Thursday, April 28, 2011

{Update} 57 Right Whales in Rhode Island

Our NEFSC right whale aerial survey spotted 57 right whales in Rhode Island Sound last Friday!! That's in addition to the 100 or so right whales that have been spotted in recent days by the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies aerial surveys!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

{Press} OPEN SEASON: Boaters be wary of right whales in Cape Cod Bay | Marc Folco | April 24, 2011

"MarineFisheries has asked boaters to be on the lookout for North Atlantic right whales — a critically endangered species, which have begun to congregate and feed in large numbers in Cape Cod Bay. Approximately 25 to 30 right whales recently were spotted off the coast of Provincetown. MarineFisheries issued a high risk advisory due to the number of whales, their behavior, their proximity to shore and the local abundance of zooplankton — tiny marine creatures on which the whales feed. Right whales gather annually in the waters off of Cape Cod to feed and nearly 70 were counted by MarineFisheries during March and April of last year.

Right whales are the most endangered large whale in the North Atlantic, with a population of approximately 450 animals. Adult right whales average from 45 to 55 feet in length and can weigh up to 70 tons — the largest measured specimens have been measured at 60 feet long, weighing 117 tons.

The whales engage in surface and subsurface feeding and are often difficult to see, putting them at great risk with vessel-strike being a major cause of human-induced mortality. For the safety of both mariners and whales, vessel operators in the Cape Cod Bay area are strongly urged to proceed with caution, reduce speed (less than 10 knots), and post lookouts to avoid colliding with these highly endangered whales. MarineFisheries will lift the advisory when the right whales depart the area.

Vessels are prohibited by state and federal law from approaching within 500 yards of a right whale. Massachusetts Environmental Police and U.S. Coast Guard are authorized to enforce the 500-yard rule. Vessels that find themselves within 500 yards of a right whale should slowly and cautiously exit the area. Report all sightings of right whales immediately. Call the NOAA Fisheries Hotline at 866-755-NOAA (or hail the Coast Guard on Channel 16) and for more information, visit"

Marc Folco is the outdoor writer for The Standard-Times. Contact him at

{Press} Right whale disentangled off Provincetown

Cape Cod Times | April 23, 2011

"PROVINCETOWN - A North Atlantic right whale was freed from entanglement Friday by the Marine Animal Entanglement Response team of the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, according to a center press release.

The entangled whale was in the area of several other whales in Cape Cod Bay, by PCCS researchers conducting a right whale aerial survey. The whale had rope through its mouth that trailed more 40-feet beyond its tail, according to the release. The entanglement was potentially life-threatening because over time, the line extending from its mouth could cause further complications.

After working on the entanglement for several hours, the team was able to make a single cut and add large buoys to pull the entanglement from the whale's mouth, freeing the animal.

This year has been a record year for right whales migrating in Cape Cod Bay. To view a photo gallery of the whales by Times photographer Merrily Cassidy, go to"

{Press} Rescue team frees right whale from rope | Taylor M. Miles | April 24, 2011

"A marine rescue team freed an endangered North Atlantic right whale that was tangled in rope yesterday in Cape Cod Bay, sparing the 30-ton mammal from potentially life-threatening complications.

Researchers from the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies found the whale with a rope caught in its mouth that probably came from a fishing boat, officials said. The Marine Animal Entanglement Response Team worked on freeing the whale for several hours and loosed the rope by making a single cut and using large buoys."

{Publication} 2010 NARWSS Report Now Available!

Our annual right whale aerial survey report is now available online, now with new and improved color maps! To view the complete report as a PDF, click here.

{Press} Record number of right whales in Cape waters

Cape Cod Times | Doug Fraser | April 21, 2011

"PROVINCETOWN — Record numbers of right whales have been seen in Cape Cod Bay and adjacent waters this week, including sightings from some Truro beaches and the beaches at Herring Cove and Race Point in Provincetown.

The Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies reported Wednesday that the Right Whale Conservation Program, run jointly by the Cape group and the state Division of Marine Fisheries, had documented 201 individual right whales in Cape Cod waters over the past week.

More than 100 right whales were seen Wednesday in Cape waters during a seven-hour research flight.

Program scientists estimate that half of the known population of the endangered North Atlantic right whale has already been spotted this season.

