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!

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.

Friday, March 20, 2020

New Videos

Three new videos from our 2020 season have been uploaded to our YouTube Channel.

* New Year’s Whales.  The first sighting of the 2020 survey season: female #3560 and her first calf, close to shore at Ormond-by-the-Sea, Florida.  Runtime: 1:54.

* Documentary in the Making.  A behind-the-scenes look at the February visit of a Canadian film crew that is making a right whale documentary for CBC television, to be aired in 2021.  Runtime: 4:12.

* Our People: Second Half of the 2020 Season.  Glimpses of the dedicated volunteers and staff behind the Marineland Right Whale Project.  Runtime: 4:14.

To access, click on the link below:

(Alternatively, go to YouTube, and search on Marineland Right Whale Project.)

You will also see the previous four videos from the season―Halo returns, Frisky calf, News4JAX interviews volunteers, and Our people: First half of the 2020 season.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Right Whales on the Move!

She’s a traveler!
On 12 February, through a gap in the fog at Gamble Rogers State Park, we had our last sighting of right whale #3560 with her first calf, heading south.  How far south?  Well then. . .sighting reports came in as she passed Sebastian Inlet, and. . .Yikes!. . .Miami!!  The last sighting was on 20 February off Key Largo.  We don’t know whether she will continue around the corner into the Gulf of Mexico, or, whether she will make a U-turn and come back north.

Traveler #2
Similarly, our last sighting of #3546, Halo, was on 5 February when we tracked her from North Flagler north to 16th Road.  And then. . .she was off Sapelo Island, Georgia, on the 10th.   Has the northward migration begun, or, will we see her again?

Do not despair!
We have now gone more than two weeks without a right whale sighting in our area.  But wait!  This has happened before.  Sometimes, this has been the end of our sightings for the season.  But at other times, we have had sightings in March.  (Halo was a March whale in 2014.)  We will stick with it.

Predicting the future
Whales and weather!  As Yogi Berra said, “Predictions are hard, especially if it’s about the future.”

Friday, February 21, 2020

YouTube Videos

We have uploaded several videos to our YouTube channel:

Our Volunteers (First half of the 2020 season), runtime = 3.2 min

Halo Returns (Female #3546, Halo, returned to Flagler Beach on 27 January 2020.  A second sighting that day was of mother #3560 and calf off Daytona Beach, runtime = 2.8 min)

Frisky Calf (a view of Halo’s playful calf off Daytona Beach Shores on 4 February 2020, runtime = 1.2 min)

News4Jax Interviews Volunteers (On 10 February 2020, a TV news crew came to Marineland to interview volunteers from Monday’s Team 2, runtime = 1.9 min)

Click here to access our YouTube channel.

Alternatively, you can go to YouTube, search on Marineland Right Whale Project, and click on the logo.  The list of new (and old) videos will come up.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Calf Count and Halo Travels

Good News for Calving Season
On Monday, 3 February, the SE US aerial survey teams sighted three new right whale calves, bringing the total for the season to nine!  Catalog #2642, Echo, and #3290, Arrow, were sighted off Florida (to the north of us), and #2223, Calvin, was sighted off Georgia.  We now have surpassed the calf production for any of the three previous years. Great news indeed!

Halo is on the Move
On Monday, 27 January, we had #3546, Halo, in Flagler Beach.  On Friday, 31 January, Halo and her calf were south of Cape Canaveral and off Cocoa Beach.  Next, the pair appeared off South Daytona Beach on Tuesday, 4 February. Early on 5 February, the phone rang at 7:02.  “Whales in North Flagler, moving north.”  We deployed a response team.  The first drone launch for the day was at 07:57 from Flagler-by-the-Sea Campground.  It was Halo.  Does her vigorous northward travel mean she has begun her migration to Cape Cod, Maine, and Canada?  We don’t know.  More to come. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Halo Returns

