Friday, December 18, 2009

First migrating right whale spotted off Fla. coast

The Associated Press | www.miamiherald.com | December 18, 2009

"ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- Florida whale watchers have spotted the first migrating North Atlantic right whale of the 2009-2010 season off beaches near St. Augustine.

Katie Jackson of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission says the whale appears to be a young calf, about a year or two old.

Researchers say the whales head south from Novia Scotia and the Gulf of Maine from November to April to give birth and nurse their young. There were 71 sightings of the whales off Florida waters last season. Endangered right whales have an average life span of 50 years and adults range from an average of 45 to 55 feet in length."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

2009 Right Whale Population Estimate = 438

Right Whale News 17(4): 3-4

"At the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium Meeting, 17-18 November 2009, New Bedford, Massachusetts, the tradition of presenting the “North Atlantic right whale report card” was continued. In past years, the information on population status, reproduction, mortalities, entanglements, vessel strikes, and survey efforts was largely informal and for the information of Consortium members. However, based on the desire and the need to more widely provide the best available information, the report for the period 1 November 2007 to 30 April 2009 was presented to the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee as Paper # SC/61/BRG11, and subsequently posted on the Consortium’s website (www.rightwhaleweb.org) under the Resources tab and then the Publications tab. Additionally, the 2009 Annual Report Card Addendum for the period 1 May through 31 October 2009 is posted on the website.The report card and the addendum provide current and comprehensive information on the consortium, research activities, and the essential population parameters. Among the information presented is that in 2008, the best estimate of catalogued North Atlantic right whales was 438 individuals."

Friday, December 04, 2009

NOAA Twin Otter Aircraft

Photo credit: NOAA

Isn't this just a fabulous photo of the NOAA Twin Otter?!

Celebration of right whales Saturday in Jacksonville Beach

Groups want to show region's importance to the marine animals.

By Steve Patterson | Florida Times-Union | December 4, 2009

"Although right whales have wintered off Florida and Georgia as long as anyone can remember, this weekend will be the first time they’ve had a welcoming party.

Researchers and activists have organized the Right Whale Festival, scheduled Saturday in Jacksonville Beach, to showcase the area’s importance to the survival of the endangered mammals.

“The fact that these whales are off our coast and depend on our coast is just incredible. I think it’s an honor and it’s a responsibility for us to meet that challenge,” said Barb Zoodsma, a biologist in Fernandina Beach who coordinates surveys of the whales for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Zoodsma said she’s wanted to hold a festival for a few years but needed to find the right people to take charge. The nonprofit Ocean Conservancy helped organize the event at the Seawalk Pavilion with backing from sponsors as varied as McDonald’s and the Jacksonville Port Authority.

“It’s a great opportunity to let Jacksonville residents know that they have this incredible whale that lives right offshore,” said Vicki Cornish, the Conservancy’s vice president for marine wildlife conservation. The whales can be seen from beaches during part of the winter, she said.

There are only about 400 right whales left in the northern Atlantic Ocean, a tiny fragment of the population whalers hunted almost to extinction long ago. The animals have been protected from commercial hunting since the 1930s, but collisions with ships and entanglement in heavy fishing lines still kill or injure whales.

That has led to protective measures such as seasonal speed limits for commercial shipping in Jacksonville and other port areas near the whales’ habitat.

The Florida and Georgia coasts are calving grounds for the animals, the places where babies are born and nurtured before heading to the New England and Canadian coasts during warm weather.

Researchers spotted 39 pairs of mothers and newborns offshore last winter, a record figure.

The whale migration season began last month and will continue into April.

None of the animals have been seen surfacing yet, but Zoodsma said a buoy equipped to listen for whale calls has picked up some within a few miles of the mouth of the St. Johns River.

Organizers have tried to give the festival broad appeal by scheduling a beach cleanup, auction, music and beach run. The main festival runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Groups and government agencies involved in whale issues will staff booths to tell people about the animals.

Organizations such as the Marineland Right Whale Project, which recruits people to watch from shore for the animals, have also rounded up volunteers to set up the weekend events."

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Whale watchers

Team takes to skies to track, protect endangered species

By Allyson Bird | The Post and Courier | December 2, 2009

"From now until spring, a colorful crew will cram into a twin-engine airplane every clear day to draw lines in the sky off the coast of Charleston, searching for whales in the waters below.

With only 400 or so North Atlantic right whales in existence, aerial survey team members from the New York-based conservation group Wildlife Trust make it their business to track them and to direct ships away from the endangered species. Two contractor pilots with North Carolina-based Orion Aviation and funding from the State Ports Authority help make it possible.

One of those pilots, the bandanna- and straw-hat-wearing Rocky Walker, describes the team's work like this: "Their heads are turned 90 degrees to the direction of flight about 99.5 percent of the time with their noses against the window. When they spot a critter they yell, 'Break left!' or 'Break right!' " Then one of them points a long-lens camera out of a tiny porthole in the blue-and-white Cessna C337 Skymaster. The other collects data, such as the animal's coordinates, as the plane circles from a mere 1,000 feet above.

"I just turned down a captain's job in a jet to do this because this is big, big fun," said Walker, a part-time musician originally from Dallas.

Melanie White from upstate New York -- or "nowhere near the ocean," as she put it -- remembered one particular sighting while working with Wildlife Trust on her first stint in South Carolina last year. An elusive whale, identified only as 2480, popped into view after being spotted only a handful of previous times.

And just how do the team members know which whale is which?

They photograph the mammals' heads, patterned with white, rough patches of skin where lice live and create identifying marks easy to read from the sky. So when the Wildlife Trust observers return each year, they usually see some familiar dermatology.

When they found their first whale of the year Saturday, they recognized her as Dragon, whom they first spotted as a young mother a couple of years ago and later presumed her missing calf dead.

Asked why the whale abandoned her young, the crew looked around at each other before team leader Dianna Schulte summed it up: "Bad parenting."

Last year the team spotted 95 whales, a huge increase over the 61 from the previous six-month tour. The program began in 2004, operating primarily off money from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

The State Ports Authority, as part of its "Pledge for Growth" associated with its new container terminal under construction at the former Charleston Naval Base, agreed to fund $200,000 annually for five years. That money provides enough cash to cover the flights, which run from Cape Romain to Fripp Island and 30 miles out over the ocean.

The team members, who all work whale-watching boats in New England in the summers, rotate between the three jobs: photography, data collection and pulling it all together on the ground. They fly on any good-weather day, which included Thanksgiving this year.

As White put it, "The whales, they don't know what holidays are."

The three Wildlife Trust watchers have a rental home on Isle of Palms, their headquarters from mid-November to mid-April. Walker and Stephanie Funston, the California copilot he calls "Malibu Barbie," rent places near the same area to keep everyone close to the launch point at Mount Pleasant Regional Airport.

Funston said sometimes the team spots six whales in a single day and sometimes it goes for days without a sighting, using XM radio and jokes to fill the hours between the dawn-to-dusk operation.

And on days when weather conditions aren't right for flying, Walker said, "We wish they were right, because Moby's out there alone."

Monday, November 30, 2009

Right Whale Festival this Weekend

Dave Wax and Ann Butler | www.firstcoastnews.com | November 30, 2009

"JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The annual North Atlantic right whale migration is under way in the waters off the First Coast, but some fear the public doesn't know enough about the giant creatures.

Saturday, Dec. 5, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is holding the first annual Right Whale Festival.

It will be at the Sea Walk Pavilion in Jacksonville Beach from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The festival is designed to inform the public about the critically endangered whales (there are an estimated 350 left), and how their migration affects our area.

They spend much of the year feeding in waters off New England and Canada, and begin their migration to the warmer waters here in November to give birth and nurse their young.

Our waters, extending up to the South Carolina coast, are the only known birthing area for the North Atlantic right whale.

Those going to the festival will learn about the no-approach rule and how to avoid mother-calf pairs.

Boaters will learn what to look for in open waters to avoid collisions. Biologists specializing in right whales will be on hand to answer any questions.

There is no charge to attend, and there will be live music and kids activities, plus exhibits including arts, crafts and food.

A beach cleanup will begin at 9 a.m. in the area, and anyone wanting to help out is invited.

There will also be a silent auction running from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The music will begin at noon."

For more info: http://www.rightwhalefestival.org/

Whales to get a break this lobster season

By Natalia Real | www.fis.com | November 30, 2009

"Hundreds of fishers in southwest Nova Scotia for the first time will be proactively lowering the chances of the endangered right whales from becoming entangled in floating fishing line when lobster fishing season opens on Monday.

One of the most endangered large whales on Earth, only 400 North Atlantic right whales remain. Ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear are their greatest threats.

Canada’s shipping lanes have already been moved to minimize contact with the whales. For the past year and a half, lobster fishers in Lobster Fishing Areas (LFA) 33 and 34 in the Bay of Fundy have collaborated with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada to develop solutions to slash entanglements.

