Friday, December 30, 2011

{Press} Early right whale sightings off Cape

Editor's note:

Right whale sightings should be reported to the Northeast Fisheries Science Center Right Whale Sighting Advisory System pager at 978-585-8473


Cape Cod Times | Jon Offredo | December 30, 2011

"While some surveyed the skies in hopes of spotting Santa over the Christmas holiday, whale watchers looked to the seas as the endangered North Atlantic right whale made an early appearance around the outer Cape.

Charles "Stormy" Mayo, director of right whale habitat studies at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, said he's had a number of people whom he trusts call in with reported whale sightings.

To report a whale sighting, contact Charles "Stormy" Mayo, Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, 508-487-3623, ext. 110. Note the location, date, time and place of the sighting, as well as a quick description.
Mayo believes the rare, and endangered whale could still be in the area.

"I think we can say they are likely around. The movement of right whales at this time of year is not very well understood," he said.

There is one possible explanation: food.

"The great likelihood (is) when we see numbers of whales around for more than a day, then it might mean they have found food," Mayo said.

Although right whales are carnivores and feed on plankton, they behave and move more like grazing beasts — imagine cows and goats on a hillside — and as a consequence, their movement patterns can sometimes be indicative of the distribution of their food.

For instance, Mayo and his team know that around March and April, which is when whales are usually sighted off the Outer Cape, their food supply is bountiful.

Last winter and spring, 315 right whales were identified, perhaps the largest number seen in any location in recent years. That is a very big portion of the remaining whales, which number somewhere around 500, Mayo said.

But as for their early showing this year, it's a bit of a mystery.

"It's really more guess than science," he said.

Typically, Mayo and his team at the Center for Coastal Studies start studying whale movements in mid-January. But a shortage of funding has left them unable to survey the whale's current movements.

"These are very rare animals, this is not a time of year when you have a lot of eyes on the water, and we depend right now on what are opportunist reports — people who happen to see them," he said.

Good places to spot right whales include the outer shore from Provincetown all the way to Wellfleet.

"It's likely they are still there," he said.

One of the most recent spottings was on Christmas Day, but Mayo said it has not been verified as a right whale.

Some of the telltale signs of a right whale are: no dorsal fins (the hooked fin on a whale's back) and their spouts, which, when seen from directly ahead or behind, form a "V."

The right whales differ from humpbacks, which might also be in the area. These have a small dorsal fin visible when they lift their tails.

Right whales also have unique and odd behavior, sometimes skimming the ocean for hours on end for plankton. They also sometimes breach."

Thursday, December 29, 2011

{Press} Coast Guard warns ships of endangered right whales in mid-Atlantic waters | Tom Hester, Sr. | December 28, 2011

Pinpoints waters off Sandy Hook, entrance to Delaware Bay

"The Coast Guard on Wednesday reminded the operators of ships 65 feet or longer that the vessels can go no faster than 10 knots when entering New York Harbor off Sandy Hook or the Delaware Bay as part of the federal effort to protect North Atlantic right whales.

The service announced that the Right Whale Ship Strike Reduction Rule is in effect until April to protect endangered right whales in mid-Atlantic waters where they are known to migrate.

As the federal government's primary maritime enforcement agency, the Coast Guard is working closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with a shared goal of conserving and rehabilitating the critically endangered whale’s population, which stands at approximately 300 worldwide. Collisions with ships and interaction with fishing gear are a major cause of mortality and injury to the whales.

NOAA fisheries implemented the regulations, which require vessels 65 feet or longer to operate at 10 knots or less over ground in certain locations consistent with the whales’ migratory pattern along the Atlantic coast. The locations include a 20 nautical mile radius around Sandy Hook and the entrance to Delaware Bay.

Vessels may operate at speeds more than 10 knots only if necessary to maintain a safe maneuvering speed in an area where conditions severely restrict vessel maneuverability as determined by the pilot or master.

"I think that anyone who’s seen one of these impressive creatures can understand why protecting them is so important," Lt. j.g. James Kopcsay, an enforcement officer at Coast Guard Sector North Carolina in Wilmington, said. "Following the provisions of this rule is of critical importance to preventing their extinction. The Coast Guard’s goal is to educate mariners about the importance of this rule, minimizing our need to issue warnings or seek civil penalties that result from choosing to break it."

