Monday, November 21, 2011

{Press} Endangered right whales back in southern waters

The St. Augustine Record | November 16, 2011

"Right whales are returning to area waters for calving season, giving residents a chance to see one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world and giving boaters a reason to proceed with caution.

The whales, which can be found as close as three miles offshore, depending on water depth, spend the summer in the cooler waters off New England and Canada.

Pregnant whales return to the warm coastal waters of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida from mid-November through mid-April to give birth and nurse their young.

These southern waters are the only known calving area for the species.

Only 360 right whales remain in the world, scientists estimate.

Boaters are urged to be cautious and follow laws on speed and distance regulations when they encounter right wales.

“Right whales are dark with no dorsal fin and they often swim slowly at or just below the water’s surface,” said Barb Zoodsma, NOAA Fisheries Service’s Southeast right whale recovery program coordinator. “Many mariners mistakenly assume that because of their large size, right whales would be easy to see, but often a slight difference in texture on the water’s surface is the only clue that a whale is present.”

To reduce the risk of collisions between right whales and vessels, NOAA and its partners conduct aerial surveys over northeastern Florida and Georgia waters from December through March, and in New England waters from January through December.

Also, surface buoys are deployed to acoustically detect right whales. The nearly real-time information from these aerial surveys and buoys is used to alert mariners of the presence of right whales, enabling ships to alter their course to avoid potential collisions with the whales.

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How did right whales get their name?

Whalers gave the name “right” whale to this species because they thought it was the right, correct, whale to hunt. The whale was easy to kill because it swam slowly and once dead, it floats. This made it easier for the whalers to pull the whales onto ships and to shore to boil the blubber for oil. Whale oil was used in lamps and for heat until the late 1800s.

— From NOAA



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Boating restrictions and tips

■ Boaters should report right whale sightings and keep a distance of at least 500 yards from the protected species, as federal law requires.

■ Report dead, injured or entangled whales to the U.S. Coast Guard via marine radio VHF Channel 16 or call the NOAA Fisheries Service Stranding Hotline at 1-877-433-8299.

■ Federal law requires vessels longer than 65 feet to slow to 10 knots or less in seasonal management areas along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, including the calving and nursery area in the southeastern U.S. Speed restrictions are in place in various places along the mid-Atlantic from Nov. 1 through April 30 and in the southeastern U.S. calving area from Nov. 15 through April 15.

■ For information on seasonal ship speed restrictions, go to http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/shipstrike.





How to spot a right whale



■ Black to dark gray skin sometimes with white splotches on belly or neck

■ Large white bumps on the head called callosities

■ Black, paddle-shaped, short, stubby flippers

■ Black, deeply notched, triangular tail

■ No dorsal fin on its back

■ V-shaped blow from blowhole when whale exhales, which is visible only when positioned directly in front of the whale or directly behind



How they act



■ May not move away from boat’s path

■ Movement may be unpredictable

■ Mothers and calves travel together

■ Calves may be curious and approach vessels

■ Calves have limited diving ability, so mothers and calves spend a lot of time near the surface

— From NOAA

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