"Fishermen developed a plan to change fishing practices in a way that demonstrates leadership, commitment to conservation and a significant first step towards reducing this threat to the endangered North Atlantic right whale", said Robert Rangeley, Vice-President Atlantic Region, WWF-Canada. "It is an exciting example of collaboration and action which we hope provides a positive lesson of the benefits of integrated management for all ocean industries."

As whales swim to the waters off the southern US coast and back, lines attaching lobster traps to the ocean bottom can float and create nooses that ensnare whales and drown them or wrap around their mouths, precluding them from feeding. About 75 per cent of right whales have been observed to have scars created by fishing lines, The Canadian Press reports.

Until recently, there were no guidelines on the amount of rope that lobster fishers could use when setting their trawls or even how they set them. The new plan aims to keep rope out of whales’ path by specifying maximum rope lengths and optimal setting practices that keep ropes low and tight.

"Fishermen are often negatively portrayed when animals, particularly whales, become entangled in fishing gear", said Ashton Spinney, Industry Co-Chair of the LFA 34 Advisory Committee. "These rare and unfortunate situations are never intentional and no fisherman wants to see whales harmed."

In June, all of the Halifax port representatives in LFA 33 and 34 agreed on behalf of their fishers to adopt this first measure and take further action in the future to lower this threat as they gain more knowledge about entanglements.

"This is a great step towards minimising threats and giving right whales a chance of recovery," said Rangeley. "More work is necessary to better understand the problem and the effectiveness of solutions that will ensure recovery of this magnificent species."

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Setting things right: right whales making a comeback

By Steven Stycos | The Block Island Times | November 28, 2009

"North Atlantic right whales, the most endangered of New England’s whales, are making a modest comeback, says New England Aquarium’s senior scientist Moira Brown. American efforts to protect the endangered species, however, appear to be less successful than Canada’s, Brown said last week in a speech sponsored by the Rhode Island Natural History Survey at the University of Rhode Island.

The current population of 450 North Atlantic right whales annually migrates from winter calving areas along the coast of Florida and Georgia to summer feeding areas near Cape Cod and Nova Scotia. The typical right whale is 50 to 60 feet long and weighs 60 to 70 tons.

Recovery of the species will be slow, Brown predicts, because female right whales do not give birth until they are nine years old and then only produce one calf every three years under optimal conditions. In the 1980s, the closely observed species produced about twelve calves a year, Brown says, but that dropped to just one birth in 2000. Since then, however, the whales have averaged 20 offspring a year, with a record 39 births in 2009.

“Something looks much better,” observes Brown, who is also a senior scientist with the Canadian Whale Institute. Marine biologists have yet to pinpoint the cause of the baby boom, she adds.

In the last three years, the U.S. and Canada have acted to reduce human related whale deaths, although the impact has yet to be reflected in the whale population figures. The leading causes of whale deaths, says Brown, are ship strikes, which account for half of all right whale deaths, and entanglement in fishing gear

Unfortunately, whales’ principal food source, plankton, prefer deep water basins, which are also ideal places for shipping channels. Nevertheless, Canadian efforts to reduce ship strikes have been highly successful, according to Brown, who has worked since 1985 to protect the mammal. After ship strikes in the Bay of Fundy killed right whales in 1993, 1995 and 1997, Brown and others formed a working group with the shipping industry to address the problem. By moving shipping lanes 3.2 nautical miles southwest, the risk of vessel strikes was reduced 96 percent, Brown said. Irving Oil, whose tankers regularly cross the bay, was particularly supportive of the move, she adds.

In 2003 and 2006, a second problem area was identified as two whales were killed in collisions south of Nova Scotia. Using radio transmissions, scientists tracked ship traffic and learned that most boats avoid a key whale feeding area. Enough cross the area, however, to endanger the whales. Again working with the shipping industry, scientists established a 980-square nautical-mile voluntary conservation area endorsed by the IMO. In 2008, 70 percent of ships avoided the voluntary protection area. This year compliance rose to 80 percent, Brown reports.

U.S. efforts haven’t worked as well, says Brown. In 2008, the National Marine Fisheries Service established seasonal low speed zones within 20 nautical miles of the East Coast to protect migrating whales. The zones, including in the Great South Channel near Cape Cod, require ships to slow to 10 knots, but Brown says compliance is a disappointing 20 percent.

Canada achieved better results, Brown says, thanks to shipping industry cooperation and international support through the IMO. The Canadian changes also increase voyage times far less than the American slow speed zones. Had Canada implemented a 10-knot zone rather than a voluntary conservation area, she states, trips would have been increased by two hours instead of 8.5 minutes.

Whales also die when entangled in fishing gear Brown says, primarily the lines used to catch lobsters and ground fish. According to studies, 75 percent of right whales have scars from entanglement and about ten percent get entangled every year. In October 2008, the National Marine Fisheries Service required gill nets be designed to break when wrapped around whales. Then in April 2009, the federal agency required that weights be attached to lines that link lobster pots to prevent them from floating where feeding whales may pass.

Brown is the “driving force” behind protection measures, according to URI marine biology Professor Robert Kenney. She is also optimistic about the right whale’s future. “We have more protective measures in place than we have ever had,” Brown notes, but cautions that the results of U.S. speed limits and fishing gear provisions have yet to be measured."

Georgia welcomes right whales back

coastalcourier.com | Nov. 28, 2009

"BRUNSWICK — It is seen from a research vessel lookout — a solitary V-shaped “blow” and then something dark on the water’s surface.

Often, the return of right whales to Georgia is as subtle as that. But this winter, thanks to a new ruling, more of these imperiled whales will have a better chance at making the annual journey safely.

In October 2008, the National Marine Fisheries Service established a rule that will implement speed restrictions for vessels 65 feet or longer. The restrictions call for a speed of no more than 10 knots during certain times of the year in areas designated as critical right whale habitat along the U.S. Atlantic seaboard. The rule went into effect last Dec. 9. While recognized during the 2008-09 calving season, this will be the first year the rule will be enforced by law enforcement.

Biologists with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are spreading the word about the rule while gearing up for the first sightings of these aquatic giants.
It’s not only commercial ships that cause mortal injuries to right whales. Fishing boats and other large personal recreational watercraft can also have a devastating impact on the whales, which are found as close as three miles offshore depending on water depth. Although larger recreational boats are not required to adhere to the commercial speed limit, the NOAA recommends they heed the rule as well.

North Atlantic right whales spend the summer in the cooler waters off New England and Canada. Each fall, a portion of the population returns to Georgia and Florida for the winter. Annual research done by the DNR Wildlife Resources Division and NOAA from December through March is helping wildlife biologists determine the status of these endangered animals.

Approximately 200 right whales were seen off the Georgia coast during the 2008-09 season. The total included 39 sets of mother and calf pairs — a record — as well as juveniles and single animals. Whales are counted using aerial surveys and on-the-water monitoring.

2009 marked the second straight year since 2005 that no adult mortalities were reported. There were two reported calf mortalities last season, both from unknown causes. 2008-09 also included five whales entangled in commercial fishing gear. DNR, NOAA and other partners managed to free all but one.

Researchers identify right whales by the unique pattern of callosities, or rough patches of skin, found on the whales’ heads and around their mouths. These patches are usually covered with whale lice, crustaceans that make the patches appear white. Photographs are used to tell which whale is being observed.

Right whales are baleen whales with a bow-shaped lower jaw and a head that is up to one-quarter of the body length. Calves weigh approximately 1 ton at birth and adults can reach 60 tons and almost 50 feet in length. They have no dorsal fin and breathe through two blowholes on the top of their heads. These blowholes create a unique V-shaped blow, which also helps researchers identify the whales from a distance.
Right whales were nearly driven to extinction by commercial whaling in the late 19th century. Commercial harvest was banned in 1935. Today the North Atlantic right whale is classified as endangered under U.S. and Georgia law. Right whales are listed as a priority species in Georgia’s State Wildlife Action Plan, the blueprint for conservation in the state. Georgia adopted the right whale as its state mammal in 1985.

Although not hunted now, right whales face conservation problems including ship strikes, entanglement in commercial fishing gear and habitat destruction. Even after nearly 50 years of protected status, there are only an estimated 300 to 400 North Atlantic right whales left."

Friday, November 27, 2009

'Mystery' whale dubbed Palmetto

By Bo Petersen | The Post and Courier | November 27, 2009

"The right whale Palmetto swims with a calf off Sapelo Island, Ga., earlier this year. A group of elementary school students from Sumter beat out marine scientists to choose a name for the migratory whale.

A mysterious, huge right whale with a distinct white knob on her head haunts the Lowcountry coast every few winters. That habit and the knob have given her a name: Palmetto.

It's right whale season again, the time of year when the rarest of the ocean's biggest creatures move south from their feeding grounds to calve along the Southeast from South Carolina to Florida. Pairs of whales already have been spotted off Murrells Inlet and Savannah.