Records indicate an average of two reported deaths or serious injuries to right whales occur due to ship strikes each year. Authorities said a single human-caused death or serious injury a year can impact the population’s ability to survive.

To report a suspected violation in the seasonal management areas, call the national hotline at 800-853-1964."

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

{Press} Big boats asked to slow for migrating whales

The Associated Press | December 27, 2011

"Large vessels sailing off Virginia waters are being reminded to slow down for right whales.

The Coast Guard has implemented Operation Right Speed through April to ensure the migratory mammals have a safe passage along the Atlantic seaboard.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has implemented regulations that require vessels 65 feet or greater to operate at 10 knots or less in areas where the right whales are known to migrate. That includes the waters off Virginia.

A female right whale seen off Georgia this month was the first observed this season.

Right whales are among the most threatened of all whales. The global population is estimated in the hundreds."


Editor's note:

The current population estimate for North Atlantic right whales, eubalaena glacialis, ranges between 361* and 490**.

*NOAA Stock Assessment Report 2010 based on the minimum number known alive
**New England Aquarium 2011 report card middle estimate

{Update} Up to 2 new right whale calves!

There was a 2nd baby right whale born this season!

The right whale known to researchers as egno 3220 was seen on December 22nd with a new calf by the Florida Fish and Wildlife aerial survey team.

You can learn more about right whales and search for images of 3220 at the New England Aquarium's photographic database online:

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

{Press} Coast Guard reminds operators of large vessels off Va. to slow for migrating right whales

The Associated Press | December 27, 2011

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Larger vessels sailing off Virginia waters are being reminded to slow down for right whales.

The Coast Guard has implemented "Operation Right Speed" through April 2012 to ensure the migratory mammals have a safe passage along the Atlantic seaboard.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has implemented regulations that require vessels 65 feet or greater to operate at 10 knots or less in areas where the right whales are known to migrate. That includes the waters off Virginia.

The first female right whale of the season was seen this month off Georgia.

Right whales are among the most threatened of all the whales worldwide. The global population is estimated in the hundreds."

Thursday, December 22, 2011

{Press} First right whale calf of season sighted off Georgia coast; boaters urged to be careful

The Associated Press | December 22, 2011

"SAVANNAH, Ga. — Georgia's Department of Natural Resources reports that the first right whale calf of the season has been spotted off the coast.

Clay George, a right whale specialist with the department's Coastal Resources Division, says the newborn was seen Tuesday morning and belongs to the first female right whale seen earlier in the season.

George says the estimated 29-year-old mother whale was originally sighted in November off the Charleston shoreline, and later in waters off Savannah at the start of right whale season. In her lifetime, the whale has been seen several times and is known to have given birth to five calves.

George says the baby whale is about two to four days old and is healthy and normal.

George is urging boaters to be on the lookout for whales as the season goes on. Boat strikes are the leading cause of right whale injuries and deaths."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

{Press} Right whales return to Provincetown for rare December frolic Read more: Right whales return to Provincetown for rare December frolic

Provincetown Banner | Kaimi Rose Lum | December 21, 2011


The right whales have returned in time for the holidays this year, creating such a spectacle in Provincetown Harbor last week that even Dr. Charles “Stormy” Mayo, researcher of right whales for 30 years, was impressed.

Mayo dashed off to the residence of an old friend, Dick Burhoe, on Beach Point last Thursday after Burhoe reported seeing right whales breaching offshore. The scientist arrived in time to witness a scene worthy of “Animal Planet”: a sort of unwieldy whale ballet being performed about a third of a mile out, as a pair of the rare cetaceans leaped repeatedly from the water.

“I’ve never seen two right whales jumping simultaneously,” Mayo said. “It’s extremely dramatic when you see an extremely rare animal doing such extremely rare behavior. … These two animals were breaching regularly, more than I have ever seen. I probably saw as many as 20 or 30 breaches and maybe more.”

Between jumps, he said, the whales engaged in some overtly flirtatious behavior, rolling at the surface and zigzagging. Frisky groups of right whales are referred to as SAGs, for “sexually active groups” or “surface active groups.”

As far as the right whales’ reproductive calendar goes, December is the most fruitful month, a time when fertilization tends to be successful, Mayo said. So it’s possible that one of the baby right whales born next year will have been conceived in Provincetown.