There are many good stories.  One is about right whale catalog #3546.  We saw her as a calf in February 2005.  We saw her as a juvenile in 2009, 2010, and 2011.  Then, she was absent for three years.  She next appeared as a first-time mother in 2014.  We saw her on seven occasions in that year.  On one occasion, volunteer Becki Smith was struck by the post-blowhole semi-circle of callosities, which looked to her like a halo.  We subsequently submitted that name in nomination for the annual whale-naming event in the fall of 2014.  The name got the winning votes, and became the official name for female #3546.  Then, all was quiet for several years.
At 07:32 on Monday, 27 January 2020, the phone rang.  Julie of the Marine Resources Council relayed a call.  Whales at south 15th Street in Flagler Beach!  We went down, made a one-call-now, and Sara flew the drone.  The video capture revealed Halo with a calf!  The sky was gray overcast, the winds were light, and the seas calm.  We got good video and photos (image below).  Halo is back!
But wait, there’s more.  We had a second sighting yesterday.  Mother #3560 and calf were sighted at Sunsplash Park in Daytona.  The second team of Terry Clark and Ralph Bundy got photos and video.  And for the rest of the story, the two sightings, #3546 and #3560 are cohorts, both born in the same year (2005).  Now they are back with their calves.

Halo and calf photographed by Sara Ellis
from a drone at S 25th St. in Flagler Beach
on 27 January 2020. Taken under NOAA Research Permit #20626

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Right Whale #3560 Makes Another Appearance

Yesterday, Monday the 13th, we had another sighting of female #3560 and her calf.  She was down in Ormond and heading south slowly.  The calf is now nearly a month old, and both mother and calf appeared healthy.  This is the fifth time we have seen this pair, all in the Ormond area.
Female #3560 with calf on 13 January 2020, off Ormond Beach.  Photo: Ralph Bundy.  Permit # 20626

Raise a glass to #3560 and her calf !

A 4th Mother/Calf Pair
On Thursday, 9 January, the Georgia team sighted a fourth mother-calf pair for the season.  Good news.  The bad news is that the calf was injured, probably very shortly after birth.  There are scars on the head, possibly from a vessel strike.  The Georgia and Florida teams are searching and will provide an updated status, which we will pass along.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Right Whale Mother-Calf No. 1

Mother-Calf No. 1
On Monday, 16 December, the first mother-calf pair for the 2020 season was sighted. Female #3560 and a recently born calf (just look at that little peanut!)  were sighted off Sapelo Island, Georgia, by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research team flying on the NOAA Twin Otter. 
  (Image: Marcy Lee, Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research team, NOAA/NMFS permit #20556)  
Encouraging news is that she is a first-time mother, apparently a late-bloomer at 15 years old. There is further newsthe Marineland Right Whale Project has had experience with this whale. We saw her as a calf in February 2005, as a juvenile in December 2007, and as a sub-adult in February 2011. Based on these previous sightings, we can cautiously conclude that mother and calf may appear in our area in 2020.
Then too, there are perhaps five other potentially pregnant females sighted so far, all to the north of us. Will they calf? Will they come our way? As Yogi Berra stated, “it’s hard to make predictions, especially when it’s about the future.” OK then, flippers crossed.

The Weather is Frightful
We believe that there are seven right whales in the southeast U.S. so far. But the weather has been unsettled and the survey planes have had minimal flight days.  
NL-weekend wx-21Dec19.jpg
       Bad weather for the weekend.  
Therefore, the whereabouts of these whales is mostly unknown.  Weather and whales―the perfect combination!  Looking ahead, when we have a period of good weather, what will turn up?  When walking on the beach, take your binoculars, and call 1-888-979-4253 if you get lucky!  Anything can happen, anytime, anywhere.
 Mark Your Calendars
Our kick-off event for the 2020 season will be held on Saturday, 4 January, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. at the University of Florida’s Whitney Laboratory in Marineland. We will begin with a “big-picture” update and overview of our program. We will then break out into our individual teams for training details and sign-up for days and areas. And yes, there will be program caps and T-shirts, and … door prizes.

