Saturday, July 30, 2011

{Press} White wonder thrills whale watchers

I don't usually post press about southern right whales, but this article was just too intriguing not to share, and what an image!


Herald Sun | Alycia Amanatidis | July 30,2011

Photo by Mandy Watson, DSE Herald Sun

"This group has been entertaining whale-watchers at Port Fairy. Picture: Mandy Watson, DSE Herald Sun

WHALE watchers are wowing over the "white wonder" frolicking off the coast of Victoria.

The southern right whale has been basking with three darker mates in the peak of mating season.

But Department of Sustainability and Environment official Mandy Watson said the giant of the deep could not be described as an albino.

"Technically it's grey," she said.

She first saw the whale at Logans Beach, at Warrnambool, more than a week ago.

The white wonder has since moved to Port Fairy where it is delighting whale watchers.

Southern right whales migrate each winter from the Antarctic to the Australian coast, where they stay until October.

"They're interacting socially with each other and mating," Ms Watson said.

"It's the breeding season for southern right whales at the moment, which is why they come here."

She said the white whale was an uncommon sight.

"I did see one last year - but it wasn't as white as that - near Portland.

"I'm pretty sure this one is a different whale."

Southern right whales are criticially endangered with as few as 3500 still gliding through the oceans.

"This species was almost whaled to extinction. They're pretty special whales," Ms Watson said."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

{Press} Right whales observed in Annapolis Basin

The Digby County Courier | Jonathan Riley | July 22, 2011

Residents on Shore Road and passengers on ferry saw endangered mammals

At least two right whales were in the Annapolis Basin this week.

Residents on the shore road and passengers and crew of the Princess of Acadia all saw the endangered whales.

“That’s extraordinary,” says Shelley Barnaby, the lead researcher with Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises. “I have never heard of right whales in the Digby Gut. Just seeing a right whale is amazing.”

Barnaby was able to confirm the kind of whale from The Courier’s photos.

“The trailing edge on the fluke of the right whale is smooth where a humpback is serrated,” said Barnaby by telephone from Brier Island. “They also have a long smooth back with no dorsal fin.”

Whale watchers in the Digby area normally take guests to see humpbacks, minkes or fin whales. The North Atlantic Right Whale is endangered and there are only 400 of them still in existence.

Barnaby says the whales frequent the Bay of Fundy but usually on the New Brunswick side. Because the right whales usually spend their summers in the Grand Manan Basin, the Canadian government declared it a national conservation area in 1993.

“We might see five or six a year on this side. But the Grand Manan whale watchers see them all summer and fall. The whales are quite acrobatic. They breach, flipper slap and they [the whale watchers] even observe a lot of courtship activity.”

Residents along the Shore Road near the salmon cages first saw the whales around 1 p.m. on Wednesday, July 20.

Ian Barnes runs the Admiral Digby Inn with his wife Carol.

“First I saw something dark like a long slow wave,” says Ian. “That was the whale’s back and then we saw its flukes. My wife screamed. It was really exciting.

“Do you know I sell hundreds of whale watching tours a year but that’s the first time I’ve ever really had a good look at a large whale.”

Barnes always tells his guests to keep an eye out on the Basin but these whales showed up between the change over.

Barnes says his guest see harbour porpoises and seals “frequently”.

Capt. Oral Hamilton was giving a tour of the bridge to a family on the Princess of Acadia when they saw a whale just before 3 p.m.

“It couldn’t have been any better timing,” says Hamilton. “The whale just popped his tail up there and posed for us as we were beside the Lifesaving Station [in Bay View].”

Hamilton says he wasn’t able to see enough of the whale to say what kind it was. He says he and his crew see whales in the Digby Gut “the odd time.”

A right whale “flukes” (dives) as it swims out the Digby Gut. The flukes of a right whale have a smooth trailing edge. Jonathan Riley photo

Dorothy Chirnside of New Zealand, a passenger on the ferry says a big crowd rushed to the ship’s rail to see the whales.

“We saw the big tale come right out of the water quite near the boat and then it was gone.”

Carol Lockyer of Digby’s visitor information centre says other guests last week reported seeing six right whales, a white-sided dolphin and a harbour porpoise just off Point Prim.

Paul and Alice Dugas of Digby reported seeing a minke whale just off the Digby marina last month. Bill LeBlanc and Harold Dugas also saw the minke.

Dean Kenley of Fundy Dockside says guests at his harbourside restaurant have also seen whales this year.

“We’ve seen them off the marina, off the wharf, off the Lady Vanessa,” says Kenley. “Some people in town don’t believe us, but we’ve been running this whale watch eight or nine years now and we’ve seen them in the Basin, off Victoria Beach and off the Lighthouse. I can’t say frequently, but often enough, we don’t have to go any farther than the mouth of the Gut to watch whales.”


Length: 15 m

Weight: 63 metric tons

Life span: 50 to 70 years historically but now 15 years, due to ship strikes and entanglements

Age at first breeding: females 9 years, males unknown,

Gestation period: 12-14 months; females give birth every 3 to 6 years

Diet: Plankton, especially copepods, strained through baleen plates in the mouth

Top speed: 16kmh for brief periods

Diving ability: to 330 m depth for 40 minutes


- stocky, mostly black whale with whitish patches on the head and belly

- no dorsal fin

- deeply notched "fluke" or tail.

- two blowholes make the spout a distinctive V-shape

Estimated population: 350 to 400

Status: endangered

Range: east coast of North America from Newfoundland to Florida. Birthing takes place off Georgia and Florida.

Calves are 3-5m long and weigh 1.5 tons when born

Right whales float when dead making them historically a convenient whale to hunt.

Source: Right Whale Listening Network, part of the Cornell lab of Ornithology

Friday, July 22, 2011

{Update} New Interactive Google Map!!!

At long last, the interactive google map of right whale sightings that Beth Josephson and I have been working on is now live:\

You can view right whale sightings on the map or in a table, and search using a wide variety of options (last 2 weeks, last 30 days, or use a specific date range), and you can also overlay the right whale Seasonal Management Areas.

Yay! Fun!

{Press} There's something in the water, part III

A world awaits in the water: Marine life abounds off Long Island's South Shore

Long Island Herald | David Weingrad | July 20, 2011

While many Long Islanders may think they need to dive deep in the ocean to find marine life, the truth is that they can see a wide variety of sea creatures in the waters closer to shore.

According to a survey conducted in 2004 by the Riverhead Foundation of Marine Research and Preservation, more than 1,150 different marine creatures visit the South Shore each year.

“There’s not a time of the year when you can’t see a marine mammal around the shores of Long Island, whether it is a seal, a whale or a dolphin,” said Robert DiGiovanni, the foundation’s director and senior biologist.

Baleen whales, which include humpback, right, fin and minke whales, are often spotted off Jones Inlet on the Jones Beach barrier island. The right whale, one of the most endangered whale species on the planet, can weigh 50 to 80 tons.

Long Island is part of the “normal migratory route ... for large whales to come up to the Gulf of Maine during the spring and in early summer,” said DiGiovanni.

In all, there are 80 species of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) worldwide, and 12 of them can be found off Long Island’s shores, according to DiGiovanni,

The most common species, bottlenose, white-sided and Risso’s dolphins, as well as harbor porpoises, often hang around Long Island’s shores. In 2007, the Riverhead Foundation saved a bottlenose dolphin, which came to be named Seabreeze, in a channel in Bellmore, and released it back in the Shinnecock Inlet on the South Shore three months later.

The foundation placed a tracking device on the dolphin. Within a month of its release, Seabreeze swam to Newfoundland, in eastern Canada, and then came back down to Nova Scotia. The device enables the foundation to collect data on the dolphin’s travels.

In addition, there are seven species of sea turtles worldwide, and four can been seen in the waters off Long Island, said DiGiovanni. The Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, one of the most endangered sea turtles, comes to Long Island regularly, as do loggerhead, green and leatherback sea turtles. The leatherback turtle is the largest sea turtle in the world, weighing up to 2,000 pounds when fully grown.

While harbor and gray seals come to Long Island regularly, people might be surprised to learn that Arctic species such as harp and hooded seals can be spotted around Long Island as well.

Long Island waters are also home to many species of fish, including the summer flounder and striped bass, and even tropical fish will sometimes migrate to the Island in the late summer and early fall.

According to Kim McKown, crustacean unit leader for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, tropical fish often get caught in the Gulf Stream and are dragged along the East Coast, ending up in Long Island waters. “It’s not that unusual to see,” said McKown, adding that Shinnecock Inlet is where tropical fish most often pop up.

While the species of tropical fish differ each year, McKown said that the butterfly fish, squirrelfish and the Southern sennet –– part of the barracuda family –– are examples of tropical fish that can be seen off Long Island.

Sturgeon have been around more than 200 million years –– since before the dinosaurs. These fish can grow to seven or eight feet long, and can often be seen leaping out of the water. Locally, sturgeon spawn in the Hudson River, and might be placed by the federal government on the Endangered Species List because of overfishing, according to

Lined seahorses are also common in Long Island waters. They hang around seaweed and other plants close to the shore. Pipefish, relatives of the seahorse, do the same.

If you’re fortunate, at the end of May or early June, during a high tide and full moon, you can catch hundreds to thousands of horseshoe crabs spawning on beaches across Long Island, according to McKown.

The Riverhead Foundation is researching how global warming, the slow heating of the Earth caused by a buildup of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, is affecting marine life. “If there are changes in our climate and water temperature, you’ll see those changes in what we see offshore,” DiGiovanni said. “It does vary from year to year. Those are things we are looking at right now to understand what those changes might mean for environmental factors.”

The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 requires that people stay at least 50 yards away from marine mammals found in the oceans. It’s one of the many measures taken by the federal government to preserve marine life.

“We have these animals where most people are assuming that it’s rare,” said DiGiovanni. “It’s just rare that people see these animals, and that’s because nobody’s looking for them.”