Although Mayo saw only two or three individuals, reports of right whales elsewhere in Cape Cod Bay have been trickling in since the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies announced their return last week. Some have observed the whales on the opposite side of the bay, some at Herring Cove, and one report came in from the ocean side, at Cahoon Hollow in Wellfleet, where a group of right whales was seen skim-feeding at the surface.

With so many sightings occurring from shore, there’s no telling what kind of activity has been going on in the deeper parts of the bay, beyond the range of beachgoers’ binoculars. The Center for Coastal Studies’ aerial team, which conducts right whale surveys by plane throughout the winter months, won’t begin its field season until early next year, Mayo said.

“The best guess is that we have a scattering of whales, maybe even aggregations, quite early in the season,” Mayo said. “It’s not unheard of at all, but to have this many reports is pretty special. … It just leads me to believe there may be a lot more, or may have been a lot more, going on.”

If the whales are hanging around, he added, it’s probably an indication that there’s a healthy, early supply of zooplankton for them to feed on. The center’s right whale habitat studies team will begin sampling bay waters for plankton levels next month.

North Atlantic right whales are among the rarest of the baleen whale species, with a population that hovers around 473, according to the Center for Coastal Studies. A rich feeding ground for the animals, Cape Cod Bay attracts a number of them every year. In the late winter and spring of 2011, approximately 320 right whales, representing almost three-quarters of the total population, appeared in local waters, leading to a busy field season for Coastal Studies researchers.

Mayo reminded Outer Capers that the return of the right whale allows them to be privileged observers of one of the world’s most unique species.

“People should realize they have something happening here that is more dramatic than anything you see on ‘Animal Planet,’ and it’s right outside their door — in that one of the rarest creatures on earth chooses to come back here to our hometowns every year,” he said."

{Update} First right whale calf of the season!

Photo by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, NOAA Permit #15488

The Florida Fish and Wildlife aerial survey team sighted the first mother and calf pair of the season yesterday (Dec 20th) about 7 nmi off the northern tip of Cumberland Island, Georgia. The mother is known to researchers as number 1301 and her calf is estimated to be less than 4 days old at the time of sighting!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

{Press} Maine lobstermen join Gulf of Maine right whale expedition

Bangor Daily News | Tom Walsh | December 19, 2011

JORDAN BASIN, Gulf of Maine — After nearly 50 years of hauling lobster traps, Robert Ingalls can now add “whale spotter” to his nautical resume.

A lobsterman who fishes 800 traps out of the Washington County community of Bucks Harbor, Ingalls, 62, found himself 90 miles offshore last week aboard the 112-foot Friendship V whale-watching vessel as a member of a dawn-to-dusk whale spotting expedition to find and photograph North Atlantic right whales in their Gulf of Maine mating habitat.

It was a trip that embarked long before dawn from Mount Desert Island and ended 14 hours later with the $4 million vessel being greeted back to Southwest Harbor by the orange glow of a rising moon.

Like many Maine lobstermen, Ingalls was forced to comply with a 2009 requirement that, in designated fishing zones, floating rope used in setting lobster traps be replaced by sinking rope as a precaution against right whales becoming entangled in lobster gear while skim feeding near the water’s surface. It is a regulation that collectively has cost Maine lobstermen millions of dollars, even those like Ingalls, who sets traps in water too shallow to normally attract right whales.

“Until today, I was a virgin. I had never seen a right whale, but I had hoped I’d live long enough to one day see one,” Ingalls said. “I’ve never had one in my gear, and, if I did, until today I probably would have had no idea what it was.”

Ingalls figures he spent $8,000 to replace his rope and he now finds that he occasionally loses expensive traps to sinking rope that breaks after chafing on the rocky bottom where lobsters feed.

“You try to stay off the rocks, but there’s not a lot of bottom to choose from,” he said. “Usually somebody’s already there.”

While he found the Dec. 13 expedition interesting, Ingalls feels the mandatory rope swap regulations were overkill.

“I don’t think that losing one whale here or there makes a difference,” he said the next day. “It’s only a stray one that gets into the shallow water. I think they lose more to ship strikes, but it is a big and complex picture.”

Last week’s expedition into right whale breeding grounds within and beyond the Jordan Basin region of the Gulf of Maine was the last of four staged over the past 13 months. The census-by-chance project identifies and catalogs whales that summer off the coasts of Georgia and Florida and return to Maine waters between November and January to breed. Ingalls and fellow lobsterman Mike Myrick, who fishes 700 traps out of the Knox County community of Cushing, were among 20 researchers and volunteers who spotted more than 30 right whales during the dawn-to-dusk expedition, including one that was “logging,” or, in layman’s terms, taking a nap.

“Like Robert, today was the first time I had seen one,” Myrick said of the whales. “I’ve lost some gear to the sinking rope, but you really can’t do much about it. There are certain times of year when lobsters are on mud and others when they are on rock. You have got to play the game and chase [lobsters]. It’s like going to Hollywood Slots; you’re going to win some and lose some.”

Moira Brown, who led the expedition as the senior scientist at Boston’s New England Aquarium, said she was delighted not only with the number of right whales spotted and photographed but with the participation of Ingalls and Myrick as representatives of Maine’s lobster industry. Brown has devoted decades to developing data-based strategies for restoring and protecting North Atlantic right whale populations in both Canada and the United States. She said she appreciates the financial hardships inherent in new lobster gear regulations.

“These guys are helping a whale they’ve never seen, and I think it’s important for them to see these whales and to see up close how we do our research and data collection,” she said. “Not one of these guys wants to hurt or entangle a right whale.”

Nonetheless, 82 percent of the 490 right whales that have been photographed show entanglement scars.

“Lobstermen have made all kinds of accommodations involving their gear to help with right whale recovery, and the idea is to make gear modifications that allow them to fish safely and still make a living,” Brown said. “And the efforts they’ve made have been a big part of the solution. They had to do it, but they’ve embraced it and done it. It’s the only thing that’s going to make this recovery effort work.”

Brown’s best guess is that there are now 500 North Atlantic right whales. That’s at least 400 more than there were 100 years ago, she said. Since 2001, she and other whale researchers have seen a slight increase in the number of right whale calves being born. Brown estimates that since 2001, an average of 22 calves have been born each year.

“It’s trending upward,” she said of the right whale census. “The goal is to recover the population through things like gear modifications and, in shipping, establishing dynamic management areas, where ships are asked to slow down to 10 knots to avoid vessel strikes,” she said. “There’s been a lot of both mandatory and voluntary compliance over the last eight years. There has been a tremendous human effort to try to recover these whales, and it looks like the situation is improving. It’s important that mariners take pride in that.”

Collectively the five members of the research team that Brown recruited for four Gulf of Maine expeditions that began in November 2010 have more than 100 years of professional experience in sighting and cataloging North Atlantic right whales. The second whale spotted during last week’s expedition was identified by its fluke markings as the same whale spotted by one of the research team members 20 years ago in the Roseway Basin south of Nova Scotia. Brown said right whales can live beyond age 60.

The small army of spotters who joined last week’s expedition included volunteers from a range of regional organizations. They included Bar Harbor Whale Watch, the College of the Atlantic, the Sierra Club, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation, Down East Nature Tours and the Whale Center of New England in Boston. Funding for the four expeditions was provided by the Canadian Whale Institute in Campobello, the Canadian Wildlife Federation, the Canadian-based TD Financial Group and Maine’s Department of Marine Resources.

Brown said she’s now seeking funding for additional right whale surveys next year and beyond.

For information about the North Atlantic right whale, visit the New England Aquarium website at

Saturday, December 17, 2011

{Press} North Atlantic right whales spotted in bay

Cape Cod Times | December 17, 2011 | Mary Ann Bragg

"PROVINCETOWN — The seasonal arrival of endangered North Atlantic right whales has begun in Cape Cod Bay with a sighting on Thursday by the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.

Two or three right whales were spotted in Provincetown Harbor, opposite the East End, said Charles "Stormy" Mayo, director of right whale habitat studies at the center.

"The whales were putting on a show the likes of which I've never seen, except from humpbacks — perhaps 100 breaches, some simultaneous side by side," Mayo said.

Cape Cod Bay and the Great South Channel are designated as critical habitat."

Friday, December 16, 2011

{Press} Right whales return to Cape Cod Bay

Cape Cod Times | December 16, 2011

Thar they blow!

Endangered North Atlantic right whales have returned to their feeding ground in Cape Cod Bay, according to a release from the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies. The first confirmed sighting was made Thursday, when two to three whales were seen in Provincetown Harbor.

Charles “Stormy” Mayo, director of right whale habitat studies at the center, reported that "the whales were putting on a show the likes of which I've never ever seen except from humpbacks; perhaps 100 breaches, some simultaneous side by side.”

According to the center, North Atlantic right whales are among the rarest of baleen whale species, with a population of approximately 473.

{Press} North Atlantic right whales check in to Cape Cod bay

The Boston Globe | Amanda Cedrone December 16, 2011

"A group of North Atlantic right whales were spotted in Cape Cod Bay on Thursday, the first official sighting of the season, officials said.

The whales normally arrive in Cape Cod Bay at the end of December through the middle of May, said Cathrine Macort, spokeswoman for the center.

At least two of the critically endangered mammals were spotted about one third of a mile off the coast in Provincetown Harbor by Charles “Stormy” Mayo, director of right whale habitat studies at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.

Two of the whales were breaching, or jumping, side by side, simultaneously – a rare occurrence for the mammals, Mayo said.

“I’ve never seen them do that in my 25 years of experience,” he said. “Right whales don’t jump as often as humpback whales do. They are not as boisterous.”

The whales breached at least 30 to 50 times, he said.

The creatures largely remain a mystery and Mayo cannot be sure what caused the peculiar conduct.

“We’re talking about animals very close to the land exhibiting extremely rare behavior,” he said. “It’s probably sexual behavior.”

The North Atlantic right whale population is normally split at this time of year, Mayo said. Pregnant females are heading south to the coast of Florida and Georgia to give birth, while the non-pregnant whales can be found in the Gulf of Maine, he said.

The mammals can grow to be 45 to 55 feet long, and weigh up to 70 tons, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric and Atmospheric Administration. The whales are black, with no dorsal fin. They are among the rarest baleen whale species with a population of about 473, the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies said in a statement today.

“They’re so rare and their future is so much in doubt,” Mayo said."

{Press} Right whales spotted in Provincetown Harbor

Provincetown Banner | December 16, 2011


"The first confirmed sighting of North Atlantic right whales in Cape Cod Bay was recorded yesterday by Dr. Charles “Stormy” Mayo, director of right whale habitat studies at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.

The two to three whales were spotted in Provincetown Harbor, opposite the East End of Provincetown.

Mayo remarked in a press statement that "the whales were putting on a show the likes of which I've never ever seen except from humpbacks — perhaps 100 breaches, some simultaneous side by side.”

When not breaching, the whales formed a Surface Active Group, or SAG, a type of social behavior between two or more whales that involves frequent body contact, often with whales rolling on their sides or backs. SAGs are thought to play a role in mating, but because they occur throughout the year, many scientists believe that they have other social functions as well, PCCS stated in a press release.

North Atlantic right whales are among the rarest of the baleen whale species, with a population of approximately 473. Cape Cod Bay is a rich feeding ground for the animals; in the first half of 2011, more than 320 individuals (almost three-quarters of the total population) were spotted by scientists in the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies right whale population and habitat research programs."

Friday, December 09, 2011

{Press} Rare North Atlantic right whales spotted off Plymouth

The Patriot Ledger | Lane Lambert | December 8, 2011


Biologists and volunteers with a locally based national marine conservation group are keeping an even closer watch on the waters of Cape Cod Bay after a recent sighting of two rare North Atlantic right whales.

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society in Plymouth said Wednesday that it confirmed a volunteer spotter’s report late last week of two and possibly three of the endangered whales offshore from Ellisville Harbor State Park near the Cape.

Spokeswoman Karen Urciuoli said the sighting was “very unusual” for early December because right whales typically migrate to the bay from January to May.

While Urciuoli said “we’re always on high watch” for the rights, she said last week’s sighting prompted the conservation group to urge volunteer spotters to pay extra attention to the bay.

The right whales haven’t been seen again this week.

A few right whales have stayed year-round in Cape Cod Bay over the years, but Urciuoli said biologists with the Plymouth group and elsewhere still don’t know enough about the species’ behavior to determine why some are seen out of season, like those spotted last week.