The state has issued a high-risk advisory to boaters to use caution in Cape waters to avoid hitting the whales, which spend long periods feeding and relaxing near the surface.

With a population of about 500 animals, right whales are the most endangered large whale in the North Atlantic."

{Press} Officials warn boaters to steer clear of endangered right whales

Boston Globe | Martin Finucane | April 20, 2011

State officials are warning boaters plying the waters around the tip of Cape Cod to keep an eye out for endangered North Atlantic right whales.

About 101 of the animals were spotted in an aerial survey on Tuesday, said Erin Burke, a protected species specialist at the Division of Marine Fisheries.

She said the whales are feeding on abundant plankton and swim just beneath the surface. Being hit by a boat can be fatal to the whales; it can also damage boats, she said.

“We mostly want to get the information out to boaters,” Burke said, noting that some small recreational boats go “screaming through that area."

Pictures taken by Burke last Thursday showed whales in the water just off of Provincetown.

The whales visit Cape Cod Bay each year from January through May, she said, with their population reaching a peak in March and April.

The number of whales sighted Tuesday is the most that observers have ever spotted in a single day, she said. That's in keeping with a general trend towards more whale sightings in Cape Cod Bay in recent years.

She said the crowd of cetaceans could be around for another week before the plankton runs thin and the whales move on.

The division issued a high risk advisory last Thursday, urging operators of boats in the area to reduce speed to less than 10 knots and post lookouts. The division also said that vessels are prohibited under state and federal law from approaching within 500 yards of a right whale."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

{Press} Comprehensive Harbor Seal Survey Underway off New England Coast

NOAA NEFSC Press Release | Shelley Dawicki

Live-Capture Tagging, Aerial Surveys Focus on Cape Cod, Mid-Coast Maine Populations

The first comprehensive study of harbor seals in a decade gets underway this month off the coast of Cape Cod and mid-coast Maine to determine the distribution and abundance of harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) along the New England coast.

In the first phase of the study, researchers will live capture adult harbor seals, attach radio and flipper tags to these animals, and take biological samples. Aerial surveys along the Maine coast will be conducted in late May to relocate tagged seals and estimate the abundance of pups and non-pups.

Gordon Waring, who heads the seal research program at the Woods Hole Laboratory of NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC), says the harbor seal survey is different from the Center’s annual aerial photographic surveys since it will be conducted during the harbor seal’s peak pupping period, which occurs from late May into June.

“It is much more intense, both in terms of the number and types of aerial surveys, the live-capture of harbor seals, the increased biological sampling efforts, and because we can tag up to 60 animals, which is the total number of radio tags we have available,” said Waring. “Harbor seals are small and fairly easy to handle during live-capture efforts, are generally not aggressive, and they will shed the small radio tags when they molt in a few months.”

Information from the radio-tagged seals will be used to adjust the photographic aerial counts to account for the fraction of animals not hauled-out on the ledges – and hence not available to be counted - during each flight. While harbor seals are the focus of this survey, researchers will also count any gray seals (Halichoerus grypus) that are observed. The two species are the most common seals in New England.

The live capture work began on April 7 off Chatham Harbor and Jeremy Point in Wellfleet, Mass. and will continue through late April off the coast of Rockland, Maine in western Penobscot Bay. Both areas are traditional haul-out sites for harbor seals. Fourteen seals have already been radio tagged at Chatham. In accomplishing its work, the scientific team has a marine mammal scientific research permit issued by NOAA, and a special research permit issued by the National Park Service.

Waring is leading the team of a dozen experienced marine mammal researchers from NEFSC’s Protected Species Branch at the Woods Hole Laboratory, the Riverhead Institute for Marine Research and Preservation on Long Island, N.Y., the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, the University of Connecticut, Storrs, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the University of Maine, Orono.

The National Park Service ─and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) that coordinates the Cape Cod Stranding Network under a marine mammal research permit from NOAA’s Fisheries Service ─will provide small boat assistance to the field team as needed.

Once live captured, each seal will be measured and weighed, have biological samples (including blood, fur and fluids for genetic testing) collected for stock identification and other health assessments, and be outfitted with both a flipper tag for identification and a small radio tag before being released.

A pre-abundance survey aerial flight along the entire Maine coast will begin during the third week of May (around May 21 or 22) to give the team a sense of where the radio-tagged harbor seals are at that time. Antennas mounted on the struts of the survey airplane can detect the radio signal from tagged seals within a 5-10 mile area when the radio-tagged animals are on the surface.

