#31 Ground Zero

During our aerial surveys, we get an important perspective on North Atlantic right whales. Aerial photographs provide a full view of the right whales' callosities, entire body shots that often show us unique scars or fresh wounds, and even fishing gear that can be wrapped around a whale in places that are hard to see from the water, like the flippers.

However, after seeing whales from one thousand feet up in the sky, it's a special treat to have an up-close encounter with living, breathing right whales from the water. Earlier this week I had an opportunity to join the biopsy team for a day of research on the waters off Jacksonville, FL. We spent the majority of our day with one particular individual, a young-looking whale who meandered around for a few hours as we stayed close behind.

Though the whale generally kept its distance, during one surfacing we were able to approach for photographic documentation. At this point I was the one taking paper data, and as the whale mellowly began to display some unusual behavior, there was a lull in written data collection that allowed me to enjoy my proximity to and experience with such a unique and rare animal, and I was able to pull out my personal camera and take a short video. In this video the whale has maneuvered itself perpendicularly in the water and is lifting its chin briefly into the air before sinking back down under the surface. You can see the whale's right chin callosity, a couple mandibular islands, a little bit of the right bonnet callosity, and a peak at a white chin.

Video taken under NMFS permit #775-1875. Please note: It is illegal to approach a North Atlantic right whale within 500 yards (50CFR 224.103(C).



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