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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Right whale sightings nearing 300 - St Augustine.com

North Atlantic right whaleImage via WikipediaPosted: March 8, 2011 - 12:00am

By LORRAINE THOMPSON

With the North Atlantic right whale calving season more than half over, almost 300 right whale sightings have been reported since Nov. 15 from South Carolina to Florida, with 99 sightings off St. Johns County, said Katie Jackson of the North Atlantic Right Whale Project of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The number of sightings, said Jackson, is consistent with the last few calving seasons when there were a large number of juvenile whales in the area.

Eighteen mother/calf pairs have been documented so far, and all but one of these moms is known to have been off St. Johns County at some point during the calving season. The average number of calves documented since 2000 is 22 calves per season.

Locally, Joy Hampp, director of the Marineland Right Whale Project, which monitors sightings mostly from land, reports that the first half of the survey season was similar to last year, which was a record year in terms of sightings.

"Since then, we have had no sightings from shore. The AirCam has had several sightings on a 3-mile offshore trackline that we have been flying for two weeks," Hampp said. "Last year the whales seemed to be more offshore as well. Since water temperatures were quite cool both seasons, it stands to reason that this may have an effect on right whale movement."

Hampp noted that shoreline sightings are non-existent.

"This reminds us of the 2008 season when the right whales departed our area early, and our last sighting of the season occurred on 12 Feb. However, that season was the warmest of our 11 seasons and the current season has been one of our coldest," she said.

The North Atlantic right whale is considered an endangered species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, passed by Congress in 1972. The estimated total population of North Atlantic right whales is 450. The calving season runs from Nov. 15 to April 15.
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