Saturday, May 1, 2021

Marineland Right Whale Project Season Summary

Thank You
First and foremost:  Thank you to our most excellent group of volunteers for their time, effort, energy, ideas, and financial support during the 2021 season. 

 

2021 Summary Video: Second Half

Our drone pilot and video guru, Sara, has prepared a most excellent video of the second half of the season. To view, click on the title below: 

2021 Survey Season: Second Half


Season Summary
In the 2021 season, the Marineland Right Whale Project responded to 30 right whale sightings. Of these, 24 were mother-calf pairs with identifiable photographs, and 3 were mother-calf pairs whose identities could not be determined. There was also a yearling, a pair, and a trio. Of the mother-calf pair sightings, 21 were of Catalog #4040, Chiminea, a 13-year-old with her first calf. On 24 April, the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown reported that Chiminea and her calf had made it safely to Cape Cod Bay. For the MRWP, 2021 was our most successful season in a decade. 


Verified sightings by year for the Marineland Right Whale Project.  The 2021 season was our most successful in a decade (since 2011).


Contributing to these results, the MRWP had 19 days with successful drone flights. The incorporation of drones into our response and identification protocols has considerably enhanced the effectiveness of the program.

Through the collective efforts (including all investigators and research groups) in the Southeastern U.S., 17 new calves were documented in the 2021 season. This was the best calf production in eight years (since 2013). In addition, there were a number of yearlings, adults, and groups. This may hint at a return to the demographics of earlier years, when a diverse group of right whales, in larger numbers, migrated to the Southeastern U.S. As we look to 2022, keep your fingers crossed.


Sunday, March 14, 2021

WHALE NEWS: THE GOOD AND THE BAD

Offspring of Halo returns
Right Whale Catalog #3560, Halo, is near the heart of our program. We saw her as a calf, with her mother, in the 2005 season. Subsequently, we have seen her, and her calves, in several years since. And, in fact, we (volunteer Becki Smith) contributed to her naming. Last year, in the 2020 season she was seen in the Marineland area, with her 2nd calf, on five occasions (see the YouTube video posted on the Marineland Right Whale Project channel). Then, this year, on Wednesday, 10 March 2021, this 2020 calf, now a yearling, was sighted alone just south of the St. Augustine Inlet.  In the two following days, the 11th and 12th, it was seen around Ponce Inlet and then the Port Canaveral area. Halo and offspring are with us. 


The 2020 calf of Halo, now a yearling, has returned to our area.  What is the value of this excursion?  Unknown.
(Photo: 11 March 2021 by the FWC aerial team.)


Right Whale Calf #17

Right whale Catalog #3593 was spotted with her first calf off Topsail Beach, North Carolina, on 11 March 2021.The sighting was by the North Carolina aerial survey team (see Right Whale News, January 2021) 31 nautical miles off the beach. She has a sparse sighting history in the photo-identification catalog and her sex was unknown until this sighting of her with a calf showed that she is female. 

 

Early in the season, we wished and hoped for 20 calves this season. We, collectively, are inching forward. Will this goal be attained?

 

Bad news for Snow Cone

Right Whale Catalog #3560, Snow Cone, was popular with our group in the 2020 season, when she and her first calf were sighted on nine occasions. She appeared to have a nearshore habitat preference―as does her half-sister, Chiminea―which brought her and calf into view of many researchers, volunteers, and citizens. This pair gained some notoriety, when, in mid-March, they swam past Miami and into the Gulf of Mexico. They subsequently returned north. The mother-calf pair is planned to be central to a right whale documentary being prepared by a Canadian film company. But, their story has changed dramatically since last season as Snow Cone appears to be snake bit.  
 
In the morning of 25 June 2020, a boater reported a floating whale carcass 4 miles off Elberon, New Jersey. The dead whale was identified as her male calf. The wounds along his head and body were consistent with two different vessel collisions.