"They are around," said Dianna Schulte, Wildlife Trust survey team leader. The aerial team flies out of Mount Pleasant under grants paid partly by the State Ports Authority. The team is tracking the whales and gauging the effectiveness of a controversial new federal rule that slows down large ships near the coast during the whale season.

Last year, the critically endangered species had a record breeding year in the Southeast -- 39 calves were spotted by aerial surveys. Off South Carolina, 121 individual whales were spotted, nearly a third of the known population. Fewer than 400 are known to exist, a number so perilously low that not only are the creatures critically endangered, but researchers consider every living whale vital to the survival of the species.

The New England Aquarium recently named the whale Palmetto at the urging of the students at Alice Drive Elementary School in Sumter. Last year, the students set off a minor controversy in the General Assembly when they wanted the whale named as the "state marine animal." A compromise was reached when the whale was designated the state migratory marine mammal and the bottlenose dolphin was given the "state marine mammal" designation.

While studying the whales, the students were wowed to find a photograph of Palmetto that looked like she had the state symbol tree on the back of her head. They competed for the designation against names submitted by research scientists. The aquarium catalogues individual whales and names them as a personal touch.

"It's kind of cool how she has the sign of the palmetto," said fifth-grader Demarea Edmonds. The knobs are callouses filled with tiny, crustacean "whale lice" that turn them white. These "callosities" are as individual as fingerprints.

The right whale is a 40-ton, creature as long as a basketball court is wide. Whalers nearly wiped it out in the North Atlantic in the 19th century. Deadly ship strikes, fishing line entanglements and potentially deafening noises such as sonar threaten the whales. Palmetto now carries a scar from an apparent ship strike last year.

The whales travel just offshore in areas so heavily trafficked that one conservationist describes them as essentially an urban creature. Coming within 500 yards of a right whale is illegal, and conservationists urge boaters to stay clear.

Palmetto has fascinated researchers. As a young whale, she virtually disappeared for seven years until she was spotted in the Southeast in 1996 after giving birth to her first known calf. In 2005, she was spotted rolling just behind the breakers off Pawleys Island; a newborn was with her. Last year, she was spotted with a calf off Hilton Head Island.

But in between births, she seems to disappear again."

"She's often not seen when she's up north with her calf. She's a bit of a mystery whale," said Philip Hamilton, New England Aquarium research scientist."

New lobster fishing practices to protect right whales

The Vancouver Sun | November 27, 2009

"HALIFAX — Lobster fisherman in southwest Nova Scotia will take new precautions with their traps this fishing season to help protect endangered right whales in the region, says the World Wildlife Fund of Canada.

Fisherman have been working with the WWF to develop this new strategy, whereby they attempt to keep their ropes out of the paths of whales by keeping them low and tight.

"Fishermen developed a plan to change fishing practices in a way that demonstrates leadership, commitment to conservation, and a significant first step towards reducing this threat to the endangered North Atlantic right whale," said Dr. Robert Rangeley, WWF-Canada vice-president for the Atlantic region, in a news release. "It is an exciting example of collaboration and action which we hope provides a positive lesson of the benefits of integrated management for all ocean industries."

North Atlantic right whales are some of the most endangered large whales on the planet, with only 400 left, and can be harmed or killed when they get entangled in fishing gear.

The lobster fishing season officially opens on Monday."

New England Aquarium names ‘Palmetto’ whale

By Associated Press | November 27, 2009

"CHARLESTON, S.C. — A huge right whale with a distinctive white knob on her head that shows up off the South Carolina coast every few years now has an official name, "Palmetto."

The Post and Courier of Charleston reported Friday that the New England Aquarium has granted the wish of some South Carolina elementary school children to name the whale for the state’s symbolic tree.

The New England Aquarium catalogues individual whales and names them as a personal touch.

Students at Alice Drive Elementary in Sumter recommended the name "Palmetto." The students were impressed when they found a picture of the whale that looked like she had a palmetto outline on the back of her head.

Last year, 121 individual whales were spotted off South Carolina. Fewer than 400 right whales are known to exist."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

East Coast fishermen adapt lobster fishing to protect endangered whales

By Alison Auld | The Canadian Press | November 26, 2009

"HALIFAX, N.S. — One of the world's most endangered marine mammals is getting some help from a small group of eastern Canadian fishermen who are trying to reduce a major threat to the animals by controlling the amount of lethal fishing line in the water.

Lobster fishermen on the East Coast are altering the way they set lobster traps and will steer clear of rare North Atlantic right whales as they pass through the Bay of Fundy in a bid to cut the number of times they get snarled in fishing line.

Starting Monday when the lobster season opens in parts of the Bay of Fundy, hundreds of lobster harvesters will be asked to set their groundlines on the ocean floor to limit floating ropes and protect the whales against one of their two main killers.

Hubert Saulnier, a veteran fisherman in the Bay of Fundy where many of the massive mammals go to feed in the summer, said the initiative should reduce the amount of fishing line that floats above the ocean floor and ensnares the whales.

"We decided to be proactive and do studies and see what works," he said from New Minas, N.S.

"The best solution is to try to explain to fishermen what we've experienced on how to set gear properly. ... It is a way to promote the fact that we should be involved a lot more and we should be informed a lot more."

Lines that link the lobster traps on the ocean bottom can be slack and close together, creating something like a noose that can wrap around the whales as they travel to and from waters off Florida.

Fishermen in two of the bay's fishing areas have agreed to make the lines tighter and longer to try to keep them resting on the ground.

They have also been asked to shorten the vertical lines that attach the traps to a buoy and are often found to be hazardous to the whales, whose population has dwindled to only 400 since they were hunted to near extinction in the 1700s.

Bob Rangeley of the World Wildlife Fund, which worked with fishermen to develop the measures, said they could go a long way to protecting the slow-moving, 17-metre animals that are also vulnerable to ship strikes.

"It's hugely significant," he said in Halifax. "They are the most endangered whale and we do have to reduce the threat. So this is a significant first step."

It's estimated that 75 per cent of the remaining North Atlantic right whales have scars on their bodies from fishing line, which they run into as they journey from their breeding grounds off Georgia and Florida to the Bay of Fundy in June.

The ropes can cause fatal infections, drown the whale on the ocean floor or prevent them from eating properly if they wrap around the mouth.

Saulnier, who once helped pull 58 traps, eight anchors and many balloons off a humpback whale, said they decided to move ahead with the voluntary initiative after a controversial lobster gear decision in the United States.

American officials are phasing out "floating" lines and mandated expensive weighted lines, which are intended to keep the line on the sea floor.

Saulnier studied the weighted lines for the Department of Fisheries, but said they aren't suited to the bay's strong currents.

Canadian Fisheries officials have said they're not considering a ban on the floating lines, but are looking instead at alternate gear types and simple avoidance of areas where the whales have been seen.

Moira Brown, a leading right whale researcher, praised the Canadian initiative, but said it could be hard to ensure fishermen are actually complying with the goodwill measures.

"The entanglement problem is a really difficult problem," she said from the New England Aquarium in Boston.

"They're pointed in the right direction. Nobody wants to regulate this, but how do you get broad compliance? That's what you have to do to turn things around."

Copyright © 2009 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved."

Right whales return to local waters

A new listening device catches a whale call

By Mary Landers | http://savannahnow.com | 2009-11-26

"North Atlantic right whales have begun their annual return to Georgia waters.

At least one whale was recorded as it vocalized Tuesday off the coast of Savannah, just three days after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration activated a listening buoy there.

"It hasn't been active long, and we have our first detection," said Barb Zoodsma, NOAA Fisheries' Southeast regional office right whale recovery program coordinator. Zoodsma hopes the acoustic data eventually will help researchers better delineate when and where right whales use Georgia waters.

The highly endangered large whales, whose total population is estimated at about 300-400, come to the waters off Georgia and Florida to give birth. It's their only known calving grounds.

Aerial surveys will begin Tuesday to look for right whales off Georgia. Surveys off South Carolina have been under way since mid-November.

Last year, surveys indicated 39 calves were born. Such record good news for the species was tempered by another statistic - five whales were discovered entangled in fishing gear.

Wildlife biologist Clay George of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources assisted in trying to free the animals. In all but one case, biologists succeeded in cutting loose heavy rope that wrapped around and dug into the animals' skin. And even in the case in which marine biologists couldn't catch up to the entangled whale because its tracking buoy malfunctioned, there appears to be a happy ending.

"The buoy and 50-foot of line came loose and was recovered by the Coast Guard offshore of New Jersey in March 2009," George said. "The whale was re-sighted in the Bay of Fundy by the New England Aquarium in August and appears to be gear-free, but not all areas of the body were seen, so we won't know for sure until it's re-sighted again."

Along with entanglements, ship strikes are the main threats to the species. One to two whales each year die from being hit by ships.

