Friday, January 01, 2010

Extraordinary sight on new year: Endangered right whale spotted off Juno Beach

By Susan Spencer-Wendel and Willie Howard | The Palm Beach Post | Jan. 1, 2010

"JUNO BEACH — The new year started with an extraordinary sight for fisherman Bob Heil.

Heil, 75, was fishing of the Juno Beach pier about 7:30 a.m. following a magnificent sunrise. The ocean was flat and calm, and there lolling about maybe a 100 yards out from the pier's end was a whale.

Rolling and playing; an alternating fin, head, tail, appearing on the horizon.

And not just any whale. The most endangered of all the world's great whales, the right whale, wildlife officials later confirmed.

There are only 350 right whales left in the North Atlantic, according to the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium's Web site (www.rightwhaleweb.org).

"It was such a good omen for 2010," said Heil, of Loxahatchee Groves.

Julie Albert of Marine Resources Council, a non-profit environmental group out of Palm Bay which tracks the whales, said a crew member of a barge at sea sent photos of the whale to wildlife officials who confirmed it was a right whale.

While it's common to see them in close to the beach, not many right whales migrate as far south as Juno Beach, she said.

According to the consortium's Web site, the right whale usually gives birth during winter months off the coast of central and north Florida and southern Georgia.

The whales have been internationally protected since 1935, Albert said, and it is illegal for a boat to be within 500 yards of the endangered animal.

Albert asks that anyone sighting or photographing a right whale call their whale reporting hotline at 888-979-4253 (888-97-WHALE).

Right whales have distinctive features which identify them, she said. They have no dorsal fin and have hardened patches of skin on their heads which is not seen on other whales around here.

Right whales also have short, stubby black flippers, and their tail is black on both sides.

A sight for sore eyes any day of the year — but definitely the "right" way to start a new one."

No comments: