#4: A Day of Firsts

Wednesday was a big day for me - I saw North Atlantic right whales for the first time! Two juvenile whales (calves of 2008) were rolling, touching and diving for extended periods together; in other words, they were displaying the behavior of a Surface Active Group (SAG). Unfortunately, the other first for me on this survey was not such a happy occasion. We encountered an entangled humpback whale.

I've seen dead whales before and have observed both killer and sperm whales up close predating on fish hauled up on fishing gear in the Gulf of Alaska, but never before have I seen an entangled whale. Despite my emotional turmoil over witnessing such a situation, I had the sense to be impressed by the consummate professionality of our Team Leader, Jess.

Calmly, patiently, and in great detail, she photographed the whale and described the various complicated aspects of the entanglement so that I could relay the information to our Ground Contact, Kelly, who then put the phone tree into motion. This phone tree refers to the various contacts from federal, state and non-profit agencies who decide the appropriate action plan for dealing with an entangled large whale.

In this case, the seas were too rough to attempt immediate disentanglement, or even to try attaching telemetry gear so that the whale could be tracked. But, at least, now all aerial surveys teams are on high alert, and thanks to Jess's awesome photo documentation (shown here), everyone has a good idea of what to expect . We are all hopeful that we'll re-sight this humpback soon so that the disentanglement crew can spring into action and help this magnificent animal!




  1. Could you please post where you spot these critters? So glad you've spotted some, but where? From the shore off south Jax Beach, we keep watching & wondering & hoping to catch a glimpse.

    Thanks for your amazing work!

  2. Suzie said...

    It is indeed sometimes possible to view right whales close to the shore of Jax Beach. There is, in fact, a network of volunteers who contribute information regarding the sighting of whales off the Florida coast. Please check out the Marine Resource Council website for more information on how to get involved:


    Or you can email them directly at:


    Our aerial survey team does not broadcast the exact location of the whales we see due to a federal law prohibiting persons from coming within 500 yards of this endangered animal. The NOAA website has more information on this law and other regulations, plus a slew of information about habitat, distribution, conservation efforts etc


    As you are likely aware, wildlife viewing takes patience and I encourage you to keep faith - you will eventually spot some right whales! Good luck and thank you so much for your interest in this magnificent animal.