2014 Florida Volunteer Updates

As the North Atlantic right whales migrate to the South Georgia/Northern Florida coast each winter volunteers help watch for and capture critical details related to this endangered species. This information helps scientists track the fate of the species and acts as a first alert system to pilots in the shipping lanes to avoid accidental killings. This blog shares the findings, photos and other pertinent information gathered from the Palm Coast Sector Volunteer Team while helping to connect and communicate the many ways we can protect the right whales and sustain our wonderful ocean life.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Whale On, 2014!

Hello fellow whale watchers and survey team members. The female north atlantic right whales have migrated to our waters with their young and it has been such a privilege to be part of the volunteer team to be out on watch - wind, rain or shine!

While I take a sabbatical this year to focus on my painting, you may stay up to date on sightings in our area by visiting the Marineland Right Whale Project's Blog, via the link below. There have been several whales spotted in our area already in 2014!

That said, I'm not one to completely drop off the whale grid so please, if you spot a whale in or near the Hammock, please continue to call or text as my Hammock studio on A1A is close to the beach and I will have binoculars and cameras at the ready. Whale on!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Marineland Attracts Second Mother/Calf Sighting

For the second time this season a mother and calf pair were spotted just off the beautiful beach in Marineland, FL (photo above). This is the same location a mother and calf pair were spotted on Superbowl Sunday.  I was running errands in Palm Coast when the call came out just after 2pm on Tuesday, February 26 so I headed back to the Hammock and drove North on A1A.

Our right whales always attract a small crowd of avid watchers, scientists and surveyors so as I pulled off of A1A and into the Marineland boardwalk parking lot it wasn't difficult to know which direction to head. The south end was sprinkled with various groups of onlookers glued to their binoculars and a number of onlookers were standing atop the boardwalk railings.

While I did have my camera I was sans binoculars. I positioned myself next to two watchers who were glued to their binoculars. I stood there for several minutes and heard them say, there! There they are! But I couldn't see them so I started peppering them for help with where to look. It took another very long ten minutes, eyes peeled to the surface for any sign, before I was able to catch sight of them. I quickly pulled out my video camera and attempted to get it on tape...but was hindered by direct sun from behind me, hitting the viewfinder directly. I was shooting blind!  After a few more tries and fumbling around with my sunglasses, hats and whatever I could think of to help shield the sun I eventually put my camera down and enjoyed being in the moment.

It was fun to watch and witness the familiar and forceful, v-shaped blows and then wait for the anticipated breech - be it just the tip of a nose, toss of a flipper or a long back skimming the surface then disappearing. This is what we live for. And it was a glorious day weather-wise to experience it as the sun was high and the air temperate.

I wonder if there is any connection to the weather conditions and these sightings. Especially since we keep track of things like cloud cover, wind direction and water activity while on watch. And while I ponder on this a bit longer, here is a short video that proves I did somehow manage to get some activity on tape. And I apologize for the shaky camera work. I have also included a 3 minute video from my watch last Friday in The Hammock. The Language of Birds is the title of a book I am working on. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Whales Return, Frolic in Flagler Beach

A right whale and her calf were spotted today in Flagler Beach! As life would have it I wasn't able to jump in the car right after the call came in just prior to noon, but by around 2pm I was able to join the small clicks of whale watchers gathered off A1A. As I pulled off the road I was able to spot the whales almost immediately. They were that active. And one of the unique signs of being a whale watch volunteer is how quickly you are able to "spot the spotters," however I had my small dog with me and only a short amount of time so I decided to focus on capturing the whales on video. The whales were close to shore and seemed to be lazily enjoying each other's company and, like many of us, another beautiful winter's day here in paradise...uh, I mean Florida. So without further ado, here's the video to share. If you can pull it up and watch it in "full screen" mode (click on the link in the lower right of the video box when you scroll over it) you'll be amazed at how much you can see. Enjoy and...watch on!