To address that problem, a federal regulation went into effect last year requiring commercial ships 65 feet or longer to reduce their speed to about 12 mph in areas where the whales feed and reproduce, as well as migratory routes in between. For the Savannah area, the speed restrictions are in force within 20 nautical miles of the coast from November through April. Recreational vessels are exempt from the rule, but are asked to comply voluntarily.

North Atlantic right whales are called urban whales because they live in close proximity to cities on the East Coast. They were hunted to near extinction because their slow swimming speed and tendency to float when dead made them the "right" whale to hunt.

Last year, about 200 individual whales were sighted in and around the calving grounds. Since only a minority of those animals - 78 of them - were moms and calves, scientists are left to speculate why the other whales make the long trip from their feeding grounds off New England and Canada. Right whales don't feed in southeastern waters, George said. And 20 years ago it was primarily mothers and calves seen here. Hypotheses for the arrival of non-breeding whales range from a social benefit to attraction to water of a certain temperature.

"It's a long way to go," George said. "It makes you wonder if they don't get something out of it."

Lobster Fishermen Testing New Measures for Right Whale Conservation

WWF-Canada | Nov 26, 2009 | www.marketwire.com

"HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA--(Marketwire - Nov. 26, 2009) - Lobster fishing season opens on Monday, and for the first time fishermen in southwest Nova Scotia will be using voluntary practices to reduce the chance of endangered right whales from becoming entangled in fishing gear.

Only 400 North Atlantic right whales remain, making them one of the most endangered large whales on the planet. The biggest threat to their survival is ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear.

Shipping lanes in Canada have already been moved to minimize contact with the whales, and for the past year and a half, lobster fishermen in Lobster Fishing Areas (LFA) 33 and 34 have worked with WWF-Canada to develop solutions to limit the entanglement threat.

"Fishermen developed a plan to change fishing practices in a way that demonstrates leadership, commitment to conservation, and a significant first step towards reducing this threat to the endangered North Atlantic right whale", said Dr. Robert Rangeley, Vice-President Atlantic Region, WWF-Canada. "It is an exciting example of collaboration and action which we hope provides a positive lesson of the benefits of integrated management for all ocean industries."

Previously when lobster fishermen were setting their trawls (series of traps), there were no guidelines on the amount of rope they used or the manner in which they set their traps. This plan attempts to keep rope out of the path of whales by specifying maximum rope lengths and optimal setting practices that keep ropes low and tight.

"Fishermen are often negatively portrayed when animals, particularly whales, become entangled in fishing gear", said Ashton Spinney, Industry Co-Chair of the LFA 34 Advisory Committee. "These rare and unfortunate situations are never intentional and no fisherman wants to see whales harmed."

In June, all of the port representatives in LFA 33 and 34 agreed, on behalf of their fishermen, to take this first step and adopt voluntary standard practices for lobster fishing. They also agreed to take further action in the future on reducing this threat as knowledge about entanglements improves.

"Fishermen always try to use the least amount of rope possible when setting trawls. None-the-less, fishermen want to show that they take this problem seriously and want to do more to reduce the threat to the right whale", said Paddy Gray, Industry Co-Chair of the LFA 33 Advisory Committee. "We encourage all our fishermen to follow them as much as possible when setting their gear."

"This is a great step towards minimizing threats and giving right whales a chance of recovery", said Rangeley. "More work is necessary to better understand the problem and the effectiveness of solutions that will ensure recovery of this magnificent species."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Endangered whales make a comeback, thanks to changes in shipping

By Steven Stycos | www.jamestownpress.com | November 25, 2009

"North Atlantic right whales, the most endangered of New England’s whales, are making a modest comeback, according to New England Aquarium’s senior scientist Moira Brown. American efforts to protect the endangered species, however, appear to be less successful than Canada’s, Brown said last week in a speech sponsored by the Rhode Island Natural History Survey at the University of Rhode Island.

The current population of 450 North Atlantic right whales annually migrates from winter calving areas along the coast of Florida and Georgia to summer feeding areas near Cape Cod and Nova Scotia. The typical right whale is 50 to 60 feet long and weighs 60 to 70 tons.

Recovery of the species will be slow, Brown predicted, because female right whales do not give birth until they are nine years old – and then only produce one calf every three years under optimal conditions. In the 1980s, the closely observed species produced about 12 calves per year, Brown said, but that dropped to just one birth in 2000.

Since then, however, the whales have averaged 20 offspring a year, with a record 39 births in 2009.

“Something looks much better,” said Brown, who is also a senior scientist with the Canadian Whale Institute. Marine biologists have yet to pinpoint the cause of the baby boom, she added.

In the last three years, the U.S. and Canada have acted to reduce human-related whale deaths, although the impact of that action has yet to be reflected in the whale population figures. The leading causes of whale deaths, Brown said, are ship strikes, which account for half of all right whale deaths, and entanglement in fishing gear.

Unfortunately, whales’ principal food source – plankton – like deep-water basins, which are also ideal places for shipping channels. Nevertheless, Canadian efforts to reduce ship strikes have been highly successful, according to Brown, who has worked since 1985 to protect the mammal.

After ship strikes in the Bay of Fundy killed right whales in 1993, 1995 and 1997, Brown and others formed a working group with the shipping industry to address the problem. By moving shipping lanes 3.2 nautical miles southwest, the risk of vessel strikes was reduced 96 percent, Brown said.

Irving Oil, whose tankers regularly cross the bay, was particularly supportive of the move, she added.

In 2003 and 2006, a second problem area was identified as two whales were killed in collisions south of Nova Scotia. Using radio transmissions, scientists tracked ship traffic and learned that most boats avoid a key whale feeding area. Enough cross the area, however, to endanger the whales.

Again working with the shipping industry, scientists established a 980-square-nautical mile voluntary conservation area endorsed by the International Maritime Organization. In 2008, 70 percent of ships avoided the voluntary protection area. This year, compliance rose to 80 percent, Brown reported.

U.S. efforts haven’t worked as well, said Brown. In 2008, the National Marine Fisheries Service established seasonal low speed zones within 20 nautical miles of the East Coast to protect migrating whales. The zones, including the Great South Channel near Cape Cod, require ships to slow to 10 knots, but Brown said compliance is a disappointing 20 percent.

Canada achieved better results, Brown said, thanks to shipping industry cooperation and international support through the International Maritime Organization. The Canadian changes also increase voyage times far less than the American slow speed zones. Had Canada implemented a 10- knot zone rather than a voluntary conservation area, she said, trips would have been increased by two hours instead of 8.5 minutes.

Whales also die when entangled in fishing gear, Brown said – primarily the lines used to catch lobsters and ground fish. According

to studies, 75 percent of right whales have scars from entanglement and about 10 percent get entangled every year. In October 2008, the National Marine Fisheries Service required gill nets be designed to break when wrapped around whales.

Then, in April 2009, the federal agency required that weights be attached to lines that link lobster pots to prevent them from floating where feeding whales may pass.

Brown is the driving force behind protection measures, according to URI marine biology professor Robert Kenney, and she is optimistic about the right whale’s future.

“We have more protective measures in place than we have ever had,” Brown noted, cautioning that the results of U.S. speed limits and fishing gear provisions have yet to be measured."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Endangered right whales returning to Georgia, Florida waters

Vessel operators must follow laws to protect the endangered species.

By The Times-Union | Story updated at 6:22 AM on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009

"BRUNSWICK - Endangered North Atlantic right whales are returning to Georgia and Florida coastal waters to winter, state wildlife biologists said.

The whales, which can be found as close as 3 miles offshore depending on water depth, spend the summer in the cooler waters off New England and Canada. Each fall, some return to Georgia and Florida for the winter.

About 200 right whales were documented off the Georgia coast during the 2008-09 season. That included 39 sets of mother and calf, which was a record. In addition, juveniles and single adult whales also were seen, biologists said.

This is the second straight year since 2005 that no adult whale deaths were reported. There were two calf mortalities last season, both from unknown causes. The 2008-09 season also included five whales entangled in commercial fishing gear. State and federal biologists working with researchers freed all but one of those whales.

After nearly 50 years of protected status, there are only an estimated 300 to 400 North Atlantic right whales left.

Boating restrictions

Commercial vessel operators are reminded that ships 65 feet or longer must follow federal speed restrictions when operating in waters designated as critical right whale habitat during certain times of year.

Those vessels are not allowed to travel faster than 10 knots under the National Marine Fisheries Service rule that went into effect Dec. 9.

Although the rule was recognized during the 2008-09 calving season, this is the first year it will be enforced by law enforcement, Georgia Department of Natural Resources biologists said.

Recreational vessels do not have to obey the speed limit, but National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration authorities recommend it."

Right whales returning to Ga-Fla.-waters

The Associated Press

"BRUNSWICK, Ga. -- Georgia wildlife biologists say North Atlantic right whales are returning to Georgia and Florida coastal waters for the winter.

