EWS Update #2 (01/05/98)

12/16/97 - 01/05/98


New England Aquarium

EARLY WARNING SYSTEM
Surveys For Right Whales

EWS Reports



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We're waiting on a big, stable high pressure system to smooth the waters in hopes that it'll bring the host of mother/calf whales we've come to expect this time of year. Usually a 4-5 day stretch of light westerly winds accompanies this much anticipated "Bermuda High" and during this period we often see 3, 4, sometimes 5 mother/calf pairs in a single day. Until now, we've had a few early arrivals milling about. Now it's time for the party to start.

Some good surveys were flown during the holiday season, with the 17th thru the 21st being particularly productive. The end of the month was not bad either, considering the sea states we were flying in. All in all, these flights have yielded 2-3 new calves and half a dozen or so "miscellaneous whales," usually juveniles visiting the area (for lack of something better to do?). I've had a quick look at the pair mentioned in the table as being an adult with a large calf or small juvenile. In some of the photos, the smaller animal is positioned under the larger whale, perpendicular to its midsection, a configuration we've come to associate with nursing. So this could be a calf born way before the rest of its class. Back in 1989, a mother and calf were seen making their way down the coast of the Carolinas in late October. Photos taken near Myrtle Beach showed the calf to be strong and healthy. I guess mom just couldn't wait until she got to Florida... sort of like birth in the backseat of a taxi cab? Maybe she gave birth near Chesapeake Bay or Delaware Bay. It's possible that not every mom makes it to the westward end of the Georgia Bight to expel her 1.5 ton writhing little milk sucker.

Just last week, Philip (that would be Philip Hamilton, friend, colleague, photo-ID person nonpareil) identified photos of a mother/calf seen on Jeffreys Ledge (~25NM off the coast of New Hampshire) this past October. Now the calf was big, definitely born last winter, and Philip determined the mom to be #1412, which doesn't sound particularly impressive, just another serial number. Thing is, #1412 is a big, heavily scarred animal that hasn't been seen but twice prior to last October's sighting. And both earlier sightings were in the fall of 1984, when she was photographed with a calf... on Jeffreys Ledge. It amazes me that, with all the planes buzzing around here last year, a whale and her calf could have gone undetected for the entire season. Then again, #1412 went undetected for 13 years. Perhaps she has strange haunts and peculiar habits? Maybe the combined efforts of two state agencies, the Navy, our surveys and all the other eyeballs out there will never find every whale using this area. But we'll keep trying.

Chris Slay
New England Aquarium
Right Whale Sightings - New England Aquarium
cslay@ibm.net