P.S. As we had hoped, this mother and calf were confirmed to be the same mother/calf pair that my friend, Jan Geyer spotted off the boardwalk up at Marineland on the eve of Superbowl Sunday. Yeah! :)

Monday, February 4, 2013

Whale of A Super(bowl) Sighting

Right whale mother and calf frolic (upper left) off the Marineland, FL shores.
Photo credit: Jan Geyer

As I was returning from visiting our daughter in Gainesville yesterday (Sunday, February 3) I received an excited voice mail message at about 5PM from my friend Jan Geyer who, while most folks were preparing for the Superbowl game, was with her mother enjoying an ocean stroll up at Marineland. The message went something like this, and spoken in a very excited and almost out of breath tone, "Chris! I am standing here with my mother up at Marineland and there are TWO WHALES right in front of us (!!!)....spouting like crazy and rolling in the waters... and the first person I thought of to call was...you!" We have had somewhat random conversations about my whale watching experiences as we paint together at Hollingsworth Gallery (in Palm Coast) but how fortuitous as it set off the appropriate chain reaction as I made several alert calls and discovered that no one, as yet, was aware of these whales so a big thank you goes out to you, Jan! 

Shortly after I spoke to Sheila McKenney of the Marineland Right Whale Survey Project who had  arrived and confirmed it was a right whale mother and calf. Sheila was able to connect with Jan and her mom and her enthusiasm at this sighting spilled over and it was then that Jan learned how special this event truly was. Sheila began capturing the sighting details and shared her binoculars so that Jan could see just how big and beautiful they were. Project leader, Dr. Jim Hain, Senior Scientist arrived and began the difficult task of trying to capture photographs of the whales as they breached ever so slightly, and attempted to identify the whales.  And then the sun was quickly getting very low in the sky.

So on this late Sunday evening while most were home watching the kick off of the Superbowl, here on this wide and windswept and deserted beach, Jan and her mom Judy, Sheila and Jim were able to witness a mother and her calf playing their own kind of games as they rolled and spouted and nudged each other. Truly a "super" sight to see. Here's to even more sightings as we...watch on! 

IMPORTANT MESSAGE: As I write this a hotline alert has gone out to all volunteers in our sector letting everyone know about this sighting and to keep a close eye out for them today as they were heading slowly south and could be in our waters during watch today. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Mother and Calf Spotted...Up North?!?

Thanks to Becky Bush for spotting this whale article online. Seems our friends at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies are not only busy with numerous right whale sightings near the Cape, which is normal most years, but to have a mother with her calf in nearby Plymouth Harbor? Unprecedented. 

According to the PCCS Facebook page the whales were spotted and called in Saturday by Regina Asmutis Silvia of Whale and Dolphin Conservation which put the team into action including the NESAS aerial survey crew. You can see the image of the mother and calf on Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies Facebook page here: PCCS Facebook page.

Do you think it has anything to do with the unseasonably warm temperatures we are experiencing? I know this crazy weather even has the flowers and trees up North confused. Maybe this is occurring across all life on our planet? Something to think about as we bask in the warmth of...January!

Here's the article and links to the article web page. Whale on!


Right Whale, calf make rare winter appearance

By Colin A. Young, Globe Correspondent

A North Atlantic right whale and her calf were spotted outside Plymouth Harbor on Saturday, the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies said — a sighting so early that one scientist called it “mind blowing.”
“I’ve been studying these waters for 27 consecutive years, and it used to be that April 15 would be when we would first see mothers with calves,” said Charles “Stormy” Mayo, a scientist at the center. “We did have a couple of instances of mothers coming up here really early, in late March, but January is completely unheard of.”
Pregnant right whales typically migrate to the coasts of Georgia and Florida to give birth in December or January before returning to feeding grounds like Cape Cod Bay in mid-April, Mayo said.
The whale holds special significance for the center, which in 2008 found it entangled in a rope. Crews made several attempts over three years to free the whale, nicknamed Wart, before cutting the rope with a specially designed arrow in 2011.
The center knew it was the same whale because New England Aquarium scientists identified it from aerial photos.
“She was a whale my team and I worked very hard on,” said Scott Landry, director of the center’s entanglement response team. Wart had not been seen since 2011, he said.
Colin A. Young can be reached at colin.young@globe.com

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Whale of A New Season

Hello fellow whale watchers and enthusiasts. I am finally back in Florida for the winter and have signed up once again with The Marineland Right Whale Survey ProjectWhile last season the whales were all but absent, most likely due to the warmer water temperatures, this year holds much promise as there have been numerous sightings both in our local waters and off the shores of Cape Cod where many of our rights live and play. 

