With a total of 15 sightings and approximately 35 individual right whales, Suzie and I were certainly busy during one of our Central EWS surveys this past week. Adding to the hectic day was the fact that most of these animals were located approximately 3-7 nautical miles east of the St. Johns Channel, which put them at high risk of being struck by recreational boats heading inbound to the St. Johns River. We had 5 "whale-vessel interactions," which occurs when a vessel comes within 500 yards of a right whale. Since it is against federal law to approach a right whale within 500 yards, these "interactions" are documented and reported to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the agency under NOAA that oversees the care and management of living marine resources in U.S. waters. In the photo below, you can see a group of animals near the St. John Channel, seemingly oblivious to the inbound vessel traffic all around them.
The recreational vessels were hailed over the marine radio, informed of the relative location of the animals, and notified of the 500-yard approach rule for right whales. Eventually, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) dispatched an enforcement vessel to intercept recreational vessels moving too quickly through the area and to help avoid whale-boat interactions. Fortunately, no whales were struck that day thanks to NEAq actions, FWC efforts, and the cooperation of many recreational boaters and fisherman off the coast of Florida.