Friday, December 25, 2009

Aerial Surveys begin in the Southeast U.S.

Aerial surveys began the beginning of December in the right whale calving area in the Southeast United States. There are a number of teams ranging from North Carolina to Florida that cover as much area as they can on every good weather day. Winter always brings its challenges, even in the relatively warm south. Our seas in the Bay of Fundy change from very calm to feather white - so much wind that the entire surface of the Bay is white from wind whipped waves.

No right whale calves have been spotted yet that I know of but you can keep up with the New England Aquariums aerial team on their blog ( I will endeavour to post any sightings of our adoptive whales as I hear about them and update the family trees. Right whales have complicated family trees with many fathers for each female and her calves.

While another banner year would be fabulous (last year's 39 was a record breaker), it is impossible to know at this point how many calves will be born. We can just keep our fingers crossed that the number of calves will be above average and keep the population growing. The latest population figure for 2008 is 438, a spectacular growth but still incredibly fragile.

Pico returns

On January 5, 2009, a right whale was spotted off the island of Pico in the Azores. Well-known for the sperm whales that occur off the Azores, right whales are a rare sighting so when one was spotted it created a lot of excitement. Photographs of the head of the whale were matched by the New England Aquarium researchers to a female #3270 of unknown age, first added to the right whale catalogue in 2002. The bonnet callosity of this whale closely resembled the shape of Pico Island and as is the tradition with naming right whales, a group voted on a selection of names, agreeing on Pico. I was rather proud that I had suggested the name.

Pico had been seen in the Bay of Fundy by the New England Aquarium researchers in late Sept. 2008. All of her previous sightings had been from the Great South Channel, Georges Bank, Gulf of Maine, Roseway Basin and the Bay of Fundy so the Azores sighting was a complete surprise. You can look at pictures of Pico and also her sighting history on the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog This website lists all the identified and catalogued right whales in the North Atlantic.

In the latest newsletter from the New England Aquarium, Pico has been spotted again, back in the Bay of Fundy. That is a straight line, round trip, cross-Atlantic swim of over 7000 kilometres in a year.

Interestingly, there have also been right whale sightings in recent years off the Canary Islands. No other information is available at this time about these sightings.