Per Joy Hampp (Project Coordinator), who "joy-fully" spotted the first mother and calf pair of the season, there have been 13 mother-and-calf pairs spotted to date in the Georgia and Florida waters, the latest of which were spotted this past Wednesday in St. Augustine. 

So this is sure to be a whale of a year for we citizen volunteers as we team with local scientists and resource managers in their monitoring and conservation of the endangered North Atlantic Right Whales during their calving and wintering grounds in our local waters. 

As per my usual routine at the top of the new season, below are a few reminders. My watch day is Fridays and I will attempt to post whale activity news and photographs on a weekly basis. Whale on!

In the HAMMOCK DUNES SECTOR call Sharon at 313-333-7344 

1-888-97-WHALE / 1-888-979-4253

(1) Search for and sight right whales
(2) assist with data recording and photography
(3) document potential human impacts
(4) help inform and educate the public
(5) provide stewardship for whales and their habitats
(6) serve as the eyes, ears and voice for right whales in coastal waters of Florida

no dorsal fin on the whale’s back

> V-shaped blow when it exhales

> white, raised patches of skin 
on the head (callosities)

> short, paddle-like, black flippers on both sides of the body

> triangular tail, black on both sides, with a deep notch in the middle

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Once In A Blue Moon Kind of Weekend

The weekend started on Friday when, as the "Blue Moon" was rising before dark over the ocean here in Florida, I witnessed a spectacular display of dolphins that will stay with me the rest of my life. After seeing what at first seemed like a small whale breech the surface I grabbed my binox and noted a large school of large fish were near the surface as dolphins were jumping up and over each other. I was simply mesmerized. It was as if they, too, were celebrating the moon's second appearance of the month as well as feeding on such a fine meal. And I thought of my mother who recently passed and how it was I came to love the sea.

On Nauset Beach, in East Orleans on Cape Cod another kind of meal was actually being avoided. Nauset is a beautiful strip of land that meets the Atlantic Ocean with a salty on-shore breeze, loud rolling surf, strong tides, moderate sized dunes topped with tall beach grass bending in the breezes and a deep, white sandy beach. This is the same beach where I first met the ocean and enjoyed then being beaten up by her waves for hours upon hours, never minding that the water temperature hovered between 65 and 70 degrees. Not so today as it makes my ankles turn blue if not actually purple just to stand in it for a few minutes. And on this Labor Day weekend, typically the busiest of the summer,  Nauset Beach goers are only allowed to go in up to their ankles "due to the presence of marine life in the water." Yep. Sharks. But not just any sharks. Great Whites. Thursday the spotters in the air and on the water located the first one and then on Friday several were seen multiple times "lingering" off of Nauset. No one is complaining of course. Except maybe the owners of the snack shack. As Great Whites have amazingly sharp sense of smell and will travel miles following their favorite food. Which in this case are the seals that are now protected and living on Monomoy Island, just a few miles south of Nauset. And while sharks don't "typically" consider humans a food source, the Great Whites do not discriminate. 

Then on Saturday, the sun rose over the beach in Fort Pierce, FL, a beach soon packed with people struggling with their inability to save 22 beached pilot whales who were discovered floundering there. We don't typically see pilot whales off shore as they swim in much deeper waters and only come close to shore when they are sick or to die. And the sad part is that when one whale is sick and leaves the pod the rest of the pod typically follows because, as social creatures, it is their instinct never to leave a whale behind. A very sad situation as most of the whales died or had to be euthanized Saturday, but 5 of the whales were able to be rescued and taken to the Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Institute in Fort Pierce. So far they are hanging in there. Exhausted, but slowly recovering. And one of the whales is under the age of 2 and still nursing, however her mother did not survive so the experts at Harbor Branch are now substitution moms and bottle feeding the whale. In a few days, when the five are up to the two hour trip North, they will be transported to their new home at SeaWorld in Orlando, FL where they will be looked after until they are strong enough to be released back into the ocean.  

What an abundant sea life we have around us and seeing how our paths often cross I am assured one is always looking out for the other. Let's hope for a more relaxing Labor Day both in and out of the water and please remember to thank the many people that work hard to protect our oceans and our friends in them. 

P.S. Yes, that is me as a young girl in the photo above on vacation at Nauset Beach as two of my three older brothers wait to catch the next wave.