The whales spend the summer in the cooler waters off New England and Canada. Each fall, some return to Georgia and Florida.

The Florida Times-Union reports that biologists say about 200 right whales were documented off the Georgia coast during the 2008-09 season, including a record 39 sets of mother and calf.

Commercial vessel operators are being reminded that ships 65 feet or longer must follow federal speed restrictions when operating in waters designated as critical right whale habitat during certain times of year."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Naming Right Whales!

I'm really excited that for the first time I've named two whales!!!

At our annual Right Whale Consortium meeting in New Bedford this year, the results of recent voting was announced and two of my candidates were selected:


Photo taken under permit by NOAA/NEFSC/Christin Khan

EGNO 1514 = Comet
Named for a scar on his back that resembles a comet trailing off to the right side.


Photo taken under permit by NOAA/NEFSC/Misty Niemeyer

EGNO 1503 = Trilogy
Named for the 3 small white lines on the left lip and 3 islands.

Friday, November 20, 2009

New Bedford Whaling Museum hosts North Atlantic Right Whale experts

SouthCoastToday.com
By DON CUDDY
November 19, 2009

"NEW BEDFORD — A symposium on the North Atlantic Right Whale, held Tuesday and Wednesday at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, drew 200 people from far and near to the Whaling City. The annual meeting is a gathering of the various entities known collectively as the New England Right Whale Consortium, a group comprising a variety of stakeholders whose primary focus is the study and conservation of the endangered right whale.

The consortium has existed since 1986, according to Moira Brown, a senior scientist at the New England Aquarium, who currently serves as president of the consortium's board of directors.

"We're very happy to be here in New Bedford where we've come for the past four or five years," Brown said. "It's a great location because of the area, because of the venue and it's a really interesting group of people in the room. We have scientists, biologists, government scientists, government managers, NGO groups, academia as well as people who represent fishing. We've also had captains and people from the shipping industry attend in previous years."

The actual event, during which the latest research and findings are discussed, is closed to the media.

"A lot of what is being discussed is a work in progress," Brown explained. "A lot of it is brainstorming. We want it to be a forum for free exchange of information and we think that the presence of media would inhibit that. But we are happy to have discussions on specific topics outside of the meeting."

For Michael Moore, a senior research specialist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, holding the meeting in New Bedford is, above all, convenient, he said with a smile. Moore lives in Marion.

"I'm also on the board of trustees here at the museum," he said, "So when the gathering got too big for the New England Aquarium I was happy to see it coming to the city. We have 200 people who are staying in area hotels and eating in our restaurants."

People traveled from the Azores, Canada and even Italy to attend the gathering. "Some people from Genoa are looking to establish a sanctuary similar to Stellwagen in their waters," he said.

The right whale population in northern waters numbers around 415 according to best estimates, he said, and while the species is still endangered there has been a slow upward trend in the numbers since scientists first began their studies in the Bay of Fundy more than 25 years ago. Ship strikes and entanglements with fishing gear remain the most common causes of right whale mortality, Moore said."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Wareham scientist to get medal for aiding whales

SouthCoastToday.com
By MARY ANN BRAGG
mbragg@capecodonline.com
November 16, 2009 12:00 AM

"WAREHAM — Think of someone powerful enough to move a shipping lane: to alter the path of behemoth tankers and freighters coming into Boston from Africa, Canada and South America, representing an international industry.

You are probably thinking of someone with serious political or legal clout — or both.

But in a side street in East Wareham, in a historic part of town near the Agawam River, another kind of person has been at work on that lane to prevent ships from striking whales: Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary scientist and research coordinator David Wiley.

On Thursday, Wiley, 56, will receive the U.S. Commerce Department's highest award for distinguished service, the Gold Medal. The award recognizes his leadership in ground-breaking research, including the relocation in July 2007 of a 5-mile-wide shipping lane within the sanctuary — using more subtle skills, such as scientific acumen, an understanding of human nature, the patience to bring doubters along with logical arguments, and even a bit of old-fashioned pleasantry.

And, for the record, the width of the lane was reduced to 4 miles, Wiley said.

"He can understand all sides of an issue," said Mason Weinrich, executive director of the Whale Center of New England, who worked directly with Wiley on the shipping lane issue. "He has a good analyst mind, and he's a super nice person. If he asks you for something, it's hard to say no, because you know something's behind it."

That's lucky for the whales.

The sanctuary is an 842-square-mile stretch of ocean and underwater environment between Cape Ann and Cape Cod, where marine mammals feed seasonally. The sanctuary also is home to 30 species of seabirds, more than 60 species of fish and hundreds of marine invertebrates and plants.

But the sanctuary also is the prime crossing ground for ships coming into Boston. They make about 3,400 trips across the sanctuary waters each year. The heaviest traffic comes from points south, through a designated shipping lane off the coast of Cape Cod, Wiley said.

Before the move of the lane in 2007, there were one or two reported ship strikes each year in the sanctuary area and likely a few more that went unreported, Wiley said. Which was too many, he said. The whales are humpbacks, fin whales and, the most endangered, North American right whales, he said.

To try to reduce the strikes, Wiley and his staff studied whale distribution data from whale-watch boats working in the sanctuary, to map out where the whales are generally swimming. Then they studied ship locations based on on-board tracking monitors. From that, Wiley and his staff identified an "ecological hole," an area the whales seem to avoid and where the ships could potentially go.

To persuade the shippers, Wiley went further, explaining through an analysis of ocean currents and the ocean floor why the whales seemed to congregate in certain areas.

Then, he drove from the sanctuary office in Scituate once a month for about six months in 2004 and 2005 to convince the shippers — with an array of options on a PowerPoint presentation — to move their lane: to a more dog-legged entry across the sanctuary water, several miles northeast of the existing lane. It add anywhere from nine to 22 minutes to the trip, depending on the ships' speed, Wiley said.

"He took a powerful initiative to engage a problem that has been troubling us — we who work with whales — for a long time," said Charles Mayo, director of the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies right whale habitat studies.

Moving the shipping lane will not eliminate ship strikes, Wiley said, but the risk has been reduced by 81 percent. It will take a few years to see how many strikes are actually eliminated. But he was characteristically low-key, crediting federal officials and a handful of nonprofit groups for their help, and mentioning other issues that still need to be addressed.

"It's no more complex than any of it," Wiley said."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

JaxPort announces new program to protect right whales

"Striking a balance between commerce and the need to protect endangered species."

By Abel Harding, www.jacksonville.com
Story updated at 3:33 AM on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2009

"Rick Ferrin, chief executive of the Jacksonville Port Authority, announced Friday that the Right Whale Protection & Ship Recognition Program, designed to better protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale population off the Florida-Georgia coast.

The program, launched with the support of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will recognize vessel owners and operators who voluntarily comply with use of recommended travel lanes and abide by mandatory speed restrictions.

“We are striking a balance between commerce and the need to protect endangered species,” Ferrin said.

According to NOAA, the North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered whales in the world with a population of 300-400.

“What JaxPort is doing is an incredible contribution to right whale recovery,” said Barb Zoodsma, a NOAA official who was at Friday’s announcement.

The Humane Society’s marine issues field director Sharon Young says the new program will not change her group’s petition that is seeking to enlarge the whales “critical habitat.”

Speaking to the program’s recognition of companies that voluntarily comply with the law, Young said that it was good to recognize people for doing the right thing, but she questioned why there were no penalties for companies that failed to comply with the law.

“There’s almost no compliance with mandatory speed restrictions,” Young said, “and we have been encouraging [NOAA] to begin enforcement.”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Migrating Right Whales Swim by Fort Fisher

By Gareth McGrath
Gareth.McGrath@StarNewsOnline.com

Published: Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 2:29 p.m.

"The sighting of 3 right whales by a team from the UNCW Marine Mammal Program on Sunday Nov 8th, approximately 3 miles off the coast of Fort Fisher State Park. Photo courtesy of UNCW Marine Mammal Program

Sightings of the highly endangered right whales in the near-shore waters off Virginia and the Carolinas aren’t new.

What has biologists buzzing is that three of the 400 or so whales were seen migrating south this early.

On Sunday, researchers from the University of North Carolina Wilmington spotted a trio of Atlantic right whales swimming just three miles off Fort Fisher.

“This is the earliest right whales have been officially seen and identified in our neck of the woods,” said Bill McLellan, the state’s marine mammal stranding coordinator and a member of UNCW’s biology department.

The researchers, after hearing a Coast Guard warning to mariners, spotted the whales off southern New Hanover County while returning from an aerial marine mammal survey of Onslow Bay for the Navy.

Thanks to the natural and unique skin growths on the whale’s faces and identification work done by the New England Aquarium and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, researchers were able to tag the animals as an 8-year-old female, a 4-year-old female and a 3-year-old male.

“This is absolute verification that these animals are in our waters in November,” said UNCW marine biologist Ann Pabst, adding that the earliest previous whale sighting in the Southeast was Nov. 17.

