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, June 2, 2012

Another Pygmy Sperm Whale Beaches Nearby

While I have been a volunteer for the Marineland Right Whale Project for just the past few years, they were years of abundant sightings of both the right whale and the humpback. This season was just the opposite, deafeningly quiet and cut short due, as it is assumed, to warmer water temperatures. But then, as the "right" season ended, two of us spotted what was likely a pygmy sperm whale in our waters. Then two pygmy sperm whales were found beached within weeks of each other just south of us. But we were wrong to think that was the end of it.

According to The St Augustine Record's website, a sperm whale was found beached yesterday evening in a tidal creek in St Augustine. While this raises more questions, it begs for even more answers. Why are they coming in so close to shore? Assuming it is because they are sick, what is causing it? Is there a specific illness spreading within the whale community? Is it tied to the lack of sightings of the right whales? Is it something in the water, something man is doing or is it just the natural order of things? All certainly good questions and while scientifically interesting it is still heart breaking to witness. Here's the article below and the link to the story at The St Augustine Record. Whale on!
Biologists try to save beached whale by Hospital Creek
Sick whale found in shallow water
June 2, 2012, 12:03 am
A team of biologists and marine mammal experts quickly assembled at the end of Ocean Avenue in St. Augustine on Friday evening after a kayaker spotted a small whale circling near Hospital Creek.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission
workers try to carry the pygmy whale to
a truck on Friday evening. By Peter Guinta
Larry Kendrick of EcoTours, a company based at St. Augustine Marina, had been kayaking near the creek about 6 p.m. when he spotted the 11-foot to 12-foot pygmy sperm whale and called the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission hotline. Hospital Creek is near Mission of Nombre de Dios, site of the large cross north of downtown St. Augustine. 

FWC Marine Mammal Biologist Nadia J. Gordon arrived, as did George Biedenbach, director of conservation programs for The Georgia Aquarium Conservation Field Station in Flagler County, Hillary Register of the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens Stranding Team and Zack McKenna of Eco- Tours.

Gordon said pygmy sperm whales were the second most common stranding mammal, behind bottlenose dolphins, and scientists think that most strandings are caused by cardiomyopathy, which is a heart condition.
Last year, there were four such strandings recorded from the Georgia state line to Flagler County.

“If you see a stranded whale, dolphin or manatee, whether it’s live, dead or tagged, call our hot- line at 888-404-FWCC,” Gordon said. “Don’t try pushing it out to sea again. They’re stranding for a reason. They’ll just wash up on shore somewhere else.”

The long black whale was obviously sick, as it didn’t thrash about when a dozen humans tried to slide it carefully into a rubberized sling. When the sling was moved, it flipped its powerful tail. None of the young crew, working in muddy, shallow water containing sharp oyster whells, were hit by the flip, but some of them came ashore with bloody feet from shell cuts. 
   Ashore, a steel cable was hooked to the sling and a winch lifted the patient into the Georgia Aquarium’s    truck.
This whale was a “kogia,” a genus name. They eat mostly squid and are usually found far offshore.
Gordon said it is difficult to immediately tell if this is a pygmy sperm whale or a dwarf sperm whale, To make it even more difficult to identify, there are also dwarf pygmy whales out there. This one would be sedated but eventually die, she said. After that, marine scientists would do a necropsy, which is an autopsy on animals. 
“The more we can learn about them, the more we can help the species,” Gordon said.

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