14 March 2008
From Fernandina Beach, FL.
My name is Monica Zani and I have been flying right whale aerial surveys for 8 years and managing the New England Aquarium's winter team for 5 of those years. We got a late start on this blog and have been in the field here in Fernandina Beach for 3 months. I will attempt to bring you up to speed on the developments of this years winter calving season.
This December proved to be a typical December with many days of flying and only a few sightings of whales. January was a month of so much wind, fog and rain that the survey team was unable to fly almost half of the month. We began February with high hopes of good weather and lots of whales, and February did not disappoint! We have flown almost every day in February and have had some amazing weather for sighting right whales.
When the team spots a whale it is reported directly from the plane to a ground contact via a satellite phone. The ground contact immediately goes to work entering the whale's position into a large email network that sends an alert across a system of pagers, email and as text messages on cell phones. The whale information is sent directly to some shipping companies, the Navy, the USCG, dredges working local channels and harbor pilots from Charleston to Cape Canaveral. Information is sent to the private boater via the USCG Broadcast Notice to Mariners every hour. The information is also entered into the Mandatory Ship Reporting System (MSR) so that all inbound shipping traffic will know the exact locations of all right whales sightings in the last 48 hours.
So far this season has been incredibly busy with many whales in the coastal waters of Georgia and northeast Florida. So far this season has produced 18 mother/calf pairs (calf production has ranged from a low of zero to a high of 31 over the past 25 years)! Unfortunately, we believe at least four calves have died so far this winter A number of whales (many of them juveniles) have kept the survey team busy on a day-to-day basis. Each morning we look forward to getting back in the air. We look forward to seeing whales and perhaps a new calf, but most importantly we hope that the long work hours are helping to protect right whales in our survey area. We hope to provide you with an update on our surveys and the activities of the right whales in the southeast critical habitat a few times a week. Please stay tuned and check back often for our updates.