*WHERE ARE RIGHT WHALES ?*
» Surveyors have only spotted 3 calves this season
By Lorraine Thompson Contributor
It looks like the North Atlantic right whales have abandoned Florida this season. That the conclusion of Jim Hain, program director of the Marineland Right Whale Project.
“The news from the Florida right whale calving and wintering ground is in, and it is not good, Hain admits.
“Unlike the Ã¢â‚¬Ëœold days prior to 2011 when nearly 200 right whales were reported from the coastal waters of southeastern Georgia and northeastern Florida, in 2017, that number has dwindled to seven, Hain said.
“Where scientists estimate about 25 calves might be born in a given year, in the 2016-2017 season, there have only been three so far. This has all occurred despite relatively good weather and good survey conditions, Hain explained.
More than 100 volunteers began the right whale surveys at lookouts along the beaches, after training in late December by Hain and Joy Hamp, program coordinator.
Despite the disheartening news, the search effort continues with planes flown by three survey teams (Georgia Department of Natural Resources, St. Simons Island, Georgia; Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, St. Augustine; and the Marineland Right Whale Project, Marineland, Florida). In addition, a shore-based volunteer sighting network, the Marineland Right Whale Project and the Marine Resources Council, Palm Bay, Florida, continue their daily lookouts.
Hain, who is affiliated with the Associated Scientists at Woods Hole (Massachusetts), said scientists and volunteers alike are scratching their heads. “The changes that are occurring with the right whales have raised concern at the national level, Hain said. “As Florida residents bask in unseasonably warm weather, questions arise: Are we seeing the effects of climate change?
The Marineland Right Whale Project receives daily reports on sea and surface temperatures which confirm that the water is warmer this season, but Hain cautions that these temperatures changes have occurred in the past.
“While climate change may be a factor, so too may be cyclical temperature events, said Hain.
And as his colleague Frank Bromling of Flagler Beach points out, “We have studied right whales for 30 years which is actually a short time in both whale and geological history.
CONTRIBUTED a mother and its calf were sighted off satellite Beach, south of Cape Canaveral, in January. the mother (pictured) would be about 45 feet in length, and the calf about 18 feet. the pair was seen the next day, but not since. if spotted, officials ask that you take photos and note the time and location.
Analyses by scientists at the New England Aquarium of Boston and at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center indicate that after years of steady but slow population growth for the species, it has plateaued, said Hain.
“Perhaps more worrisome, the species numbers may be exhibiting a decline, Hain added. “The current best population estimate is 524.
Scientists and managers will gather for a three-day workshop in Gloucester, Massachusetts, March 14-16, to address the issue and begin developing a path forward.
“Despite all of the gloom, there is always room for the unexpected, said Hain who reminds beachgoers, mariners, fishermen, and volunteers to continue to scan the ocean.
“If and when a whale is sighted, Hain pleaded, “please note time and location, photograph if you are able, and call toll-free 1-888-979-4253 (1-888-97-WHALE). And lastly, boaters and aviators should be aware of and respect the 500-yard approach rule of no approaches within this distance.
Locally, whale watchers will continue their surveys through Feb. 26. Hamp will also survey the waters in an AirCam, a lightweight airplane that was designed for National Geographic to conduct wildlife surveys, at least once a week.