But wait, there’s more. Just this week, on 10 March 2021 the Center for Coastal Studies aerial survey team came across an entangled whale in Cape Cod Bay. It turned out to be Snow Cone. Disentangling efforts are underway. The outlook is uncertain at this time. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

FINAL SURVEY WEEK

Weather
The wind forecasts for our final week are mixed. Beginning today (Tuesday) we will resume the surveys. There will be moderate east winds for Tuesday through Friday.  Then, on Saturday and Sunday (our final two days), we should have light and favorable winds.

Continuing the Lookouts
Our last day of formal surveys is Sunday, 14 March. We are asking our surveyors and opportunistic spotters to continue spending time along the coast looking for any straggler whales. Please take your binoculars if you have them and have the Right Whale Hotline number handy: 1-888-979-4253. We will be on call, and will respond when you phone.

Season Summary
Every whale, every day, and every season is different. The 2021 season has been no exception. We will provide a season summary toward the end of March.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

WHALE SEASON – IT’S NOT OVER !

It is time for some good news.

Our last right whale sighting was on Monday, 15 February. It was Catalog #1243, Magic, and calf. In the closing days of February, we chased several reported sightings but were unable to verify them. Early March was quiet, very quiet. We had a solid week of good to excellent conditions. No whales.

Here’s the interesting part (you really can’t make this stuff up!). At 8:47 AM on Friday the 5th, Jim sent out an email wondering if there were unaccounted for whales that might surprise us. Minutes later, at 8:49 AM, Julie Albert from Marine Resources Council called with a sighting from Flagler Beach. The caller was the recently elected mayor. She was 100% certain it was a right whale. We went down, flew the drone twice, but had no success with photos. The winds were brisk and increasing, and the sea state was a Beaufort 4+ (numerous white caps). From binocular views, we categorized it as a mother-calf pair, with a large calf.  

The winds were brisk, and there were abundant whitecaps. We were not able to get images from the drone. However, Terry Clark and others were able to identify the sighting as a probable  mother-calf pair, heading south.  (Photo: S. Ellis)

But wait, there’s more. At 10:03 AM, Katie Jackson from Florida Fish & Wildlife, reported a new mother-calf pair, sighted on 4 March, 25 nautical miles east of Jacksonville (waaaay offshore). It was Catalog #3020, Giza, with her third calf. This brings the season total to 16 calves.

And, there’s still more. Up to the north, Millipede, Catalog #3520, and her calf were sighted off Massachusetts, on Wednesday, 3 March, by the Center for Coastal Studies aerial survey team. Recall that this mother-calf pair was our first sighting for this season – photographed by Martha Garito off the Flagler pier on Monday, 7 December 2020. This pair successfully made the 1,200 mile journey north. The calf is now three months old, and is described as being healthy and independent. This was the first mother-calf pair of the season for the Marineland Right Whale Project, and, similarly, the first mother-calf pair of the season for the Center for Coastal Studies.

The weather and sighting conditions will improve in the coming week for the final days of our survey season (ends Sunday, 14 March). Please keep good watch on the ocean if you are along the shoreline.


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Magic Sighting and First Half Season Wrap Up

Magic Happens
On Monday, 15 February, we responded to a sighting from Survey Team 4, in Ormond-By-The-Sea. The whales were off Highbridge Road. We launched the drone. Just in time for the fog to roll in.  We then did the only thing civilized people can
do—we went to lunch. While at lunch, the phone rang. Earl Sanders had worked south to Ormond Plaza. The fog was lifting and the whales were in view. We went. We flew the drone. We photographed. It was a mother-calf pair, Right whale 
#1243, Magic, a 39 year-old female with her 7th calf. This was a new pair for our area this season.

Weather
We have had nearly a solid week of poor weather, wind, and high sea states. The forecast for the coming week, particularly Wednesday through Friday, looks good.

Please scan the water when you are on the coast, for the week, as well as for the remainder of the season. Will we be able to sight additional mothers and their healthy calves? Will we be able to reach our goal of 20+ calves for the season? 


If you believe you have a whale sighting, please call the MRC Right Whale Hotline at 1-888-979-4253. Consider entering this into your cell phone to have it handy.