Thursday, November 14, 2019


Season #20 is almost here! We are looking for local citizens to help sight the right and humpback whales that may venture into nearshore waters from St. Augustine Inlet to Ponce Inlet. We need many "eyes on the water" to find and report the the small number of these whales that may occur from January through March. Please print out the card below and carry it with you whenever you are on the coast. Join us for one of our informative talks, scheduled below.

If you are new to the Project and want to volunteer for the dedicated surveys, but cannot attend any of these meetings, please reach out to us at marinelandrightwhale@gmail.com to let us know.

Check back frequently (or sign up for email notifications to the right) for updates during the season.


Right Whale Introductory Talks for new volunteers, surveyors and spotters alike, and anyone wanting to know how to spot right whales. If you are a returning volunteer and would like a refresher, by all means join us. (Encourage friends and neighbors to attend!):

Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019
10:00 to 11:30 AM
Flagler County Public Library
2500 Palm Coast Parkway, NW
Palm Coast

Friday, Dec. 6, 2019
10:00 to 11:30 AM
Southeast Branch
St. Johns County Public Library
6670 US 1 South
St. Augustine

Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019
10:00 to 11:00 AM
Ormond Beach Environmental Discovery Center
601 Division Ave.
Ormond Beach

Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020
11:00 AM to 12 Noon
Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area
3100 S. Ocean Shore Blvd.
Flagler Beach

Kick-off Meeting for ALL SURVEY volunteers, new and returning, who are planning to participate in the dedicated survey effort:

Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020
2:00 PM to 4:30 PM
Center for Marine Studies, Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience
9505 Ocean Shore Blvd., Marineland

Surveys Begin:
Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020

Surveys End:
Sunday, March 15, 2020

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

End Of Season Wrap-Up

We held our end-of-season gathering on Saturday, 23 March 2019, at the Whitney Auditorium in Marineland.  About 90 attended.  The food was good, we sold T-shirts and caps (the new nautical red caps were popular), and held a silent auction.  Our partners, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Right Whale Aerial Survey Team had a display and gave an informative presentation on their work that included the aims and results of genetic sampling.  Next, Jim gave a summary of the season, beginning with a report on our first right whale sighting in 2 ½ years.  The new drone program, methods and results, was summarized in a video (more information below).  And finally, after the dedicated lookouts had ended, we received a surprise report from the Surf Clubmother #3370 and calf heading southafter we had, erroneously, assumed she had begun the northward migration and departed the area.

We have updated our YouTube Channel.  Go to YouTube, search on Marineland Right Whale Project, click on the Project logo, and you will see four videos.  Two videos with snapshots of our volunteers (2016 and 2019) and two drone videos (8 February and 2 March).

The 2020 Season
Our next season, December 2019 through March 2020, will be our 20th.  We are hopeful for a continuing rebound for the right whales.  But, as Yogi Berra said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”  We’ll be here.  Join us if you can!

During the season, we will have the 20-year retrospective presentation―not to be missed!  Look for our announcements and schedule here in December.

We are grateful for the donations that help keep the program viable.  If you would like to help support this effort, please make out your tax-deductible check to “ASWH” and mail to: Jim Hain, Marineland Right Whale Project, 9741 Ocean Shore Blvd., St. Augustine, FL  32080-8618.  You will receive a receipt acknowledging your donation in return.

Thank You
To each and every one who helped make this season a success―thank you!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

A Surprise Sighting!

We thought the whale season was over.  Done.  Whales gone.

But, Thursday morning, 21 March, the phone rang.  A mother-calf pair, #3370, off Surf Club.  They went slowly south, and by 5:30, they were off Varn Park. 

The surprise is that this pair was sighted off Georgia on March 8, headed north.  Somehow, and for some reason, they changed their mind.  Two weeks went by.  Then, the Surf Club sighting!

