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.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Wonderful First Day of Whale Watching

Today was my first day of whale watching and if the spectacular sunrise was any indication it was going to be a great day to make a whale sighting. I made a large pot of coffee, put on my warmest jacket, grabbed the "whale watch bag" that was passed to me yesterday and set up shop out on my balcony. I opened the binoculars we share , Fujinon 7X50's, and gave the ocean a first look. Off in the far distance was a large freighter heading south. You normally can't see them as they travel too far off the coast but with the binoculars you could tell it was a barge and today it helped me connect the importance of this whale watching mission - to communicate whale sightings and their positions so that shippers like these avoid accidentally striking and killing them. I started looking with even more intent.

The seas were abnormally calm and soon the cloud cover took all color out and yet in so doing made it easier to see more details on the ocean surface. There were fishing boats out there as usual but one was further out and larger than I had seen before. Closer in two shrimp boats were dropping their nets. Our whale watch coordinator, Becky, joined me and began showing, with a few pictures from the bag, just what to look for and what we might see if we were to spot a whale. I was surprised that we were looking for smaller, more subtler black images to break the surface versus, well, a whale! But okay, it makes sense, they are just passing by and so the opportunity here is to try to catch them just as they are skimming the surface to take one or two short breaths before they submerge again.

Suddenly every small wave motion seemed to look like a potential black moving object and that's when Becky spotted a black shape that quickly broke the surface and disappeared. Could it be??!! My heart stopped, I gripped the binoculars tightly and tried desperately to find it.  And then we both could see that it was a dolphin. Actually it turned out to be a small family of dolphins passing by and that was okay, too. They are fun to watch and always make me smile. Plus, Becky shared that often whales will follow a dolphin sighting and so we stood there, searching with anticipation.

Soon the sky and water were the same brackish grey and green and the rain and fog arrived. Darn. I realized I wouldn't get to see a whale today. But I was able to see many wonderful details more clearly on this cold morning in January. And ocean life is still a wonder and wonderful thing to watch, regardless. Till next time, Java!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

46 Whales Spotted Since December

Despite cold, right whales still flocking to First Coast 

January 3, 2010
Marcia Lane, Courtesy of The St. Augustine Record

A week of cold weather isn't discouraging the annual North Atlantic right whale migration to Florida; in fact, the mammals couldn't be happier.
"They have lots of blubber ... and they like the colder water," said Katie Jackson with the North Atlantic Right Whale Project, a part of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
"Our plane was up today, and sightings were reported in Georgia and Florida," Jackson said.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

NOAA Guide to Identifying Whale Sightings

Quick Web LinkNOAA Whale Sightings Guide
Quick Clip: Identifying Right Whales
- Rough white patches on the head
- dorsal fin absent when the whale arches on a dive
- flukes (tails) have smooth trailing edges and taper gradually to narrow pointy tips
- distinct "V" shaped blow when viewed from directly behind or head on (but not from the side)

Social Organization & Mating

North Atlantic right whales usually travel alone or in groups of 2 - 3 (up to about 12). When they were more numerous, groups of up to 100 were seen together on the feeding grounds. If prey are dense, the whales may feed together, although usually the groups break up to feed individually, probably because of the enormous food requirements of each individual whale. The membership of groups of right whales does not seem to remain fixed. Identifiable individuals can be seen moving from one group to another.

A calf and its mother appear to exhibit the same type of bonding behavior that is typical of other mammals. The calf maintains close contact with its mother, swimming up on her back or butting her with its head. The mother may roll over on her back and hold her calf in her flippers.

An individual female mates with multiple males. Apparently, mating pairs do not establish long-term social bonds.

Courtesy www.animalinfo.org

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Newspaper Article - Right Whales Have Arrived!

Right whale sightings prompt kickoff of volunteer monitoring
Environment Writer
The endangered North Atlantic right whales have arrived at their winter calving grounds off the coasts of Florida and Georgia. That means a volunteer effort to monitor the whales has moved into high gear.
Local training seminars are planned later this month throughout the area, said Julie Albert, with the Marine Resource Council's Northern Right Whale Monitoring Program.
Whale spotters along the coast keep an eye out to relay critical whale-sighting information to scientists. Marine mammal scientists track new