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.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

10 Years of Right Whale Watching Hasn't Grown Old

Here's a wonderful article summarizing the Marineland Right Whale Project written by our very own Jim Hain and reprinted from Right Whale News Volume 18: Page 7. Enjoy!

Marineland Right Whale Project Marks 10th Year
by Jim Hain
Editor Right Whale News, P.I. Marineland Right Whale Project

The Marineland Right Whale Project commemorated its tenth season at the Lohman Auditorium, University of Florida’s Whitney Laboratory, Marineland, Florida, on Saturday, 6 February 2010. About 150 volunteers, collaborators, and guests heard presentations on 2010 results to date along with a ten-year project retrospective. The Marineland Right Whale Project is a program based on a core of volunteers or citizen scientists that sight and monitor right whales from shore. Based in Marineland, Florida, the project monitors about 60 nautical miles of coastline. While the nearshore area to the north, off Georgia and northern Florida, is shallow, south of Jacksonville Beach (latitude 30ยบ 15´N), the nearshore depth increases slightly and right whales sometimes come close to shore—often just outside the surf line. (Whales are often sighted in locations where the water depth is less than their body length.) It is here that teams of volunteers maintain regular lookouts and report sightings during the southeast U.S. calving and wintering season. Lookouts take place from piers, walkovers, and shorefront buildings, including several high-rise condos.

Like most histories and backgrounds, there are several threads to the Marineland story. In 1937, a group of entrepreneurs came to a quiet section of sandy beach 18 miles south of St. Augustine, and established Marine Studios, “the World’s First Oceanarium.” The original intent was to create a studio for underwater filming. The facility evolved into one of Florida’s major attractions, and became Marineland of Florida. It was a film studio, public oceanarium, and research facility.

Marineland subsequently became incorporated as a town, so that Marineland, the oceanarium, was located in Marineland, the town. Over time, the town became the location for a number of additional marine-related organizations and facilities: the University of Florida’s Whitney Laboratory, the Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, the Dolphin Conservation Field Station, and the Coastal Policy Center.

Early curators at Marineland included Forrest Wood, who went on to work for the Navy on the west coast and wrote Marine Mammals and Man: the Navy’s Porpoises and Sea Lions (published in 1973); and David and Melba Caldwell, pioneers in dolphin bio-acoustics, who, along with many scientific publications, wrote The World of the Bottlenosed Dolphin (published in 1972). It was this book that provided one of the early published records of right whales and calves off the coast of Florida.

Almost from the beginning, sightings and photographs of right whales in Florida waters were collected at Marineland. Indeed, the Marineland collection provided some of the earliest photos in the right whale catalog, including a sighting from 30 March 1970 off Daytona Beach, of female #1619, named “Glispa.”

In late 1986, the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium was formed. The original partners were the New England Aquarium, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, University of Rhode Island, and Marineland. David K. Caldwell, Marineland, and Howard E. Winn, University of Rhode Island, were friends and colleagues. As a result, and based on the work at Marineland, Howard Winn explored the idea of a southeast U.S. sighting network for right whales (National Technical Information Service Report # PB84-240548, 1984). A few years later, the Marine Resources Council, Rockledge, Florida, expanded on an effort by the Cocoa Beach Women’s Club, and in 1994 developed a sighting network. Building on these efforts, and in collaboration with the Marine Resources Council, the Marineland Right Whale Project began in 2001.

Florida provides a unique situation for the program. Right whale distribution in these waters is scattered and unpredictable, many “eyes on the water” are needed, there are many capable and retired individuals who are willing to volunteer, Florida contains a large section of the right whale critical habitat, and (as described) in certain sections of the habitat, right whales come close to shore. Now in its tenth season, the project stands alongside other volunteer networks that provide information to the science and management of environmental resources (e.g., Audubon bird counts, Monarch butterfly migration studies, Chesapeake Bay Water Quality network, and the Lobster Conservancy's Intertidal Lobster Monitoring Program). Well-known too are groups like “Riverkeepers” and “Baywatchers” that have grown in number all over the country.

When a sighting is made, a response team is deployed to collect identification photographs and data. An aircraft may also be deployed. The combination of the shore-based network, the side-by-side interaction with scientists, the response teams, and the aircraft survey and photo response provides results. Sightings data and photographs are submitted to an alert system for mariners, and to the right whale catalog and database.

In addition to the science and monitoring, there is an education and outreach component. In the beginning, a surprising number of coastal residents were unaware that right whales occurred in their coastal waters. Placards, phone cards, media coverage, and presentations to condo associations, school groups, fishing associations, boating clubs, and Rotary Clubs have introduced about 4,500 people to right whales, their coastal habitat, and the role of citizens in monitoring and conservation.

For further information, see www.aswh.org, and marinelandrightwhale.blogspot.com.

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