

This rescue is relevant for us because the whale involved was Catalog #3530, named Ruffian, a 13-year-old male whom we have sighted nine times from the year he was born in 2004 to 2011. And, Ruffian experienced entanglement before, in 2008. Though he was not sighted while entangled, it must have been brutal because the extent and severity of his wounds had us all wondering if he would survive. We sighted him about two years after this entanglement event from the AirCam, on 19 Jan 2010, with a large group of whales over 3 miles east of Ormond Beach. As can be seen from this photo, Ruffian, on the right, still had significant scarring. The following year, on 16 Jan 2011, we again saw Ruffian with a large group of whales that stretched, in small groups, close to shore, from Granada Blvd. in Ormond Beach to Main St. Pier in Daytona. 

Week #2 began with cold, windy weather and cancelled surveys. Today, 10 January, the weather is improving and looks promising for the next few days. We will be able to see if the wind and cold of the past several days have persuaded any whales to head our way.