 

Video and volunteers

Because of constraints and cautions resulting from COVID-19, our interactions and socializations have been much reduced this season. Reduced but not gone. For a video of the first half of the season (runtime 6:03), click here:


2021 Survey Season: First Half

 

End of the season

We are in the eighth week of our season. Depending on further whale sightings, the last day will either be 14 or 21 March.  We will advise.

 

And, as always . . . here’s to light winds and heavy whales.

Monday, February 15, 2021

DO WHALES GRIEVE ?

Sad news came on Valentine’s Day weekend. On Friday afternoon, the 12th, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission Survey plane sighted Right whale #3230, Infinity, and her first calf, near the St. Augustine Inlet. A few hours later, at dusk, a returning sport fishing boat struck something in the inlet and reported that they hit a whale. The next morning, the body of a calf came ashore on the beach at Anastasia State Park. It is believed to be the calf of Infinity. By the afternoon, a response was in progress, and documentation and measurements recorded. The following day, Sunday the 14th, a necropsy (autopsy conducted on a non-human) was performed and samples taken.

There have been 14 calves born this season. With this death, 13 remain. The calf came ashore on the 13th. An unlucky day for the whales, and for the dedicated scientists and citizens who study and monitor them. The mother is out there. Somewhere. Is she grieving?

The news coverage provides a good summary (ctrl click on the link) :

Right whale calf fatally struck by boat washes up on Anastasia Island

 by Brie Isom, News4Jax


Scientists say beached right whale calf had broken skull, broken ribs
by Jessica Clark, First Coast News 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

WHALES, WEATHER, & WEBINAR

 Right Whale Webinar

On Wednesday, 10 February, at 7:30 p.m., the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is hosting an interesting Zoom webinar on right whales. In advance of the meeting, in your browser enter go.whoi.edu/saving-whales . . . or . . . in the search box, enter, “WHOI Ocean Encounters – Saving the North Atlantic right whale.” Once on the page, you will be asked to register (free). Once registered, you will receive a confirmation e-mail with information on how to attend the meeting.

Right Whale News Posted

The January 2021 issue of Right Whale News has been posted at www.narwc.org. The issue includes updates on science and management from Canada and the U.S.

Whales, Weather, and Wonder

In January, we had 22 right whale sightings.  Most were Catalog #4040, Chiminea, with her first calf. There were others. It’s fun to conjure up stories. On Wednesday, 20 January, Ralph Bundy and Jim Hain photographed a pair in Ormond-by-the-Sea.  They were the young and innocent 8-year-old female Catalog #4340, Pilgrim, and her randy 13-year-old suitor, Catalog #3810. They have not been seen since. Where are they? What are they up to?  

Likewise, we photographed Catalog #3904, Champagne, and her first calf in Ormond on 23 January. The pair continued south, and was subsequently seen off Jensen Beach on 26 January. The pair have returned north and were seen off Ponte Vedra on 3 February.

On another note (provided by Florida Fish & Wildlife): three females, Catalog #3230 Infinity, Catalog #3520 Millipede, and Catalog #3860 Bocce, have all calved this year. They have the same mother, Catalog #2040, Naevus. They can be considered half-sisters as they have different fathers. Their calves have the same grandmother, Catalog #1140, Wart.

We are in a week of mixed weather, including fog, clouds, drizzle, and wind. We’ve been here before.  Keep your fingers crossed. We are in the second half of the season. The sun, blue skies, warm days, and healthy whales will return.

Friday, January 29, 2021

WHALES - WEEK FOUR

 Sightings

As of 27 January, we have had whale sightings in our area in four of the last five days. On Saturday, 23 January, at 8:00 a.m., MRC called with a report from Ormond-by-the-Sea. Survey Team 4 responded to help track, and Jim & Sara got on the road. It was a gray windy day. The whales were at the surface infrequently, and, they were moving fast. Conditions were not suitable for the drone. We tracked the whales south. Finally, at 10:45, we got a photo from the Cardinal Street Beach Patrol tower. It was a new whale for our area--Right Whale #3904, Champagne, with her first calf.