The sighting came a week after rules requiring large vessels to slow down when approaching most major ports along the East Coast came into effect.

The regulations, which run through April, limit the speed of ships over 65 feet to 10 knots when they are within 20 miles of the coast.

Ship strikes and entanglements in fishing gear are the top killers of right whales.

Along with rules for bigger ships, all boaters are required to avoid approaching and disturbing the whales and must report all sightings to the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard, as it did earlier this week, will then broadcast an advisory to mariners to watch out for the lumbering marine giants as they continue on their near-shore migration route.

With no federally funded whale survey planned for the Mid-Atlantic this year, Pabst said reported sightings by boaters are a key tool in tracking the health, numbers and safety of the migrating right whales.

“It’s invaluable information that not only allows us to put protections in place, but alerts scientists who can then keep track of the animals and do a follow-up investigation if needed,” she said.

The right whale is among the most endangered animals on the planet.

The marine mammals, which can be more than 50 feet long and weigh 55 tons, used to be a common sight along the U.S. coastline.

But the large, slow-moving whale received its name because it was the easiest – and hence the “right” – whale for 19th-century whalers to hunt.

The whales spend the warm months off New England and the Canadian Maritimes before migrating down the coast to their traditional calving grounds off Georgia and North Florida.

Pabst said this week’s sighting continued a string of positive news about right whales, which includes a slight uptick in the number of animals in recent years and the new shipping speed-limit rules adopted last year.

“I think there’s some cautious optimism out there right now,” she said. “But there’s still a very long way to go.”

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Cautious optimism about right whales, during annual migration to Bay of Fundy

by Larry Lack, www.theworkingwaterfront.com

"The waters where the coasts of Maine and New Brunswick meet, where the St. Croix River widens into Passamaquoddy Bay and joins the Bay of Fundy, are key to the survival of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of North Atlantic whales.

These waters are the summer feeding grounds for several species of whales, including North Atlantic right whales, which are critically endangered. A small increase in right whale births last winter may justify some cautious optimism about whether right whales can escape extinction.

Right whales, along with finbacks, humpbacks and minkes from all over the northwest Atlantic depend on the these nutrient-rich waters to bulk up as they prepare for the long migration to southern United States waters and the Caribbean Sea.

During the summer and fall months in and near the Bay of Fundy, right whales gorge on up to a ton or more of plankton every day. This annual banquet provides them with a large part of their yearly nutritional needs and must sustain them beyond their migration into the winter months, which they spend in the relatively nutrient-poor warm southern waters where they were born and where some of them mate and give birth each year.

Late in August a large group of at least 40 North Atlantic right whales was observed for several days feeding near the small island group known as The Wolves just off the route of the ferry that links New Brunswick's Grand Manan Island with the mainland port of Black's Harbour (see "A close encounter with right whales").

Increased inshore sightings of right whales, which usually feed in deeper waters offshore caused a stir among whale researchers. Boatloads of whale watchers from Eastport and St. Andrews, N.B. were able to get a close look at these rare whales. There were also close encounters with humpbacks, which also spent more time inshore.

This summer and well into autumn The Wolves and another inshore feeding area, Head Harbour Passage, between Deer Island and Campobello Island in Canada, were also home to especially large numbers of the finback and minke whales, which are more commonly seen there.

Laurie Murison, who directs the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station, says whales near the mouth of Fundy change locations almost entirely in response to where they're finding herring and krill, and also copepods and other plankton, miniscule to microscopic creatures that congregate here in vast shoals.

In Fundy's waters, moved about by wind, tides, currents and temperature changes, the huge clouds of copepods that are the favorite food of right whales, can contain as many as 100,000 animals per square meter of seawater. The lower Bay of Fundy and the nearby Gulf of Maine are among the world's richest sources of these tiny crustaceans.

Because they swim slowly (their top speed is only about four miles an hour; some other kinds of whales can swim more than five times that fast), are rich in oil and whalebone and float when they are dead, right whales were considered the "right" whales to hunt and kill. When the League of Nations outlawed killing them in 1935 their population had been reduced to a few hundred; in 2001 only 300 of them were thought to exist. Right whale reproduction is a slow process. Female rights don't start producing young until they are at least 10 years old. After that they bear a single calf once every three years at most.

Whale experts have calculated that for the species to recover, 20 to 24 right whale calves must be born each year. In 1999 just five right calves were born, and in 2000 only a single calf was born that year. And these six calves were all born to females from the Gulf of St. Lawrence right whale population; none was from the herd that feeds in the Bay of Fundy.

In 2001, 32 right whale calves were born that year, well distributed between the two main populations. But births in subsequent years dropped close to or below the recovery level until this year, when Northern rights, which give birth off Florida and Georgia, produced 39 calves, the most since record keeping began in 1979. As a result, researchers have raised the estimate of their current population to 400.

But even if this rate of births continues, it would take Northern rights well over a century to rebuild their population to a safe survival level similar to the current population of Southern right whales, which is thought to number between 7,000 and 10,000.

Optimism about right whale recovery is tempered when conditions in the habitats of Northern and Southern rights are compared. Southern right whales, which feed in the Antarctic, live in waters that see very little ship traffic compared with the very busy (and highly polluted) shipping lanes along the U.S. east coast that Northern rights traverse twice annually. Because their slow speed makes it hard for them to avoid ships moving toward them, right whales are extremely vulnerable to ship strikes, which account for more right whale deaths than any other cause. Another major cause of Northern right whale deaths is fishing gear entanglements. An estimated 65 to 75 per cent of Northern right whales have entanglement scars."

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

SMM Conference in Quebec!

Another two years has gone by, and once again the Society for Marine Mammalogy has provided the opportunity to share the latest research and catch up with old friends and colleagues. Below is the poster that I was co-author on this year...

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Rescuers disentangle whale off Provincetown!

Cape Cod Times article
By Mary Ann Bragg

September 28, 2009 2:59 PM

"PROVINCETOWN - Whale rescuers cut away rope from a North Atlantic right whale Saturday just outside Provincetown Harbor after the crew of a local whale watch company reported the entanglement.

The right whale, born in 2008 to a right whale labeled 1321 among whale researchers, had rope wrapped around its head and mouth, potentially impeding its ability to feed, said Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies spokeswoman Tanya Grady.

The crew of the Dolphin Fleet of Provincetown reported the whale in distress. A team of rescuers from the center freed it from the rope with help from the Provincetown harbormaster's office and the Provincetown station of the U.S. Coast Guard, Grady said.

So far this year, the center's rescuers have untangled two right whales, three humpback whales and eight leatherback sea turtles - all protected species under federal guidelines. The rescuers operate with federal permits and federal and state grants.

A majority of right whale deaths are from entanglements with fishing gear, Grady said. Massachusetts Bay and Cape Cod Bay are designated critical habitats for North Atlantic right whales."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

An Inside Look at Baleen



I recently read the book "Stellwagen Bank" by Nathalie Ward, and it has this great drawing that really demonstrates how baleen works!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Rescuers untangle rope from whale

Cape Cod Times
September 11, 2009

PROVINCETOWN — A rescue crew untangled rope from a 45-foot right whale named Mavynne last Friday about 50 miles north of the Cape, according to Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies spokeswoman Tanya Grady.

Mavynne's upper jaw and body were tangled in three layers of synthetic rope, which was connected to heavy fishing gear below the water's surface, Grady said.

The first report of the entanglement came at about 7:30 a.m., with a recreational fisherman and others alerting authorities.

Right whale researchers had last seen Mavynne Aug. 28 in the Bay of Fundy, accompanied by her calf, Grady said. At the time, the whale was free of any rope. The calf was not observed during last week's disentanglement.

In addition to Mavynne, this year Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies staff members have untangled three humpback whales and eight leatherback sea turtles. All of the animals are considered endangered species under federal law.

MARY ANN BRAGG

Thursday, September 10, 2009

NOAA Launches Whale SENSE!

NOAA, Partners Launch Effort for Tour Operators to Protect Whales

Whale SENSE Recognizes Responsible Whale Watch Companies

September 10, 2009
NOAA has joined with private industry and conservation groups to launch Whale SENSE, a new voluntary program that encourages whale-watch tour operators from Maine to Virginia to practice responsible viewing. The program will also recognize businesses that discourage the harassment of whales in the wild and promote good stewardship.

The program was developed by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service’s northeast region and Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in partnership with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, and several New England commercial whale watching companies.

The United States has the largest whale watching industry in the world and whale watch vessels often play important roles in reporting and standing by injured, sick, entangled or ship struck animals until help arrives. All whales are protected under federal laws, including the Marine Mammal Protection Act, that safeguard them from being injured, killed, or harassed and having their important natural behaviors interrupted.

