Tuesday, February 08, 2011

{Press} Wildlife officials investigating death of Right Whale

St.Augustine.com | February 3, 2011 | Justine Griffin

Wildlife officials investigating death of Right Whale | StAugustine.com

"Wildlife officials are working together to find out what killed a 2-year-old North Atlantic Right Whale off the shores of St. Augustine Beach this morning.

Biologists and other marine officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission towed in a female right whale that was found dead and floating in the water just eight miles from shore last night, said Tom Pitchford, a wildlife biologist with the FWC.

The 30-feet long, 15,000-pound whale lay motionless on the beach this morning as officials began to assess what may have happened through a necropsy, said Karrie Carnes, communications coordinator for NOAA.

FWC and NOAA officials helped untangle the same whale from rope and other debris three other times since Christmas day, Pitchford said. The last time officials found the whale was on Jan. 15, and she was in bad condition, Carnes said. Officials were able to sedate the whale while she was still at sea and remove most of the ropes around her mouth and flippers, Carnes said.

However, more rope was found entangled on the whale’s carcass two days ago when officials spotted her adrift from a helicopter, Pitchford said.

The skeletal remains of the whale will be donated to a museum or aquarium and other remains will be taken back to a laboratory for testing, Carnes said. The rest of the carcass will be buried on the beach near the Mary Street ramp where the animal was towed in last night.

NOAA, FWC, the Georgia Aquarium, University of Florida, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and the Georgia Department of Natural resources are assisting in the investigation and necropsy of the whale."

Thursday, February 03, 2011

{Press} Endangered right whale investigation held on Butler Beach

Jacksonville.com | Dan Scanlan

BUTLER BEACH — She was a “dead whale swimming” until biologists removed fishing net rope gouging her head and flippers right after Christmas off Daytona Beach, according to one federal official.

Despite the rescue effort, one of two performed recently off North Florida, time ran out this week for a 2-year-old North Atlantic right whale.

Thursday, the right whale — familiar to scientists due to satellite tracking during its young life — was rendered into 15,000 pounds of bone, baleen and blubber as scientists performed a necropsy on Butler Beach off the 5700 block of Florida A1A.

Initial results show the juvenile whale was 20 percent underweight due to the inability to feed because of rope embedded in its mouth, plus shark bites near its tail that cut large veins and led the weakened mammal to its death.

“Right whales are highly endangered, so any time we lose one individual, it’s a pretty devastating thing,” said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration biologist Barb Zoodsma. “This was a female and she had a life of calf reproducing in front of her, so that is doubly disappointing. We just need to learn from this and figure out how we can do things better.”

It was a sad way to end for a whale born during the 2008-2009 calving season and seen by biologists net-free off Florida’s northeast coast a year ago, said Mary Clemons, a volunteer Marineland whale watcher who observed Thursday’s investigation with a crowd of tourists and residents.

Only about 350 right whales are known to exist, making them among the most endangered and protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. They spend summers feeding off New England and Canada, then swim into Florida waters to give birth between mid-November and mid-April.

Getting hit by boats or entangled in nets are the greatest threats, agency spokeswoman Karrie Carnes said. A few cases of entanglement are reported annually in the Southeast. This whale was spotted Christmas Day by a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission survey team.

Crews went out to help the whale off Daytona Beach on Dec. 30 and tried again Jan. 15, sedating it to remove 150 feet of rope and wire mesh.

“This whale was terminally entangled, meaning that when we performed the sedation and disentanglement, it was essentially a dead whale swimming,” Carnes said.

The dead whale was spotted 12 miles off Palm Coast on Tuesday and towed to Butler Beach late Wednesday. By 10 a.m. Thursday, crowds watched biologists cutting the 30-foot-whale apart. A backhoe removed the head, lower jaws and tongue, as the intestines were laid out in rows of 8-foot sections for investigation.

“There is still a lot we have yet to learn,” Zoodsma said. “We believe right whales are not feeding when they are down here, yet at the same time this one may have been or trying to feed, so we are interested to look at the intestines to see if there was any foodstuff in there.”

Carnes said the whale’s bones will probably be donated to a museum. The rest, including thick blubber under its barnacled skin, will be buried deep enough on a St. Johns County beach to discourage dogs and scavengers.

One onlooker was St. Augustine sixth-grader Juliet Maneely, with her parents to learn more about the whale as officials discussed the endangered mammal with visitors. She watched as they explained a section of its comb-like baleen, used to strain the shrimp-like krill it eats.

The dead whale was “smelly,” but more interesting than school, she said.

dan.scanlan@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4549

Read more at Jacksonville.com: http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2011-02-03/story/endangered-right-whale-investigation-held-butler-beach#ixzz1JzTCp6Nc

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

{Update} NEFSC Aerial Survey Team Profiles

Our new website now includes the profiles of the aerial survey team folks!

{Update} AMAPPS Survey Begins!

Over the next six weeks, we will be conducting Cetacean Assessment surveys from Long Island to Nova Scotia aboard the NOAA Twin Otter!