Posted on February 4, 2023
The Mid-Atlantic Nearshore & Mid-shelf Baleen Whale Monitoring project is in full swing for the 2022-2023 season and has recently had some really exciting sightings of critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. It all started with a sighting of two migrating females in November of 2022. It was followed by a juvenile “urban whale” observed very close to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel on January 18.
A few days later on 24 January, a combined effort between vessel and aerial survey platforms spotted seven right whales in the mid-shelf area off Virginia within the US Navy VACAPES training area. HDR has been working with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, New England Aquarium, and NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center to confirm the identities of all the whales sighted.
The first sighting of the day was right whale #1934, named Sagamore. She is an adult female, born in 1989, with no known calves. She was traveling South alone near Norfolk Canyon.
The rest of the sightings were all within a few miles of each other, with four of the whales interacting with each other in Surface Active Groups (SAG) and two more traveling alone nearby. Identifying these whales has been tricky because throughout the sighting, the whales were usually in pairs rolling at the surface and seem to also have been mixing between pairs.
Below are the preliminary IDs:
Eros' mother, Aphrodite, has been seen in the Southeast with a new calf this year! Eros was disentangled from fishing gear in 2008, so it is always nice for researchers to see he is doing well.
On both 29 and 30 January, right whales were sighted once again! The whales were approximately 9 miles inshore from the previous sighting on 24 January, near the Dominion wind energy area, where there are currently two test turbines operating. Some of the same individuals from the 24 January sighting were in these groups, but there were also new whales sighted on both days. This brings the total number of right whales seen off the coast of Virginia in January 2023 to 18 individuals!
Seven whales were seen on 29 January, below are the preliminary IDs:
Eight whales were seen on 30 January, below are the preliminary IDs:
No tags were deployed on these individuals due to their social behavior, but photographs and drone imagery was collected for most in order to identify individuals, assess health status, and estimate size/length. The photo ID images are also submitted to the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog, where you can look at the individual whales and the features used to identify them.
Eight whales were seen on 7 Feb as well including three that had been seen on previous days. Six of the whales were engaged in a SAG. Below are the preliminary IDs:
Mogul is an animal with a particularly interesting sighting history—having been seen over the years throughout the typical range of North Atlantic right whales, but also having been sighted in Iceland in 2018 and France in 2019.
Sadly, another North Atlantic right whale not sighted alive by our team washed up dead on 12 February 2023. It was identified as #3343, a 20 year old male last seen alive in 26 December 2022 off the coast of Georgia. A necropsy conducted by colleagues from several different organizations concluded that the cause of death was catastrophic blunt force trauma—the result of a vessel collision.
On 26 February 2023, an adult right whale was spotted 25 miles off the coast, just north of the VA/NC state line. It was swimming southwest and taking 15-22 minute dives. This animal was identified as #1423, "Old Blunt Tips" (named for it's tail flukes) and is at least 42 years old. It is still unconfirmed if this animal is a male or female.
Check out the Mid-Atlantic Baleen Whale Monitoring Project page on Facebook for more updates, photos and videos from this ongoing research.