On Friday, 22 March, they were sighted again, just south of Grenada Blvd. in Ormond Beach, still heading south! They continued south at a steady pace until we left them at Main St. Pier in Daytona Beach just before 5 PM. 

Will we see them when they return north? Keep your eyes peeled just in case!

Monday, March 4, 2019

Whales on March 2

It has been a l-o-o-o-o-o-n-g 2 1/2 weeks since our last right whale sighting.  Recall that on Tuesday, 12 February, we had female #3370 and her 2nd calf, down at Highbridge in North Peninsula State Park.  It was a memorable event, as our report was a new mother-calf pair for the season:  #6.
Then it got quiet―at least for us.  But not for mother-calf pair #3370.  They traveled farther south, south of Cape Canaveral, and getting down to Sebastian Inlet on 19 February.  They then turned north.  They were off New Smyrna Beach on 28 February, and off Daytona Beach Shores on Friday, 1 March.
Saturday, it was our turn.  The phone rang at 07:47 in the morning.  Terry Clark and Dave Gustafson reported whales from North Flagler.  We were on site at N 16th Street by 08:35.  We relayed information to Florida Fish and Wildlife, and their plane arrived about 09:45.  We also got in a number of drone flights (image below).  The whales were slowly moving back-and-forth, in close, and in calm seas, until about noon.

Our season has two more weeks. In some past years, March has been a strong month for sightings. Keep your eyes peeled seaward!

Female #3370 with her 2nd calf, returns to our area after 2 1/2 weeks down south. The calf is growing! (Image from N. Flagler Beach on 2 March by Terry Clark, conducted under NOAA/NMFS research permit #20626)

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Aerial Video of Right Whales

Our drone operator, Ralph, made a very nice video of our mother and calf right whale sighting from Ormond-By-The-Sea on February 8, 2019. Runtime is 5:20. Click on the link below or copy/paste into your browser:


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Mother-Calf #6

The winds were brisk.  The seas were lumpy with lots of whitecaps.  At about 9:00, the phone rang.  Julie Albert, Marine Resources Council, relayed a call: whales in south Flagler, moving slowly south.  The initial call came from Linda Grissom, an off-duty team member (her neighbor alerted her and she in turn went to confirm). Team 4 was alerted.  They re-positioned.  At 09:10 team leader Stephanie York called: yes, further confirmed as right whales.  The responders and drone operators got on the road.  Lookouts at a walkover at the Flagler/Volusia line reported a possible mother-calf pair.  At 10:39, the whales were approaching Highbridge, within the Peninsula State Park.  A mother-calf pair was confirmed.  In windy and challenging conditions, drone operator Ralph Bundy obtained the identification photos we were looking for.  Images were relayed to our colleagues with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Team in Ponte Vedra.
Soon, the information came back: Katie Jackson, Florida Fish & Wildlife, identified the mother as Catalog #3370 with her 2nd calf.  Wait! The story gets better.  This was a new report for the season—a new mother-calf pair!  This brings the total to six—we are inching forward!
The whales are like mirages.  They appear and disappear. Female #3370 was sighted without a calf on 1 January.  At the time, she was with another adult female, #2503, Boomerang, also without a calf.  Six weeks later she appears in south Flagler—with a calf.  Since the 1 January sighting, Boomerang has also had a calf.
The Marineland Right Whale Project has prior experience with this right whale.  She was also seen by us in February 2005 and March 2009.  There are some unknowns:  her age is unknown; her mother is unknown.
The drone (and drone operator) has/have once again proved its/their value.  On a day when windy conditions precluded the survey aircraft from flying, the Marineland Right Whale Project’s volunteer sighting network, supported by the drone photography, was able to add a noteworthy finding to this season’s right whale research.
The research is conducted under NOAA/NMFS research permit #20626.  The drone is flown by an FAA-certificated drone pilot.