One or two days later, on about May 23, the aerial abundance surveys will begin and track the seals tagged in April. Aerial teams will fly in bay sectors in four-hour intervals and the observing team will comprise three designated positions (which will rotate): a photographer, a data recorder, and an individual tracking the seal’s radio tag to determine the location of the animal. At the completion of the abundance survey (four to six days), a singley flight will be conducted to relocate any radio-tagged seals missed in earlier flights.

"We don’t know how many harbor seals there are in New England because most seal surveys focus on one specific area or location, but we do know that local populations have grown in size during the last few decades, and have changed in many ways, especially in southern New England and Nantucket Sound,” Waring said. “While the overall geographic range of harbor seals has varied little in the last century, our ability as scientists to learn more about the behavior of the seals, their seasonal migration patterns and habitat uses, and their interactions with other species (including humans) has changed considerably.”

The Protected Species Branch (PSB) at the NEFSC’s Woods Hole Laboratory is responsible for assessing the status of marine mammal populations off the northeast U.S. coast. The 2011 seal survey is also part of a larger, multi-year survey of marine mammals, sea turtles and seabirds along the entire U.S. East Coast which the NEFSC is leading on behalf of four federal agencies.

Waring noted that the comprehensive 2011 seal study is an example of collaboration among many different organizations to maximize available funds, effort and experience so that everyone involved gains as much as possible. “My goal is to successfully conduct the 2011 capture/tagging and aerial abundance survey,” Waring said, “and to continue developing the regional network of seal researchers and cooperative research programs.”

Monday, April 18, 2011

{Update} Surprise mom/calf in the Northeast!

The 2011 breeding season is now up to 21 new right whale calves born, with the latest addition making a surprise appearance up in the Northeast! Egno 1123 either gave birth further north than usual or escaped detection by the intensive aerial survey effort on the Southeast breeding grounds. The new mother and calf pair were detected by the Northeast Fishery Science Center aerial survey on April 7th.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

{Data} Large Whale Distribution

I created this series of maps for an upcoming talk. They display the distribution of various large whale species as seen by the Northeast Fisheries Science Center aerial surveys from 1998 - 2010. Note that these maps are sighting data only (not effort corrected). Nevertheless they are very interesting...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

{Fieldwork} Harbor Seal Captures!

I spent last Thursday and Friday participating in harbor seal research under the direction of Dr. Gordon Waring at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole. Seals were captured off of Chatham harbor and Jeremy Point, then weighed and sampled (blood, biopsy), and outfitted with flipper and radio tags. The data gathered will be used to learn more about seasonal and fine-scale movements, habitat use, and stock structure. Collaborators included scientists from NOAA NEFSC, WHOI, IFAW, PCCS, Riverhead Foundation, University of Maine, and others.

For more information about the project, click here for a publication on a previous study

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

{Press} Five Northern Right Whales Killed Since January

WDCS International

When you deal with a critically endangered species, you count individual losses like petals on a crocus. Intact, a crocus is a gorgeous and vibrant flower but even one missing petal is noticeable.

Sadly, the analogy applies to the fate of the entire North Atlantic right whale species. In the past three months, five critically endangered North Atlantic right whales have died and an additional right whale was seriously injured by a vessel strike. Three of those lost were females, the most important segment of the population. Perhaps the most tragic is the most recent loss that we learned of this week, that of a newborn calf. Only months old, the fate of this calf was sealed when its mother was killed by a ship strike.

The National Marine Fisheries Service says that, for the population to recover, no more than one or two right whales can accidentally die each year. We’ve already more than doubled that figure in three months. Next week I will be attending the meeting of the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team where WDCS is a federally appointed Conservation Representative. Meetings are never glamorous, nor fun, but the fate of an entire species is at stake, and I will be there advocating on behalf of all right whales.

My sincerest thanks to Patagonia who provided us support for our right whale work, and for all of our supporters who add their collective voices to help save this species. We may not be able to replace the petals once they are lost, but somehow, we will save this flower.

