Wednesday, November 24, 2010

{Press} Group Protects Whales from Sky

ABC News 4 Charleston, South Carolina | Neville Miller | November 23, 2010

"CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Keeping an eye out for whales in the ocean below from 1000 feet up, that's the task of the right whale observing team with EcoHealth Alliance.

The group flies in patterns of our coastline several days to track the massive mammals as they migrate southward from New England to give birth in warmer water.

"We've had groups of five to ten whales. We never really know how many whales are going to be there and some can be underneath the water anywhere from five to ten, to 15 minutes at a time," explained Melanie White with EcoHealth Alliance.

With a combination of good weather and luck, the EcoHealth Alliance team keeps track of each of the massive mammals by snapping photos of them.

Besides documenting each whale, the team also alerts authorities of their position to steer ships clear of the area.

"Ship strikes are one of the biggest issues or threats for right whales right now, especially here, they are migrating through, some of them are calving and they don't pay a lot of attention to the ships in the area," explained Dianna Schulte, team leader of the whale surveying team.

Protecting each whale is an important task as only as small number of the whales still exists.

"Historic populations before whaling began were between 10,000 and 50,000, so having under 500 shows how critically endangered they are," Schulte said.

The EcoHealth Alliance team hopes to rebound after last year when they saw about half as many whales as the record year in 2008, when they spotted nearly 100 individuals.

"We're hoping for an excellent calving season, two years ago was a record calving season with 39 born, last year we had 19, which is still pretty good," Schulte said.

Through the first full week of surveying, the team has seen two whales. The flights will continue through April 15th and is paid for by the State Ports Authority and NOAA."

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