“Tour companies in the Whale SENSE program that prioritize education and responsible whale watching could be very attractive to potential customers who spend quite a lot to view these animals in their natural habitat,” said Allison Rosner, a biologist with NOAA’s Marine Fisheries Service Office of Protected Resources and NOAA program coordinator for Whale SENSE.

According to a recent report from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the whale watching industry contributed nearly $1 billion to the nation’s economy in 2008.

“Whale watching in this region is an important part of the local economy,” said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, senior biologist for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. “It must be done responsibly to keep from accidentally injuring or harassing the animals while they engage in vital behaviors like nursing, feeding, or resting.”

Program coordinators say Whale SENSE will recognize companies with good stewardship practices, promote high standards of education, and harness their ability to encourage others to care about whales and practice responsible viewing themselves.

To become a Whale SENSE participant, company vessel operators and the naturalists who narrate tours, are required to attend annual training on safe operations and whale ecology. Through these workshops, companies learn more about passenger education, whale watching guidelines and regulations, and good marine stewardship practices. Once a participant company has completed the program, it is granted full use of the Whale SENSE logo and becomes listed on the Whale SENSE Web site.

Massachusetts-based Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises, Dolphin Fleet, and Massachusetts Bay Lines, are among the first companies to participate in Whale SENSE.

“We believe it is the responsibility of the whale watching industry to set higher standards for safe navigation around the whales, as well as educating the public in their understanding of the marine life and how humans affect these habitats,” said Steve Milliken, owner of the Dolphin Fleet. “We think it is important to do more than simply watch whales. We have to protect them, too.”

NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Crew rescues North Atlantic right whale

Tangled in rope and gear, 40-ton animal set free

The right whale was entangled in synthetic rope, which the rescue team was able to remove.

By Abbie Ruzicka
Globe Correspondent / September 5, 2009

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

A 45-foot North Atlantic right whale was rescued from a life-threatening entanglement off the coast of Portsmouth, N.H., yesterday.

A fisherman spotted the whale on Jeffreys Ledge, which lies 50 miles north of Provincetown and 25 miles east of Portsmouth, around 7:30 a.m. yesterday and reported it to the New Hampshire Coast Guard. The Coast Guard then notified the Marine Animal Entanglement Response Team at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.

Rescuers found the whale just before noon ensnared in synthetic rope that wrapped three times around the whale’s upper jaw and once around its upper body, leading to heavy gear below the animal, said Scott Landry, a member of the rescue team who is director of the Marine Animal Entanglement Response Team.

The rescue team positioned its 39-foot vessel next to the estimated 40-ton whale as it came to the surface to breathe, Landry recounted.

The rescuers then used a 30-foot pole attached to a grappling hook to make one clean cut to the rope, which subsequently slipped off the whale’s jaw and body.

It took the three-person team only 40 minutes to execute the rescue, Landry said.

Right whale rescues are treacherous, because the large animals can thrash about or knock into the boat.

“It’s hard to express how lucky we got today,’’ Landry said. “If it so much as touches us we’re in very big trouble.’’

There is no way to know where or how the whale became tangled in the rope, Landry said; right whales are incredibly powerful and can pick up fishing gear and swim thousands of miles.

North Atlantic right whales are critically endangered, with only an estimated 400 in the Atlantic Ocean between Nova Scotia and Florida.

Rescuers took photos of the whale. The shots will be sent to the New England Aquarium and categorized so researchers can track the whale, Landry said.

This was the crew’s fourth whale rescue this year, he said.

About 70 percent of right whales and Humpback whales in the Atlantic Ocean have scarring from entanglement, Landry said.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

No more aerial surveys for awhile...

Most of the right whales are in the Bay of Fundy at this time of year, and the NEFSC will not be conducting aerial surveys again until mid-October...

Monday, August 17, 2009

Roseway Basin Aerial Survey!

On August 17th we conducted an aerial survey of Roseway Basin to look for right whales. We documented the distribution of 13 right whales along with 9 humpback whales, 1 fin whale, 2 sei whales, 3 minke whales, 1 leatherback turtle, and 7 ocean sunfish!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Mid-Atlantic Aerial Surveys - Day Twelve


Our survey has been successfully completed! We surveyed from Long Island back to our home airport of Hyannis, MA on Cape Cod. Our few sightings included one humpback whale, one dead seal, and one ocean sunfish.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Mid-Atlantic Aerial Surveys - Day Eleven

Today was another productive fly day and we surveyed from Long Branch, NJ up to Islip, NY including Long Island Sound! Sightings were not quite as frequent as they had been further south, but we did see 21 bottlenose dolphins, 6 loggerhead turtles, 1 leatherback, and one green turtle! We also ran another experiment with model turtles in Long Island Sound in conjunction with the Riverhead Foundation.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Mid-Atlantic Aerial Surveys - Day Nine

Today we were able to survey from Atlantic City, NJ north to Long Branch, NJ before we encountered a thick impenetrable fog bank... despite the short day, we documented 23 bottlenose dolphins, 51 loggerhead sea turtles, 20 green sea turtles, 1 Kemp's Ridley turtle, and one ocean sunfish! We landed for the evening on Long Island, NY.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Mid-Atlantic Aerial Surveys - Day Eight

We continued to take advantage of the good weather and flew all the way back up from Virginia to Atlantic City, New Jersey. During our survey we documented over 800 bottlenose dolphins and over 100 loggerhead sea turtles in addition to several green turtles, leatherback turtles, and ocean sunfish! It was a busy flight!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Mid-Atlantic Aerial Surveys - Day Seven

Today was a long and productive day! We flew all the way down the coast to our southernmost survey line and documented the distribution of over 100 loggerhead turtles and over 300 bottlenose dolphins (not to mention 15 green turtles)! We landed for the night in Newport News, Virginia...

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Mid-Atlantic Aerial Surveys - Day Five

Today was a very successful aerial survey in Long Island Sound and south to Atlantic City, New Jersey. We documented many species including loggerhead turtles, green turtles, Ridley turtles, leatherback turtle, bottlenose dolphins, basking sharks, ocean sunfish, and even a hammerhead shark!

Friday, August 07, 2009

Mid-Atlantic Aerial Surveys - Day Four

Today was a hard down day due to high winds.

We caught up on some data processing and received a fabulous tour of the Riverhead Foundation, the marine mammal and sea turtle rescue program of New York (www.riverheadfoundation.org).

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Mid-Atlantic Aerial Surveys - Day Three

Today we had a very successful day of surveying over model turtles in Long Island Sound, New York. We worked out the kinks in our survey protocols and had plenty of time to test our species ID and size estimates!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Mid-Atlantic Aerial Surveys

After a relaxing weekend at home, I am off again on another project... this time an aerial abundance survey of dolphins and turtles along the mid-Atlantic coast! We departed from the Hyannis airport on Tuesday afternoon to test our survey protocols on transit to Long Island, New York. Today we spent working in Long Island Sound with model sea turtles to calibrate our size estimates and detectability.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Delaware II - Day Sixteen

Today we tried valiantly to communicate with the remaining acoustic buoy and retrieve it, but were unsuccessful. Unfortunately this valuable equipment is sometimes accidentally trawled by fishing vessels, and that may be the case with this buoy. We also spent some time out on the small boat recording minke whales with the hydrophone, and are now steaming towards port in Woods Hole...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Delaware II - Day Fifteen

Today was a busy and productive day! We successfully retrieved 9 out of 10 of the acoustic pop up buoys with the small boat. We also got some hydrophone recordings and photo ID on several minke whales! Minke whales surface so quickly, that I was surprised to get even the two good photos that I did!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Delaware II - Day Fourteen

We awoke to the sound of the fog bell again, but it did eventually clear up and we were able to collect sighting data for much of the afternoon and run the CTD stations.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Delaware II - Day Thirteen

The morning began with a few promising sightings of minke whales, but the fog soon closed in and made it impossible to see for much of the day. By late afternoon we were able to get back out for a little while again.

Stellwagen Bank by Nathalie Ward


For those of you who wish to learn more about Stellwagen Bank, this is a fantastic all around introduction including the geology, historical whaling, fishing, and the many species that can be found in the area...



Synopsis from Barnes & Noble

"A fascinating look at the truly amazing variety of life in the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary off the coast of New England. In addition to being prime fishing territory, Stellwagen draws millions of visitors each year who come to observe whales and sea birds. Stunning underwater photography and superb artwork complete this important and informative book."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Delaware II - Day Twelve

Today was a busy day of collecting sighting data, and a refreshing change from yesterday's fog! We saw many humpbacks, a few fin whales, and a few minke whales!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Delaware II - Day Eleven

No work today... the winds are blowing hard and we are hunkered down in Provincetown Harbor to wait it out. The Coast Guard assisted us in a crew change since it was too choppy to take out the small zodiac as planned.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Delaware II - Day Ten

We had high hopes for a thorough survey of Stellwagen Bank coordinated between the Delaware II, the Auk, and the NOAA Twin Otter aircraft... but alas, Mother Nature had other plans for us (fog, rain, and wind). The NOAA Twin Otter did takeoff and poke around, but reported back that there was fog everywhere.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Delaware II - Day Nine


At long last we received our crane part (via special delivery from the R/V Auk) and were able to fix the crane and deploy the small boat! We even found a some minke and fin whales in the afternoon and were able to get some good hydrophone recordings!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Delaware II - Day Eight

Too foggy, rainy, and windy to get much accomplished today (although we did have a good follow on a few minke whales in the morning before the weather worsened).