“The fact that we saw them (last week) doesn’t mean they’ve never been here before,” Urciuoli said.

The conservation society is an international organization. Its North American office is in Plymouth.

Right whales are among the most threatened species on the planet, with a known population of fewer than 500. Heavily hunted in the 1800s for oil and whale bone, they’ve been on global endangered lists since 1973.

They’re prone to getting hit by fishing trawlers and other vessels because they’re dark in color and swim just below the ocean surface.

The Whale and Dolphin Society works with the Coast Guard and other groups to maintain a warning system to keep vessels away from where the whales herd, so they won’t be struck.

Lane Lambert is at

Read more:

{Press} Researchers keep watch as right whales return | December 5, 2011

BRUNSWICK — One of the world’s rarest marine mammals is returning to Georgia’s coast. A North Atlantic right whale was seen off South Carolina on last week, the first of a watery winter migration.
Biologists from Sea to Shore Alliance spotted the 29-year-old female right whale during an aerial survey offshore of South Carolina. The whale, known as “Half-Note,” has had four calves and could be pregnant with her fifth. Each right whale can be identified by the unique white pattern on its head.
Patricia Naessig, a Sea to Shore biologist who has flown the right whale aerial surveys off Georgia for the past 10 years, hopes that boaters will keep right whales in mind when venturing off the coast this winter.
“Since right whales are so dark in coloration and have no dorsal fin, it can be very difficult to spot them from the water,” Naessig said.
“You would think that you could easily sight a 50-foot whale, but it is amazing how easily these whales can seemingly appear from nowhere.”
Right whales swim from Canada and New England each year to bear their young along the coast of Georgia, South Carolina and northeastern Florida. Calving season is crucial for this endangered species, which numbers possibly as few as 400 animals.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Nongame Conservation Section, Law Enforcement Section and Coastal Resources Division help federal and other agencies monitor the population, respond to injured, entangled and dead whales, collect genetic samples for research, and protect habitat.
DNR wildlife biologist Clay George, who heads DNR’s right whale research and monitoring efforts, said cooler weather and water temperatures last winter pushed many of the whales farther south, deeper along the Florida coast. Warmer weather is forecast for winter 2011-2012.
“If that holds true,” George said, “we might expect the whales to be more abundant off Georgia this winter.”
Right whales, which can weigh up to 70 tons and reach 50 feet in length, seldom come within sight of land in Georgia, but boaters often see them.
Because ship strikes are a leading cause of right whale injuries and deaths, the federal speed limit for vessels 65 feet or longer is 10 knots at certain times of the year in seasonal management areas, including Nov. 15-April 15 in the southeastern U.S. calving area (
Recreational fishing and other small boats can also pose a risk to the whales. Although these boaters are not required to heed federal speed restrictions, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recommends they follow them, and keep a sharp lookout for whales.
By federal law, all boats and aircraft must keep at least 500 yards from North Atlantic right whales. Sightings of dead, injured or entangled whales should be reported to NOAA by calling (877) 433-8299.
More than 150 individual right whales, including 21 calves, were seen off the southeastern U.S. last winter. While the population is increasing at an annual rate of 2 percent, there are fewer than 100 breeding females.
Five whales were spotted entangled in commercial fishing gear in the Southeast last winter. DNR, NOAA and other partners freed one of the whales, which was entangled in gillnet gear. Five mortalities were documented last winter. Two whales died from entanglements and one died from a ship strike.
Florida-based Sea to Shore Alliance partners with NOAA and Georgia DNR to fly aerial surveys off South Carolina and Georgia each winter.
Surveys along the South Carolina coast are funded by NOAA and the S.C. Ports Authority. Surveys along the Georgia coast are funded by NOAA and the DNR."

Thursday, December 08, 2011

{Press} Where Can You See Wildlife Right Now: Whales At Cape Cod National Seashore

National Parks Traveler | Kurt Repanshek | December 5, 2011

Winter can be a decent season for spotting whales off Cape Cod National Seashore.

Far and away, most people who want to see whales at Cape Cod National Seashore go looking during the warm summer months. But, according to seashore officials, the winter months can offer glimpses of these leviathans as well.

You just need to be sure to dress warmly, perhaps packing a Thermos of coffee or hot chocolate, carry a good pair of binoculars, and be patient.

