#3: The first week of the 2009 season

So, as the first week of the 2009 calving season is coming to a close, here is an update on how things have been going. Each of our five member team has flown in the plane a couple of times. We are all getting adjusted to the feeling of being crammed into the Cessna 337 Skymaster for hours on end, surrounded by computer and camera equipment.

This week was spent reviewing and troubleshooting our equipment and the protocol for when we find something of interest, especially a whale. Oh, and getting used to our new camera, it is a bit heavier than our last one, but it is worth it; the viewing screen is really big and you can zoom in great to review your images in the plane to make sure you got an ID'able shot! Our team has seen some whales in our survey area, including the third known mother/calf pair of the season, and some whales not in our survey area.

On our first full day flying, December 3, there was a bit of excitement when the Wildlife Trust-Georgia (WT/GA) team found the second mother/calf pair of the season and they were concerned that perhaps the mother's right pectoral (or side) flipper had some new scarring and perhaps some fishing gear on it. The WT/GA team relayed the information to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GDNR) who was on the water and headed to the scene. The WT/GA team was told to head home so their images could be downloaded and reviewed by right whale entanglement experts. Our team was called and headed up to Georgia to relocate the mom/calf for the GDNR team on the water so that they could obtain boat images of the whales to further assess the situation.

The sun was setting, it was not easy to find the mother/calf pair in such low light, but at the last minute we found them! We were able to tell the boat on the water the position of the whales and then we headed for home. As it turned out, this whale was identified as #1608 "Morse" (find out more about this individual by searching the right whale catalog) and the scarring that the other survey plane had seen was not new, but from an entanglement event in 2003, it is not believed that she has any remaining gear on her. PHEW!!! An entanglement on a pectoral flipper can be very difficult to disentangle and even harder because no one wants to get between a mom and her calf, which they would probably have to do to approach her for an attempt to disentangle.

So at the conclusion of the first week, 3 mother/calf pairs and at least 17 other whales have been seen in the Southeast US. The 2009 calving season has officially started and I think we might be in for a busy season! On a personal note; it's amazing that after leaving a place and a job for 8 months, you come back and fall right into the same routine and after taking that first turn on my first survey track line of the year, it instantly felt like I never left. I am excited for this season and look forward to sharing it here on this blog!

Photo caption: Morse and her calf seen at dust on Dec. 3rd. This images was lighted to show the whale. The original image is much darker. You can imagine how difficult it is to sight a black whale in these conditions.


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