Regina Asmutis-Silvia
Senior Biologist, WDCS

Monday, April 04, 2011

{Press} Dead right whale washes ashore in Nags Head

The Virginian-Pilot | Erin James | March 31, 2011


"A North Atlantic right whale, one of the rarest animals in the world, washed ashore Sunday on an Outer Banks beach. The female whale had succumbed to injuries that may have been caused by a boat collision, experts said.

North Atlantic right whales - the rarest of all whales - are a "critically endangered" species, having once been popular hunting game.

Fewer than 500 are thought to remain, though the species is showing signs of a slow recovery, according to a recent report from the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium. In 2006, the group, a partnership of various agencies, estimated that 393 of the whales remained.

On a chilly day that kept most beachgoers away, wind pushed the 46-foot whale onto the Nags Head beach near Jennette's Pier.

A sei whale washed ashore at Sandbridge in Virginia Beach the same day.

Members of the Outer Banks Marine Mammal Stranding Network had been on the lookout after receiving reports that a dead right whale had been seen floating off the coasts of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

Members of the stranding network performed a necropsy on the animal and identified it.

The whale was first observed in 1983, and it was last seen alive off Florida in February, said Karen Clark, a program coordinator at the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education.

The whales are not tagged, but they are closely monitored by the scientific community. Because each animal's appearance is unique, sightings and photos allow individual whales to be identified and studied, Clark said.

During its life, the whale found in Nags Head had given birth to at least three calves. And, Clark said, the animal survived entanglements with boating and fishing gear on four documented occasions. It was about 30 years old.

The endangered status of the North Atlantic right whale is largely due to its former popularity among hunters.

Right whales are fatter than most, and they tend to feed near the surface of the water- making it easy for hunters to spot them, Clark said. Hunting them was outlawed in 1935.

"It's all in their name," she said. "They were the right whale to hunt."

Today, the primary threat to the species is boating collisions.

In 2008, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration implemented a new regulation requiring some large shipping vessels to slow to 10 knots when operating within 20 nautical miles of major East Coast ports.

The rule was intended to protect migrating North Atlantic right whales from colliding with cargo ships. At the time, NOAA estimated that such collisions killed at least two whales each year.

A right whale last washed onto an Outer Banks beach in 2008. The newborn stranded near Avon was euthanized."

Erin James, (252) 441-1711,

{Press} Endangered whale washes ashore | March 29, 2011

"OUTER BANKS, N.C. (WAVY) - A dead endangered whale washed ashore Sunday in Nags Head near Jennette's Pier.

The whale, a North Atlantic right whale, is a critically endangered species and the most endangered whale, according to Karen Clark with the Outer Banks Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

It is believed that there are less than 400 remaining.

The patterns and scars on the animal allowed the Stranded Team to identify the whale from research that has been conducted on them. Clark said they have been heavily researched because of their endangered status.

This particular whale was a mature female who previously had three calves. The first recorded sighting of this whale was in 1983.

The whale was highly decomposed and had scars and evidence of previous entanglements. Clark said entanglements are common with this particular type of species because of their feeding habits.

A necropsy was performed on the whale on Monday.

Samples were collected and some bones were harvested for educational purposes.

Typically, the whales are buried in the sand, but in Nags Head, they usually transport them off site, usually to a landfill.

A whale also washed ashore in Virginia Beach on Sunday. Scientists believe a ship may have hit the Sei whale that washed up on Sandbridge. Scientists are waiting on tissue samples from a necropsy report to learn if the impact killed the whale or if she was already dead when it happened.

The Sei whale was cut into sections and buried deep at the beach."

{Press} Right whales spending winter in the Gulf of Maine

The Working Waterfront | Dr. Heather Deese and Catherine Schmitt | March 30, 2011

"Dr. Moira Brown has spent the last 27 years following whales-our mammalian kin that long ago returned to the sea-as they travel throughout the North Atlantic Ocean. But the whale's carefully evolved adaptation to ocean life makes them difficult for humans to comprehend. What we do know is that many of the less than 475 remaining right whales visit the northern Gulf of Maine and Bay of Fundy every summer, and emerging research data suggest that right whales may stay in the Gulf after their feeding season to breed.

Right whales are now the world's most endangered whale; marine mammal biologists estimate that American whaling ships killed a total of 5,500 to 11,000 of the species during the centuries when the oil-rich whale was a primary target. By identifying areas where whales congregate, scientists hope to reduce mortalities from entanglement and ship strikes.