According to the seashore, while most adult whales head south to breeding grounds during the winter months, young or non-reproductive whales have no reason to head to the breeding grounds and so sometimes can be spotted hanging out in local waters.

To go in search of whales, head out to some of the ocean and bayside beaches on the Outer Cape and see what you can find. Here, thanks to the seashore, is a list of whales that might be seen:

* North Atlantic Right Whale - Up to 55 feet in length. Cape Cod Bay is one of the few locations in the Gulf of Maine where they are known to congregate. Here in local waters (December - April) they feed mostly on tiny crustaceans near shore, in the eastern parts of Cape Cod Bay. Beaches on both the bayside and ocean in Truro and Provincetown may provide opportunities for right whale sightings. North Atlantic right whales (named because they were the “right” whales to hunt) are the most endangered whales in the world, with approximately 325 still living.

* Fin Whale - Up to 70 feet in length. Fin whales can be seen year-round in Cape Cod waters, and can sometimes be seen close to shore from the northernmost beaches, such as Herring Cove and Race Point, an area known locally as finback alley. Fin whales are relatively fast, therefore extensive hunting didn’t begin until the 20th century, with the advent of modern ships and equipment. Today, population estimates range from 60,000 to 100,000 worldwide.

* Other Whales - Young humpback whales, pilot whales, dolphins, and porpoises are also found year-round, but with the exception of humpback whales, they are seldom seen near shore unless in a stranding situation.

{Press} font increase font decrease Print Story Font Size Watch network preparing for right whale winter migration

The Daytona Beach News Journal | Dinah Voyles Pulver | December 3, 2011

"Female right whale No. 1301, also known as "Half-Note," was the first right whale spotted in the deep Southeast during the 2011-2012 calving season. (Sea to Shore Alliance/NOAA)

Anticipation is keeping right whale lovers waitin' and waitin' for the endangered whales to arrive along Florida's northeast coast for this year's calving season.

"The anticipation of those first whales coming in, and getting ready for the season is like wow!" says Joy Hampp, project coordinator for the Marineland Right Whale Project. "It's really neat. We're all excited."

Mother whales and their entourage of young juveniles and scattered males usually begin arriving off the Flagler and Volusia coasts in mid- to late December, after traveling south from the Bay of Fundy between Maine and Nova Scotia.

A host of preparations takes place before the whales arrive. The Marine Resources Council, based in Brevard County, and the Marineland Right Whale Project in north Flagler plan and begin conducting classes to train spotters to help track whale sightings. The first of those classes locally takes place today.

Reminders also go up along the coast, such as the prerecorded message that began playing on the phone systems of the regional National Weather Service offices this week, to urge boaters to use caution.

Aerial survey teams and the spotter network, which includes more than 800 volunteers along the Florida coast, help collect crucial information about the whales and provide information used to warn large ships when whales are in the area. The whales can weigh up to 70 tons and reach a length of 55 feet. Newborns measure between 13 and 15 feet.

The aerial crew for the Marineland whale project is ready to start flying any day, Hampp said this week. "Once we start getting reports from aerial survey teams to the north, we'll start flying consistently."

The only whale seen in the southeast so far this year is a female known as "Half-Note," who was photographed swimming offshore of South Carolina in late November. Observers noted her large size indicated she is probably pregnant. The whale, numbered 1301, was "swimming slowly and looking pretty big," wrote Dianna Schulte with Sea to Shore Alliance, one of the groups that participates in right whale monitoring.

A 29-year-old female, Half-Note has given birth at least four times, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Called the right whale because they were the "right whale" for early whale hunters, the whale has been protected at least in part for more than 75 years. However, experts say the population, estimated at less than 450, is precariously low.

Boat collisions are considered the leading cause of death among right whales, with entanglements in fishing gear also proving deadly. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration worked over several years to increase protections for the whales to prevent boat strikes and now maintains a system that works with the sighting networks and other organizations to alert commercial and military mariners when whales are present in an area.

Even for volunteers who have worked with the monitoring programs for years, the thrill of seeing one of the large whales offshore never gets old, Hampp said.

"It's funny," she said. "This will be our 12th season and I've talked to volunteers that have been with us the entire time and with veteran researchers that have been doing this for 20 years, and it's still the same anticipation."

