#10 Sometimes the Whales Come to Us

In a unique (but not extraordinary) circumstance, Jess received a call from our pilot Ryan a few evenings ago after the two observers for the day, Suzie and Karen, had already returned to the house to write up their survey data. Ryan told Jess that after flying the EWS right whale survey, he had gone up on a recreational flight with a friend and had spotted two North Atlantic right whales just off American Beach on Amelia Island, a mere five miles down the beach from our observer house. Trying to beat the quickly approaching darkness, Jess grabbed the survey camera and headed down to the spot where Ryan had seen the whales. Since I was out and about picking up groceries I met up with Jess at the beach, who was trying to take the best photographs possible in the waning light.
Jess snaps photographs of the calf, half of who's fluke and flipper is visible farther offshore.

Once on the beach, the whales were not hard to spot. They were only one to two hundred yards from where the waves crashed onto shore, and one of them, a small calf, was rolling and splashing, bringing its already enormous paddle-shaped flippers out of the water and smacking them on the surface and also posturing, a common right whale behavior in which the whale's tail and head are out of the water at the same time as the whale does a bit of a back arch. After Jess had taken all the pictures she could, we stayed for some minutes more and watched the calf splash around, surrounded by a swarm of dolphins. The whales we see here on the calving grounds are often accompanied by bottlenose dolphins, so we didn't find this to be unusual. The only thing a tad unusual, in fact, was that we hadn't seen much of the mother, and before we departed the beach, Jess and I were hoping for some kind of assurance that the calf hadn't been abandoned. But eventually, as we stood there squinting into the dusky ocean, we saw the spanning back and humungous spout of an adult. Comforted, we returned to our cars.

Despite what people might logically assume, there's no cause for alarm when right whales are this close to the beach. Right whales are commonly seen with mud on their rostrums, and it's possible that this mother and calf were rolling around in the sand and resting in the shallows. The entirety of the main calving area off Georgia and Florida is fairly shallow, and we think shallow waters must be part of what attracts the whales to this particular area. North Atlantic right whales historically stay close to shore, a rather unfortunate characteristic of this particular species that severely endangers them to shipping traffic and fishing gear.



1 comment:

  1. I love this post- thanks for sharing it. How wonderful to watch whales right from American Beach. So quiet compared to the plane. Fantastic. All the best to you all and hope to catch up with Jess etc. again in Lubec-

    ( I worked for nea aerial surveys long ago, live in Maine)

    Megan McOsker