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, April 23, 2011

Once In A Lifetime: 100 Right Whales Celebrate Earth Day Together, 201 Counted in 1 Week in Cape Cod Waters

While our whale watching friends in the North continue to patiently await spring during the extended cold winds, days of steady rains and the occasional snow flurry (yes even reported this morning) they were blessed during a recent aerial survey flight conducted by the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies to sight more than 100 right whales at one time feeding on rich patches of zooplankton off the shores of Provincetown on Cape Cod - an all time single day record! Better yet, the Right Whale Conservation Program run jointly with the state Division of Marine Fisheries has documented 201 individual right whales in the Cape Cod waters over the past week - that's about half of the total right whale population. AMAZING! Especially after we experienced so many weeks of no sightings at the tail (sic) end of our winter watching season here in Florida leaving us to wonder why and if they were alright, whether their numbers were diminishing more quickly than anticipated and some even considered if they were able to detect the impending earthquakes and tsunami and went to an unknown but safe harbor.  However we are now able to celebrate that they were able to find their way home and in good stead. Such wonderful news. While I ponder the way these whales so quickly called out to each other with a, "hurry, there's yummy caviar plankton off Provincetown!" here are a few news clippings and a video to help convey the recent activity. Enjoy! 

PROVINCETOWN, Mass., April 22 (UPI) -- Whale experts in Massachusetts said a record number of North Atlantic right whales are congregating near the beaches of Provincetown and Truro. Charles "Stormy" Mayo, senior scientist at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, said researchers believe more than 200 right whales -- nearly half of the known population of the critically endangered species -- have gathered between a few yards from the shore and about a half mile out into the water, The Boston Globe reported Thursday.
Mayo said the whales are drawn to the area by zooplankton, a food course for the aquatic mammals, and the zooplankton is especially prevalent this year, which may explain the large number of whales. The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries issued a warning to boaters telling them it is illegal to bring their vessels within 500 feet of the animals.

Boston (CNN) -- What scientists say is the largest concentration of endangered right whales ever spotted in one location is giving researchers an unusually rich opportunity to study the animals and their feeding habits. But the gathering, an annual affair in the chilly spring waters off Cape Cod Bay in Massachusetts, also raises the threat of boats striking the 70-ton mammals, according to the state Division of Marine Fisheries. The agency has posted an advisory to boaters urging them to be on the lookout for the whales and steer clear. Scientists believe that there are only 450 right whales in the world but say the numbers have been slowly recovering since commercial whaling of the species was banned more than 70 years ago. The more than 100 whales counted in the bay this month is the largest number recorded in one place, according to the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Massachusetts. "We're looking at an exceedingly rare animal in unusual numbers in one of their last critical habitats," Charles Mayo, a scientist at the center who studies right whales, said Friday. Why so many in one place? In a word, food, said Mayo. One way or another, the whales caught wind of a unusually rich repast of plankton available in the waters of the bay and arrived to take advantage of the easy dining, Mayo said. The plankton bloom often occurs, but it's been particularly rich and long-lasting this year for unknown reasons, he said. There have been no boat strikes on the many whales contained in the bay's waters, said Dan McKiernan, deputy director of the state Marine Fisheries Division. In fact, the last known fatal strike on a whale in the area happened in 1999, he said. State and federal law makes it a crime to close within 500 yards of a right whale, according to the state Marine Fisheries Division. Seeing so many right whales in the same place is encouraging for researchers, even though they are well aware that the species is on the road to recovery after dipping in the early 1900s to as few as a handful of breeding females and male suitors. It's also a spectacle for the public, Mayo said. The whales feed on the surface and can be seen from shore, he said. "Anytime you see a whale from the beach that's actually alive, it's pretty exciting," he said. The whales should begin trickling out of the bay sometime in the next few days heading for deeper waters offshore, Mayo said.

The Boston Globe

Endangered whales gathering off Cape Cod in record numbers

By Vivian Ho
Globe Correspondent / April 21, 2011
Whale watchers won’t even have to leave land to see a spectacular sight. A record number of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whales have gathered close off the beaches of Provincetown and Truro and is expected to stay there for at least another week, said Charles “Stormy’’ Mayo, senior scientist at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown. Researchers counted more than 100 whales during an aerial survey Tuesday, with a preliminary count of more than 200 total, a little less than half of the known population. At some points the whales can be seen just a few yards offshore, to a quarter-mile out. The whales are drawn to the area this time of year by the stores of zooplankton. Mayo said he thinks there are a large number of the whales there now because the area is particularly rich in zooplankton this year. “We don’t understand that particularly well, but it’s clearly a combination of oceanographic processes and a lot of marine biology,’’ he said. “There are currents that bring the plankton into the area and local currents that cause them to concentrate, and it’s probably an overlapping of a lot of physical processes.Right now, the situation is good for that, just as when you grow plants in your backyard. Some years, there are better situations than others.’’ North Atlantic right whales can weigh up to 90 tons and sport raised, roughened areas on their heads and snouts that make each mammal distinctive, said Mayo. They live largely in the Gulf of Maine, from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia. Mayo said the center had been spotting the whales in the area since February, but began seeing large numbers around two weeks ago. They appear to be concentrating around Race Point, but also can been seen down to Long Point in Provincetown and inside to Truro. They now number so many that the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries has issued a warning for boaters to steer clear of the animals. Because North Atlantic right whales are endangered — only 450 to 500 exist worldwide — federal law prevents any vessels, other than ones holding research permits, from getting within 500 yards of the creatures. “The loss of one breeding female could be detrimental to the recovery of the species,’’ said Tanya Grady, a spokeswoman for the Center of Coastal Studies. “They really are teetering on the brink of extinction.’’ Mayo said anyone wanting to see the whales can do so just by walking on the beaches. “We’re used to seeing right whales,’’ Mayo said. “But even though we do a lot of research on them, it’s a thrilling time. It is a very special occasion being around such an extraordinarily rare animal. The coastal waters off of Massachusetts is providing a home for one of the rarest creatures on earth, and it’s very exciting.’’

Cape Cod Times Online
PROVINCETOWN – Record numbers of right whales have been seen in Cape Cod Bay and adjacent waters this week, including sightings from some Truro beaches and the beaches at Herring Cove and Race Point in Provincetown. The Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies reported today that the Right Whale Conservation Program run jointly by Cape group and the state Division of Marine Fisheries had documented 201 individual right whales in Cape Cod waters over the past week. More than 100 right whales were seen today during on seven-hour research flight. With a population of about 500 animals, right whales are the most endangered large whale in the North Atlantic.The state has issued a high-risk advisory to boaters to use caution in Cape waters to avoid hitting the whales, which spend long periods feeding and relaxing near the surface.