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.