"Over the years we have found out more about where they go and what they do when they get there," said Brown. "Despite all the knowledge we've gained, there are three things we are still trying to figure out: mating grounds, nursery grounds-we know that some calves are born off the Florida coast between December and March, but we haven't located the second nursery area-and where do they go in the winter?"

The beginning of an answer emerged in 2004, when biologist Tim Cole of NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole expanded that agency's aerial whale survey of the U.S. side of the Gulf of Maine into the winter months.

Some 300 flights, mostly in spring, had already confirmed that the Great South Channel was a hotspot for right whales between April and June. The expanded surveys, flying at 750 feet, found right whales in November, December and January-as many as 70 in one day.

"After repeated sightings of sometimes many whales, we got the sense this was an important area, and the credit belongs to the huge aerial survey effort," said Cole.

The whales are located in an area "smack dab in the middle of the Gulf" between Jordan Basin, Jeffrey's Ledge and Truxton Basin-about 50 miles from shore due south of Penobscot Bay and Mount Desert Island, according to Cole.

"Before, we knew that the whales move out of the Bay of Fundy in the fall, and now we know that some of them only go as far as south as Jordan Basin," said Brown. "What was exciting about this find was that it was right in our backyard, which is always the last place we look."

Moira Brown needed a boat to get close enough to the animals to decipher their behavior. At a conference in Quebec in 2009, Tim Cole met with Brown and his friend and former classmate, Zack Klyver, who is also the head naturalist of the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company.

Klyver grew up in Eastport, where his father made a living by farming salmon, catching groundfish and harvesting scallops and clams. Twenty years later, Klyver has taken thousands of people on whale-watching trips. He knew his company's boat would be the perfect vessel for winter whale surveys to Jordan Basin.

As any fisherman can tell you, winter is a dangerous time in the Gulf of Maine. Freezing winds and frequent storms make for harrowing sea journeys. The Friendship V, a jet-powered catamaran made by Incat of Australia for carrying tourists offshore, is fast, roomy and stable enough for scientific sampling work.

With a boat secured, and funding from the Canadian Wildlife Federation, TD Financial Group and the Marine Mammal Commission, Brown pulled together a survey team of six, and Klyver helped round up 20 volunteer observers, including fishermen from Canada and the United States. Ocean Properties, the parent company of Bar Harbor Whale Watch, provided free lodging to the right whale crew and volunteers, who made three voyages to the central Gulf in November and December.

The 40 or so whales they saw were familiar; Brown and her colleagues at the New England Aquarium and North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium have built a database of over 500,000 photographs that are used to identify individual right whales. Combined with genetic data from skin samples (with help from Brad White at Trent University and Tim Frasier at St. Mary's University), the database is gradually revealing the whale family tree. "The New England Aquarium's whale catalog is a very powerful research tool because it has the sighting history and life history of each whale-age, sex, parents," Cole explained.

"If this part of the Gulf of Maine was a mating ground, we would expect to see a certain demographic: females who are ready to get pregnant, and lots of males. This is what we saw," said Brown.

To tell whether whales are breeding or pregnant, Brown analyzes fecal matter for reproductive hormones, but there wasn't any present during their three trips to the wintering area in late 2010, suggesting that the animals were not actively feeding. "Is this because the animals weren't eating, or because they were mating and they don't feed when they mate?" questions Brown.

Andrew Pershing, a biological oceanographer at the University of Maine and Gulf of Maine Research Institute, has studied the relationships between ocean conditions, right whale behavior and the presence of Calanus finmarchicus, the right whale's preferred food. The tiny shrimp-like zooplankton is thought to be less abundant during November and December than in late summer and early fall, when rich stocks of Calanus float 150 meters below the surface and attract large numbers of feeding whales. Intense weather conditions caused Pershing's group to cancel a scheduled research cruise this November to sample Calanus levels later in the year.

In addition, the Maine Department of Marine Resources is awaiting analysis of whale movement data recorded between September and December 2010 by ten Marine Autonomous Recording Units or "pop-up buoys."

The speculation will continue until next winter, when Brown, Klyver, and their whale survey team and volunteers hope to return to the Gulf of Maine and Jordan Basin."

This article is made possible, in part, by funds from Maine Sea Grant. Heather Deese holds a doctorate in oceanography and is the Island Institute's senior programs director - marine initiatives. Catherine Schmitt is communications coordinator for Maine Sea Grant.

