Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Whale sightings thrill watchers -- Record number of right whales observed

Whale sightings thrill watchers -- Record number of right whales observed in last two days

Special to The Record
Publication Date: 02/04/09

Just as the February "snowbirds" began to arrive en masse, a record number of right whale sightings along our coast took place on Sunday, followed by additional sightings on Monday.

Joy Hampp, director of the Marineland Right Whale Project, reported four sightings in one day, a record for the project, followed by three sightings on Monday.

Hampp said that the first report came over the Marine Resources Council Hotline. A mother and calf pair was spotted close to shore near Butler Beach, south of St. Augustine Beach. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's aerial survey team photographed the pair for identification.

A team of volunteers from the Georgia Aquarium, which was participating in the Marineland project this week, got lucky when they sighted whales off North Flagler Beach. Four whales were located and photographed.

Closer to home, whale watchers at Sea Colony spotted a single whale that later eluded attempts to be photographed.

The fourth sighting on Sunday was at Varne Park.

On Monday, the aerial team, on its way to Cape Canaveral, had four whale sightings. The southbound mammals included three mother/calf pairs and a group of two adults and juveniles.

The Marineland project's AirCam took to the air in an attempt to take photos. The pair of adults was sighted two miles east of Marineland, one adult/juvenile was almost three miles east of Marineland, and another mother/calf pair was seen off Ormond.

Hampp reported that the mother of the pair off Ormond was under water most of the time. "It surfaced briefly and created quite a challenge to photograph," she said.

The AirCam was forced to return to its hangar in Hastings because of strong winds and cloudy weather. "We did get photos of the mother's head," Hampp said.

As the plane headed north, Carole Shaw of the Marineland Team 2 called with a sighting several miles south of Marineland. Hampp said they were at the right place at the right time for this sighting.

"We successfully photographed this mother and calf pair. We believe that the mother is RW No. 3440 with her first calf. We saw her as a juvenile in January 2004 and again in February 2005," said Hampp. "What a way to start the month!"

Spot a whale?

Whale sighting reports should be directed to the toll-free Marine Resources Counsel Whale Hotline at 1 (888) 979-4253.

Local sightings will be passed on to Joy Hampp, director of the Marineland Right Whale Project.

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