Female #3904, Champagne, with her first calf, heading south past Ormond Beach on 23 January 2021

But there's more. 23 January was a two-sighting day. Survey Team 3 called from Beverly Beach at 9:27 a.m. The mother-calf pair was Right whale #4040, Chiminea, also with her 1st calf. They passed south by Flagler Pier, and by 2:00 p.m. were off South Flagler Beach.

The calf's flukes draped over the back of mother, #4040, Chiminea, off the Flagler Pier, 23 January 2021. Photo: M. Garito

The next day, Sunday, 24 January, we got a call from Daytona Beach Shores. Jim & Carol Logan responded. Despite three drone flights, we were unable to photograph the whales, so their identity is unknown.

On Tuesday, 26 January, Survey Team 5 reported a sighting from Daytona Beach.  Nadine P., who we met last last year working on a right whale documentary, responded along with us, as did Jamie, drone operator, of Blue Water Research Institute.  An acoustic research team from Florida Atlantic University (FAU), including Julie from the MRC, responded with their boat and gear. And, oh yes, at one point the Florida Fish & Wildlife survey plane flew over. It was Right Whale #4040, Chiminea, with calf.

And lastly, Wednesday, 27 January, Survey Team 4 called from Ormond-by-the-Sea. It again was Right Whale #4040, Chiminea, and calf. The conditions were good. We got both drone images and stills from shore. On this day, we again collaborated with the FAU acoustic research team.

The Calf Count to Date

As of this date, 14 right whale mother-calf pairs have been sighted in the southeastern U.S. In the Marineland area, we have sighted three of the mother-calf pairs, along with sightings of a trio, a pair, and a single yearling.

For our group, the sighting activity has been better than in recent years. For the Southeast US as a whole, as it is still early in the season, we hope for 20 or more calves born this year.

And as always, many thanks to our capable and dedicated team members and our opportunistic spotters.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Whale Sightings Update

On Wednesday, 20 January, we had a late sighting in Ormond-by-the-Sea. At 3:41 PM, Julie at the MRC relayed a call. Drone operator Ralph Bundy responded quickly. Jim grabbed his gear and headed down. It turned out to be a most interesting sighting...two adults heading south. They were Right Whale #4340, Pilgrim, and Right Whale #3810...an 8-year old female and a 13-year-old male, respectively. They had distinctive marks and displayed social behavior. They were seen previously by the Georgia team on 17 January near the St. Mary’s River entrance (at the north end of Amelia Island).

Female #4340 and male #3810 traveling as a pair off Ormond-by-the-Sea on Wednesday afternoon, 20 January 2021. Photo: R. Bundy, NOAA Fisheries research permit #20626.

Previously, on 16 January, a yearling was sighted south of the Flagler Pier. It was the 2020 calf of Right Whale #1612. Both of these sightings contribute to a more diverse demography than we have seen in recent years, and are considered a good sign.

Human Impacts

There are hazards to the whales. Three recent events make the point. On 11 January, a paddleboarder closely approached Right Whale #4040, Chiminea, and calf south of Matanzas Inlet. On 14 January, a jet-ski event was held off Daytona Beach. Chiminea and calf were near. Volusia County Beach Safety was alerted. The jet skiers were called in. On 17 January, the harassment or potential harassment continued. Chiminea and calf were again off Matanzas Inlet. It was a weekend with good weather. On-water activities, and perhaps jeopardy to whales increases at these times.The whales were approached closely by both boaters and jet skiers. The events were such that law enforcement was contacted.

Scoter Ducks

A cautionary note. On Thursday, 21 January, we received a possible sighting report. A low, long, black line observed in the water south of Hammock Dunes. Sara and Jim deployed. The very intriguing object turned out to be a raft of Scoter ducks. There is no shame. It has happened to us all. Many a whale spotter has been deceived by these ducks who dive and surface in unison.

Calf Births

NOAA Fisheries recently posted reports of the 12th and 13th calves for the season.  Number 12 was born to Right Whale #3230, Infinity, and #13 to Right Whale #3720. The two mothers were both first-time mothers...a good sign, as new mothers are coming into the reproductive pool and contributing to the population. At this time, the calving has exceeded the 2020 count of 10, and indeed, the annual count for the last four years. As it is still early in the season, we can reasonably hope for additional mother-calf reports. Will we be able to reach, and possibly exceed, the hoped-for 20 calves this season??