{Press} Setting it Straight: Saving the Right Whale

Flagler College Gargoyle | Gargoyle Staff | March 29, 2011

Setting it Straight: Saving the Right Whale

Setting it Straight is a radio talk show on Flagler College Radio WFCF, 88.5 FM Radio With a Reason. Every week, Communication major Kelly Gibbs brings in a St. Augustine local to discuss issues going on around the city. The show airs every Thursday morning at 8:30.

This week, Kelly Gibbs interviewed Penny Bellas, a project leader for the Right Whale Survey Project in St. Augustine. They discussed the conservation of the Right Whale, efforts to track and how to get involved.

{Press} Great white sharks sighted far off Jekyll and Cumberland islands near right whale calving areas | Mary Landers | March 26, 2011

"SAVANNAH — Right whales are headed out of Georgia waters and back north after a calving season that produced 20 of the highly endangered large whales.

An aerial survey team documented the last of the new babies March 18 just off Tybee Island. It was swimming with its mother, a 10-year-old whale named Harmony, and appeared to be about a month old. Harmony has given birth once before.

"Twenty calves is slightly above average, so that's encouraging," said Clay George, a biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. "In addition to mother-calf pairs, the survey teams documented approximately 120 other individual right whales in the Southeast this winter."

Tricia Naessig, right whale survey coordinator with the EcoHealth Alliance, on Wednesday bumped that number up to 140 whales, not including the new calves. The number of calves born in the last two decades has varied widely by year, Naessig said. Just one calf was born in 2000, but the next year that number was up to 31.

EcoHealth Alliance, formerly called Wildlife Trust, is a nonprofit that along with state and federal agencies monitors and catalogs right whales.

About 450-470 North Atlantic right whales are believed to exist, Naessig said. Their population was decimated by whalers in the 1800s when they were the "right" whale to hunt because they are big, slow and float when killed. Considered an urban whale because they swim near the highly populated U.S. East Coast, right whales feed in the waters off New England in the summer, eating tiny crustaceans they filter through their baleen plates. In winter, pregnant females and some juveniles head south to their only known calving area, off the Georgia and Florida coasts. They don't feed while they're in these waters.

Right whales seemed to head a little farther south than usual this year, presumably because of colder water temperatures, George said.

Aerial surveys also produced four sightings of great white sharks, each about 7 or 8 miles off Jekyll and Cumberland islands. Carolyn Belcher, a DNR biologist who studies sharks, said it's theorized that the sharks follow pregnant right whales to the calving grounds.

"It's like lions and other big predators; they go for the weak, the sick and the young," she said. In fact, over the last decade bite marks on the carcasses of right whales found in the Southeast have been identified as coming from great whites.

It's unclear if great white sharks are more abundant off Georgia than they were in the past, George said. It's possible that the advent of digital photography has just made it easier to identify the rare sharks during aerial surveys. Belcher said they prefer cold, deep water.

"To my knowledge there have not been any close to the beach line where you'd worry about them encountering somebody swimming," she said.

Modern threats to right whales include collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing gear.

The three aerial survey teams that covered the coast from the southern North Carolina border to south of St. Augustine documented five entangled whales this season. Biologists, including George and DNR colleague Mark Dodd, were able to sedate one of those whales and remove fishing gear from it, but the young female was subsequently found dead. It was only the second time a whale or dolphin was sedated in the wild, the first time having been in 2009, with largely the same team of biologists. Of the other entangled whales seen in the Southeast this season, three haven't been seen again and one, a new mother, "looked fine the last time she was sighted," George said.

Naessig said one unusual sighting this season was also a sad one. On Christmas Day a calf was seen swimming alone.

"The assumption was the calf would not survive," she said. "It's not something we see often at all. We're not sure who the mother was or what were the circumstances. It could be that something happened to the mother. Or there is the possibility the mother abandoned the calf."

George and his team got a tissue sample of skin and blubber from the calf. That sample will be used to try to make a genetic match and identify its mother, a possibility because 60 percent of the right whales that have been cataloged by photographs are also genetically cataloged with tissue samples.

"There's a good chance we can connect them," Naessig said. In their research, DNR biologists sampled 12 calves and 10 other whales this season."