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, February 19, 2010

It's a fluke!!

As I started my watch today my husband's comment from earlier kept echoing in my head as I panned the waters, "the seas are really calm today, dear, looks like a perfect day to spot a whale!" And forty-five minutes later I grabbed another jacket, a small blanket, a thermos of coffee and headed down to Clicker Beach.  

Standing out on the end of the walk over, closely scanning the waters and noting the bird activity, the cloud cover and winds something caught my eye. It was very far off in the distance towards the southernmost portion of my sights and at first I thought it must surely just be a dolphin. I focused in more closely and as I saw the black shape break the surface again my heart started racing as I thought to myself, "Oh my God, I think it's a whale!!" Just as another breach was starting I reached for my phone to call Becky to ask her to come and confirm. As I pulled up her number on my blackberry the phone started to ring. Yup, it was Becky and as I answered I blurted out, "I WAS JUST CALLING YOU, I THINK I SEE A WHALE! IS IT A FLUKE?"

Becky was south of me at Beverly Beach watching a mother and her calf along with Frank who was already tracking these whales and Dr. Jim Hain who had confirmed the pairing and was taking pictures. All I needed to do now was stay and report in the compass location of my sighting so they could confirm I was seeing the same whales or if my sighting was a new / different one.  But sadly, after a number of minutes of trying, I came up empty.  I carefully scanned the waters again in all directions to see if there were any others in the area.  Nothing. I then focused all of my attention in the direction of the original sighting and then, finally, at 9:48AM, I spotted another breach and called in the location. I heard back at 9:53AM that Frank confirmed that I was seeing the same whales as they were tracking. Pretty cool system, isn't it? 

I learned this pairing was very close to shore, so close that it would be hard for me to make many more sightings from my location but one of our team that was out there said they were so close you could even get a good look at their white callosities (raised patches of roughened skin) on their upper head as they ambled on south. I've posted two of Jim's photos below and remember to check out Marineland's blog for additional photos and identity status. Also if anyone else who saw them today took pictures and/or would like to share your thoughts please send them to me and I will post here. Whale on!

P.S. As some of you have seen humpback whales in our area and since I was wondering myself, here's a few ways to tell the difference between the humpback and our right whales. 
While they have much in common (they pass us by as they migrate from the New England area to their winter calving grounds on the Silver Bank of the Dominican Republic) the main ways to distinguish between the two are  1) by their blows = humpback's go straight up vs the v-shape of the rights, 2) humpbacks have a small dorsal fin about two-thirds down their backs and the rights do not, 3) humpbacks are usually more active and acrobatic and dive into the water with a "hump" like dolphins,  4) humpbacks have long white flippers while the rights have very small black ones and, 5) right whales have much larger heads.  
As to the tale of their tails, or flukes as they are called, the tail of the humpback is black with white patterns on their undersides and the flukes of the right whales are black, triangular and have a deep notch in the middle. But what you may not know is that every whale's fluke is unique and thus the genesis of the saying, "It's a fluke!"  Also defined as a chance or unique occurrence.