Anyone who sees a whale offshore is asked to call the Marine Resources Council's right whale hotline at: 888-979-4253For more information about the Marineland Right Whale Project, call 904-669-8615.

How do you identify a right whale?

Rough, white patches of skin on the head called callosities

Short, stubby, black flippers on the sides of the body

Triangular, black tail with smooth edges and a deep notch in the middle

No dorsal (back) fin

V-shaped blow of water when they exhale

{Press} Ga. researchers say 1st right whales arriving | The Associated Press | November 30, 2011

BRUNSWICK, Ga.—Georgia wildlife researchers say endangered right whales are starting to show up along the southern Atlantic coast.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources says an aerial survey crew spotted the first right whale of the winter calving season last week off the coast of South Carolina.

The whales, which grow up to 50 feet in length, migrate each winter from New England to the warmer waters off South Carolina, Georgia and Florida to give birth. Experts estimate fewer than 400 of the whales remain.

Clay George, who heads the right whale monitoring program for the Georgia DNR, says warmer weather this winter could mean more whales stay off Georgia's 100 mile coast rather than head further south into Florida.

The right whale calving season typically lasts into mid-April."

{Press} Whale Protection Areas and Their Implementation in Future ECDIS

The Maritime Executive | Jens Schröder-Fürstenberg | November 21, 2011

Ships navigating at high speed are still a big danger for the animals in areas where whales are present. Speeds of more than 20 knots are not rare and whales have no chance to avoid “collisions” by themselves.

Several measures have been implemented to protect the whales. Recently, USCG has proposed new routes off California separating ships and whales from each other. The U.S. NOAA has jointly established new PSSA off the US east coast and large parts of the Caribbean with France’s Protected Areas Agency.

PHOTO: A dead North Atlantic Right Whale after being hit by a ship propeller.

Right Whales moving along the U.S. East coast and whale protection areas are established by the U.S. NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Those areas, called “Seasonal Management Areas” (SMA) are seasonal. NMFS has also established “Dynamic Management Areas” (DMA) if whales are present outside the SMA. Those dynamic areas are being propagated in several ways. Mariners have to take care on that and have to navigate accordingly. Currently the mariner has to transfer the areas by hand onto the navigational, either paper or electronic. AIS can be used to display the spatial extent of both the seasonal and the dynamic areas on a navigational screen. The latter option depends very much on ship’s equipment.

Therefore it is very necessary to find a satisfactory way of presenting those areas and associated information for all vessels. ECDIS is flexible enough to merit consideration as a sufficient information provider. Actually the ECDISs use a data model called S-57 Standard. S-57 is frozen in many parts and the implementation of new information is difficult. The current ECDIS has limited updating frequency and provides mostly static information. That would make the proper presentation of those dynamic areas difficult if not to say impossible.

With the rollout of ECDIS carriage requirement as primary navigational tool for all SOLAS vessels starting 2012 both the administration and the mariner will have a new tool in hand to bring those areas to mariners’ attention and to have their spatial extent currently in force available on a chart (ECDIS screen) aboard. With better broadband and new techniques the updating of the information can be more frequent than today.

Since 2010 the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) has established a new data framework called S-100 ( This framework, based on existing ISO 1900 series and extensions, can be used to develop ENC related products required by interested communities. One requirement is the implementation of nautical information in ECDIS systems. Taking this requirement into account is the main goal of the IHO’s Standardization of Nautical Publication Working Group (SNPWG). Besides the development and improvement of the data model to make nautical information compatible with ECDIS SNPWG is developing their first product specification. Also based on U.S. intervention SNPWG is developing a Product Specification for Marine Protected Areas (MPA).

This particular Product Specification can be used as a single product and as additional information to ENC. The MPAs are categorized using those categories provided by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources and those restrictions, e.g. Navigation Prohibited, already present in the current S-57 standard.

The presentation of the information to the mariner can be highly customized by referring to particular vessel’s characteristics. Additionally, the mariner can choose between different levels of information. The Annex provides examples of how the model can be applied to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and to the Great South Channel Seasonal Management Area.
The product Specification is not complete yet. The SNPWG is making efforts to improve the Feature Dictionary and the Encoding Guide and liaise with other IHO working groups to find a portrayal solution which satisfactory."