We can cautiously say that we are having an active and productive season so far.  Please continue looking for whales when you are on the coast and report any sightings to 1-888-97-WHALE (1-888-979-4253).



Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Whales, TV, and a U-Turn

The events of Monday and video by the Marineland Right Whale Project were on the evening news. To view, copy and paste this link into your browser: 

https://www.news4jax.com/news/local/2021/01/11/2-right-whale-calves-spotted-off-coast-of-northeast-florida/

 

Alternatively, search on “2 right whale calves spotted + News4Jax.”

Next, we watched Right Whale #4040, Chiminea, and calf swim steadily northward during the last two weeks. We began to think their northward migration was underway. But no! In the afternoon of Monday, 11 January, the pair made a U-Turn off Crescent Beach, and yesterday again crossed past the Matanzas Inlet, and by mid-afternoon were approaching Marineland. Did the mother decide to linger in the southern waters, perhaps because the calf was not ready for the migration? Will we see more of her in Flagler County and to the south?

Lastly, several more mother-calf pairs have been sighted. The count now stands at nine. Several of these were in the Ponte Vedra area. Will they come south into our search area? We are perpetually optimistic.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Early Whales Continue! Will We Have More?

We, and our partners at the Marine Resources Council, have had sightings of Right Whale #4040, Chiminea, and her first calf on many days during the last two weeks from New Smyrna Beach through Daytona Beach to near Matanzas Inlet, slowly making their way north. She may be beginning her northward migration, but it’s early, and we simply don’t know. At the same time, there are perhaps 3-4 other mother-calf pairs in the southeast, and, in addition, perhaps a number of females who are yet to calve. We encourage anyone along the shoreline to keep a good lookout!

Yesterday, just south of Matanzas Inlet, we recorded a possible human impact event. A paddleboarder approached the mother-calf pair. This is illegal (violates the 500-yard approach rule), and may introduce stress into the sensitive situation of a mother with a young calf. The images and drone footage were passed along to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, who may initiate an enforcement or warning action. Part of our mission is to help influence changes in human behavior (keep your distance) that will benefit the whales.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

More Early Whales!

At just before noon on Sunday, 20 December, Barbara Kuhns called in a sighting from Hammock Dunes.  Team leader Sharon Ralston relayed the information, including to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Team.  Their plane was on site shortly thereafter  They reported mother Right Whale #4040, Chiminea, with calf.

The next day, Monday the 21st, at 07:47, Becky Bush called in a sighting from south of Hammock Dunes.  We lost track of it until 11:05, when Julie Albert from the Marine Resources Council reported it from the Painter’s Hill area.  Joy and Terry, with the drone, went to the Beverly Beach Town Hall platform and launched the drone.  Images again showed Right Whale #4040, Chiminea, and calf.  She is 13 years old, and this is her first known calf.


Drone photo from Beverly Beach, 21 December 2020, by Terry Clark. Taken under NOAA Fisheries Permit #20626.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Early Whales!

On the evening of 6 December, FWC phoned with a report of whales heading south from St. Augustine Inlet.  The next day, Monday the 7th, whales were sighted off Washington Oaks, Painter's Hill, and Flagler Beach--moving quickly.  About 11:30 Martha Garito got good photos from Flagler Pier.  They were identified as female #3520, Millipede, with her 2nd calf (mother and calf images below).


Whales are in the area.  Please be on the lookout.  If you have a sighting, please use the Marine Resources Council's Right Whale Hotline #1-888-979-4253.

And, please use good judgement when going out.  Face masks, social distancing, no groups--listen to Dr. Fauci.  And, don't go out if you are not comfortable doing so.

Lastly. we will be posting here around the 15th advising of the plans for the season (it will be different).

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Catalog #3560 Follow-Up

The Travels of Mother #3560 and Calf
As outlined in our season summary, our most-sighted right whales this season were first-time mother, Catalog #3560 and her calf.  They went south and up into the Gulf of Mexico.  As of 27 March, they were south of the Florida Keys, and, may be coming back north, through the Marineland area, enroute to their summer grounds. If you are along the coast, keep your eyes peeled and the Right Whale Hotline number, 
1-888-979-4253, handy!

