Whales Trying to Survive Near New Smyrna Beach Florida
There are multiple sightings each winter of whales trying to survive near New Smyrna Beach. Right whales and humpback whales are trying to survive extinction They are being tracked and studied by multiple marine scientists trying to document and save them.
The North Atlantic right whale is one of the world’s most endangered large whale species, with only about 400 whales remaining. The adult whales reach more than 50 feet in length and weigh up to 70 tons .
By the early 1890s, commercial whalers had hunted right whales in the Atlantic to the brink of extinction. Whaling is no longer a threat, but human interactions still present the greatest danger to this species. The leading causes of known mortality for North Atlantic right whales are entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes.
Yearly Migration to Warm Waters
Each winter, right wales and humpback wales migrate from the cold waters off Maine and Nova Scotia to the warmer waters off the coasts of Georgia and Florida to bear and nurse their calves.
Floridians reported multiple rare sightings of humpback whales this past winter (2019). The whale sighting hotline for the Marine Resources Council received daily calls of humpback sightings in Flagler and Volusia counties. Most whale sightings off Florida's Atlantic coasts are in deeper, offshore waters.
New Smyrna Beach whale sighting
On February 28, New Smyrna Beach residents spotted a mother-calf pair of right whales off the 27th Avenue approach. The whales reportedly lingered for a couple of hours, long enough for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to confirm the mom as Catalog No. 3370. She was first spotted with this calf off Flagler Beach on Feb. 12.
A seventh North Atlantic right whale calf was confirmed in February off the Georgia coast, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries. or No. 3270. Pico is a 17-year-old whale whose last known calf was born in 2011.
All along the Atlantic coast of Canada and the United States, whale researchers watched the 2019 calving season closely and were guardedly optimistic at a calving season that was the best in three years.
“I’m grateful for every new calf discovered,” said Philip Hamilton, a research scientist with the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium.
They were excited to see seven calves, but “it still isn’t enough,” said Katie Jackson, a wildlife biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Just to maintain their population, the whales need to be delivering 16-18 calves a year. “In order for the population to grow, we would need even more calves,” Jackson said.
Whale researchers have been concerned for more than a decade about the lengthening interval between deliveries for right whale moms. Healthy right whales should deliver calves every three to four years
The whales face many challenges, including collisions with large vessels and entanglement in gear used for commercial lobster and snow crab fishing.
Scientists agree 2019 wasn't the season needed to reverse the declining trend in the whale population, but were encouraged that the season was an improvement over last year's none and the prior year's five.
Don't Get Too Close
Elsewhere along the Florida coast this season, state and federal officials have seen videos of whales taken too close and shared on social media. As a counter measure NOAA released its own video Thursday, stating it was taken with an unmanned aerial vehicle, “under a research permit and the direction of a trained scientific observer.”
“It is against the law to be within 500 yards (5 football fields) of a right whale,” stated Barb Zoodsma, Southeast U.S. Right Whale Recovery Program Coordinator for NOAA Fisheries. “If you find yourself within 500 yards of a right whale we ask that you move away as soon as safely possible.”
If you see a right whale in the wild call NOAA at 877-942-5343 (877-WHALE-HELP) or the Marine Resources Council Right Whale hotline at 888-979-4253. (888-97-WHALE)
You never know, you might see some whales trying to survive near New Smyrna Beach. Don't get too close, and keep your fingers crossed!