EWS Right Whale Report 4/21/00

From: mike williamson (williams@www1.wheelock.edu)
Date: Fri Apr 21 2000 - 13:06:27 EDT


The Last Update: EWS 2000

There's a T.S. Eliot poem that concludes "This is the way the world ends /
This is the way the world ends / This is the way the world ends / Not with
a bang but a whimper."-- too bad that's what comes to mind when thinking
back on the close of right whale calving season 2000. There was no 9th
inning rally, no last lap pass to raise our spirits about the season. The
EWS team scored its final right whale sighting on 03/01. There wasn't a
confirmed sighting by any of the survey teams after 03/08 and nothing to
add to the calf count for 2000-- which stands at ONE. There was the calf
off Charleston that went unphotographed due to rough-as-a-cobb sea
conditions but we can't officially count that youngster without photo
data. It does give us hope that at least one mother and calf may show up
in the Bay of Fundy this summer. We can't rely on our one confirmed mom,
#1334, for making an appearance since she doesn't travel to those inshore
summer habitats. If we've bottomed out this year, don't let that ring doom
for the population as a whole. A line from another 20th century bard comes
to mind (indulge me), "Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage
against the dying of the light." (Dylan Thomas). I don't think any of us
working with these animals are ready to throw in the towel. Many of us
don't want to readily admit that these whales might be on the ropes but
there's definitely blood on the mat. Well, not exactly blood but a right
whale does leave a visible oil slick, exerting itself, with two strands of
1/2" polypro cutting 6" into it.

So we'll remain vigilant and press for what needs to be done to protect
these last remaining right whales because next year could blow the doors
off previous calving seasons. There are a lot of young females in this
population coming into their reproductive years and many older females who
are due for a calf. If the conditions are right, perhaps if we
"de-oscillate" as one colleague put it, referring to global weather
patterns, we might find ourselves scrambling to keep 20 calves out of
harms way next winter.

And the season had its interesting points. There were over 20 different
right whales haunting the southeastern coast, including the six animals
photo'd during the four sightings we had in our foray to the Carolinas.
And after the photos from all the teams have been matched to the catalog,
perhaps the number will climb to nearly 30? We were certainly a little
disappointed to have flown 83 days and almost 26,000 miles of transect
lines to have put but seven sightings down as originating from the EWS
surveys. However, we logged our seventh year collecting data on the 1000
square miles of ocean that is so important to the most endangered of all
whales. One day, many years down the road, folks may see that we sighted
2,747 loggerhead sea turtles during a season and hopefully marvel at how
many more sea turtles are around during the year 2060? Maybe 35
leatherbacks and 69 Kemp's ridleys will seem paltry. Or perhaps they'll
lament how barren the sea is by then when they note that we saw 145 mola
molas and an estimated 137,000 cow-nose rays. Maybe the 440 large military
and commercial vessels we documented will be considered light traffic?
It's possible that humpbacks will colonize southeastern waters and the 10
sightings we had of that species will be regarded as a glimpse at the
vanguard of a wave? After being adjusted for effort, how will the results
of an aerial survey project in 2060 compare with our count of 7,525
bottlenose dolphins?

Well, I suppose for the time being we'll focus on 2001. I'd like to say
thank you to all of you who have sent encouraging words throughout the
season and to our tireless pilots and aircraft mechanics who kept us
going. I especially want to thank our team, Emmons, LaBrecque, Newcomer,
Roose, Windham and Zani, for working so diligently and maintaining such a
great collective attitude during a long, somewhat discouraging, season.
Just you wait 'til next year^

Best regards,

Chris Slay, New England Aquarium

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                   See the WhaleNet CD-ROM
    ** <http://whale.wheelock.edu/whalenet-stuff/CDROMintro.html> **

                      J. Michael Williamson
Principal Investigator-WhaleNet <http://whale.wheelock.edu>
                   Associate Professor-Science
  Wheelock College, 200 The Riverway, Boston, MA 02215
             voice: 617.734.5200, ext. 2256
            fax: 617.734.8666, or 978.468.0073

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                        Jimmy Buffett
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