Donations
Volunteers and volunteer effort are at the core of our program. However, there are expenses. We buy office supplies, computer and photography supplies, binoculars, team bags, GPS units, and drones. There are also insurances, and bookkeeping and accounting costs. Bottom line: it all adds up.

Individual donations are a significant part of our support. If you would like to contribute financially to this effort, and any amount is most appreciated, please make your check payable to Associated Scientists at Woods Hole, and mail to Box 721, Woods Hole, MA 02543.  The donations are tax-deductible, and we will send you an acknowledgement.
We assure you that none of your donation will be used for salaries. We write proposals for foundation grants to cover this item.

In past years, we have successfully raised the money to keep the program going. Please help us to do it again!

Saturday, March 28, 2020

2020 Season Summary

The 20th season of the Marineland Right Whale Project began on an upnote.  On New Year’s Day, Jim Hain, heading south on Route 95, was at a lunch stop at an IHOP in Virginia when the phone rang. Whales! Julie Albert with the Marine Resources Council relayed a call from a beachwalker in Ormond-by-the-Sea. Dave and Maryann Gustafson, Terry Clark, and Ralph Bundy responded. A drone was launched. It was female Catalog #3560 with her first calf. This mother-calf pair was first reported on 16 December off Georgia. In the following two-week period, they went unsighted. The whales appear. The whales disappear. The New Year’s sighting was the first since the 12/16 date and the first in the state of Florida for this season! It was a holiday with good weather. Lots of people were out and stopped to watch. The Sheriff’s Department helped direct traffic. The Florida Fish & Wildlife survey plane also responded. It was an auspicious start to the 2020 New Year!

During the course of the season, Catalog #3560 and her calf were sighted eight more times by our program―our most-sighted whales for the season. The pair meandered south and north several times. The last sighting by our group was on 12 February at the Gamble Rogers State Park, through a gap in the fog. Then, they swam south of Cape Canaveral and were sighted off Sebastian Inlet, off Miami, and off Key Largo. Then, all was quiet. Next―surprise―they were photographed in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida panhandle on 11 March. As of 24 March, they are swimming south along the west coast of Florida. Will they pass through the Keys and once again pass through our area? Time will tell. We will keep you posted. 

This rare event has occurred before. On 4 December 2005, we sighted female #2503, Boomerang, and calf heading south past Marineland. By January 2006, they had made it around to the Gulf of Mexico and were off Texas. In August and September of that year, the pair was reported in the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, Canada. There is another record of this type.  In 2018, a juvenile went into the Gulf of Mexico and was sighted several times off the panhandle and the west coast of Florida.

The other frequently sighted mother-calf pair this season was #3546, Halo, with her second calf. We sighted the pair five times. She is also a traveler. The pair meandered between Crescent Beach and Daytona Beach. On 31 January, photos on social media showed her off Cocoa Beach and Jetty Park (Port Canaveral). They next reappeared moving north on 5 February off Flagler Beach. On 12 March they were reported off Myrtle Beach, SC. We can guess that their northward migration was underway. 

The Marineland Right Whale Project had 15 sightings this season. It was our best season in the last four years. We flew our drones on nine occasions, and found that they greatly enhanced/synergized the results from our shore-based network. Using big cameras with long lenses, we obtained shore-based photos on six occasions. We worked with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Team on several occasions to help obtain biopsy samples of two calves (1), and aerial photos of several individuals. We also collaborated with the Marine Resources Council in providing and receiving calls to/from their sighting hotline. Many of our volunteers had right whale sightings, including several dozen who saw their first-ever right whale this season.

Stay tuned to this blog and join us in 2021!

(1) Genetic data provide another valuable information source and a parallel research approach.  The DNA in the skin sample provides a genetic identity, and can be used to determine sex, establish paternity and relatedness to other individuals, and help identify whales not photographically identified.  There is a genetic database for this information.