Monday, July 20, 2009

Delaware II - Day Seven


Another successful day of collecting data on the distribution of large whales in the vicinity of the acoustic array deployed in Stellwagen bank. We even had the opportunity to spend some time with a group of minke whales, which is our target species.

We stopped at several CTD stations (see photo of deployment above). CTD stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth and provides some valuable environmental data to accompany our visual and acoustic data.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Delaware II - Day Six

Another glorious day of blue skies, fair winds, successful buoy deployment and retrieval, and many whale sightings!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Delaware II - Day Five


Photo by C. Khan collected under NOAA/NMFS/NEFSC permit.

Today was another fabulous day out on Stellwagen Bank! We expected fog, rain, and rough seas, but it turned out to be pretty nice most of the day and we were able to get a lot of work done.

We retrieved the seven pop-up buoys that had been deployed to calibrate the array. An acoustic signal is played to the buoy which triggers a cable to burn, thereby freeing the buoy to "pop up" to the surface where it can be grappled and retrieved.

We collected a lot of data on humpback and fin whale positions before the winds finally kicked up enough to be a problem. There was a lot of breaching activity today, and towards the end of the day, I finally had my camera at the right moment...

Friday, July 17, 2009

Delaware II - Day Four


We awoke this morning to the sound of the fog bell, but before long it burned off and we had a very successful day of sighting and tracking whales! Minke whales only come to the surface briefly and can be very hard to spot, but despite these challenges, we managed to follow the movements of several individuals.

For those of you who are not familiar with Stellwagen Bank, I have included a map above (click on the map to enlarge). The topography of the bank causes a lot of upwelling of nutrients making this area extremely productive with a wide variety of marine life. For more information about Stellwagen Bank, visit the sanctuary homepage at:

http://stellwagen.noaa.gov/

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Delaware II - Day Three

All the acoustic pop-up buoys in the array have been deployed and are now continuously recording underwater sounds. We spent the day documenting the distribution of marine mammals along our survey transects in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Our target species are minke, fin, and sei whales but it was not until evening that we spotted two fin whales from the top deck and were able to follow them for a little while. We hope to correlate our visual sightings with the acoustic detections recorded on the buoys to gain a better understanding of the vocal repertoire of these species.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Delaware II - Day Two



We've spent the entire day deploying the acoustic pop-up buoys, and they are just about all in the water!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Delaware II - Day One




After a delayed departure, we set out on Tuesday July 14th under perfect conditions. Sunset found us out on Stellwagen Bank watching humpbacks in the distance...

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Fog





After nearly two weeks of being fogged in, we decided to poke our noses out yesterday and see if we could get part of an aerial survey done. We confirmed that there really truly is fog everywhere...

Images collected under NOAA/NMFS/NEFSC permit no. 775-1875

Friday, June 19, 2009

More Critical Habitat for Right Whales!!!

Ottawa widens right whales’ habitat

By The Canadian Press
Thu. Jun 18 - 4:46 AM

The federal government has added two critical feeding areas for the North Atlantic right whales to the Species at Risk Act in a bid to enhance protections for the endangered mammals.

The Roseway Basin off Nova Scotia and the Grand Manan Basin in the Bay of Fundy were added Wednesday as critical habitats as part of the government’s final recovery strategy for the animals.

David Millar of the federal Fisheries Department said the measure means Ottawa is obligated to legally protect the areas from activities that might harm it.

"They are areas that can be identified as essential to the survival and recovery of right whales, primarily because they’re very important feeding areas," he said.

The feeding grounds are important for the massive mammals as they migrate from breeding grounds in the southern United States to Canadian waters.

The whales stay in Canada for the summer to feed on plankton.

Millar said the addition to the act means Ottawa has 180 days to put the legal protections in place.

But it has not been made clear what these new safeguards might entail.

The Roseway Basin is on the Scotian Shelf about 50 kilometres off Nova Scotia and spans about 2,590 square kilometres.

There is already a voluntary "no-go zone" in the area that encourages vessels to steer clear because of the whales’ presence.

The designation as a critical habitat does little to stop fishing activities in the area.

Some of these activities could be linked to the whales becoming entangled in certain types of gear.

Still, environmentalists praised the move, saying it will help ensure protections for the valuable food sources for the whales.

Their numbers have dropped to about 400 following decades of hunting, ship strikes and entanglements.

"This is a population that’s on the brink of extinction and when you have a small population like that, protecting the areas that they most rely on is crucial," said Susan Pinkus of Ecojustice in Vancouver.

"The majority of the world’s North Atlantic right whales come into Canadian waters in the summer and fall and they feed."

Pinkus said the two Canadian areas comprise some of the whales five main high-use habitat areas.

The others are off the United States.

"The Roseway Basin, as well as the Grand Manan Basin, have been known for decades to be the most important habitats in Canadian waters for Atlantic right whales," said Scott Wallace, a sustainable fisheries expert.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Right Whales off the coast of Greenland!

NOAA Expedition Hears Endangered North Atlantic Right Whales off Greenland

May 20, 2009



"A team of scientists funded by NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research recorded the distinctive calls of endangered North Atlantic right whales in an area where it was believed that the historic resident population was hunted to extinction in the early 20th century. Besides providing a better understanding of the whales, the discovery has implications for future shipping in the region.

Scientists from NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, NOAA’s National Marine Mammal Laboratory and Oregon State University deployed “listening” hydrophones to continuously record sounds for a year in the Cape Farewell Ground, an area off the southern tip of Greenland. Chief Scientist David Mellinger presented the team’s findings today at the semi‑annual conference of the Acoustical Society of America in Portland, Ore.

In July 2007, the team deployed five stationary hydrophones between 200 to 400 miles off the coast of Greenland. After collecting them in July 2008, the team sorted through the year’s worth of recorded sound on each device to find evidence of right whales. Using automated detection software to search for a particular right whale sound – an “up” call – and after months of sifting through false positives, they identified more than 2,000 real whale calls. All of the calls occurred between July and December, with evidence between July and September of a north-south migration Mellinger believes covers thousands of miles.

“The North Atlantic right whale is an icon for protecting and restoring valuable ocean resources which is a priority for NOAA,” said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “This discovery adds important information so that ocean resource managers may better understand and better protect this highly endangered species.”

The right whales recorded could have migrated from the western North Atlantic right whale population, which is estimated at between 300 and 400 animals. But of the two right whales sighted in the last 50 years on the Cape Farewell Ground, one had only rarely been seen with the western population, and the other had never been seen in the area. The recordings in the Cape Farewell Ground raise the possibility that the eastern North Atlantic right whale population may still exist.

Dr. Dave Mellinger, an acoustics expert with Oregon State University and NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies, was the chief scientist on the mission.

“We were thrilled to hear these calls on the recordings, because we considered it a bit of a long shot,” said Mellinger. “But we knew it was a historic habitat area, and an unstudied one. Now the question is how many whales are there, and what population do they belong to?”

Knowing that the whales are in the area is important, as continued ice melt will likely lead to increased shipping in the region.

“Newly available shipping lanes through the Northwest Passage would greatly shorten the trip between Europe and East Asia, but would likely cross the migratory route of any right whales that occupy the region,” said Phillip Clapham, a right whale expert with NOAA’s National Marine Mammal Laboratory, who participated in the study. “It’s vital that we know about right whales in this area in order to effectively avoid ship strikes on what could be a quite fragile population.”
NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

BOSTON (AP) "A very happy Mother's Day weekend for right whales. The most endangered whales on Earth gave birth to 39 calves this spring, breaking a record. It's a marked improvement over 2000, when only one calf was born."

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Up to 39 right whales born this year!!!!


To give you a sense of just how amazing this number is, check out the detailed comparison of calves born compared to the previous few seasons!!!

Huge thanks to the aerial survey teams who collect this critically important data: Wildlife Trust, New England Aquarium, and Florida Fish and Wildlife

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Up to 31 right whales born this year!



Take a look at the historical number of new calves born each year and you'll see that this is something to celebrate!!!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Azores whale named "Pico"

The right whale seen in the Azores last week has been named "Pico" after Pico Island.

In addition to being first spotted in the Azores by an individual on Pico Island, off the coast of Portugal, the pattern on the whale's head bears a striking resemblance to the island when viewed from the air! Right whales are individually identified based on the pattern of callosity tissue on the head, so the whale's name will help researchers to identify the whale next time it is spotted!