USCG Auxiliary trains about Endangered North Atlantic Right Whales
The Marine Resources Council (MRC) continues to expand its nationally recognized whale spotter network. Preparing for the North Atlantic right whale’s winter calving season that starts December 1st, MRC recently instructed 37 Coast Guard Auxiliarists on how to identify, report, and protect right whales in the southeast U.S.
Julie Albert, MRC’s Right Whale Conservation Program Coordinator for the past 18 years, taught the USCGAUX workshop. “Having the Coast Guard Auxiliary interested in this program comes at a historic moment. Human activities such as commercial fishing gear entanglements and vessel strikes are right whales’ greatest threats. This year alone, at least 16 right whales died. Seven of these deaths can be attributed to human activity. With only about 451 left, this population can’t afford to lose a single animal, especially a female.”
The collaboration of MRC and the Coast Guard Auxiliary could result in whale reports from farther offshore than where MRC’s shore-based sightings usually originate. Possible benefits to the research community gained by Auxiliary observations include faster disentanglement response, an increased knowledge of habitat use and causes of death, and health assessment of injured or sick whales.
The North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium concludes that 2017 saw a possible tipping point towards extinction. During just five months this year (from June through October) 16 dead right whales were identified. The Consortium believes that these 16 likely represent only about one-third of actual deaths. With only five new births counted in 2017, right whales are now dying faster than they are being born.
Since 1995, MRC has developed an extensive network of North Atlantic right whale spotters. From Florida’s Atlantic beaches and beachside high rises, these trained spotters report these 50-ton whales coming surprisingly close to shore. Brevard County lies along the southern extension of this endangered whale’s winter calving ground. Pregnant females migrate to Georgia and Florida to give birth to a single calf every 3 to 5 years.
Julie Albert explained: “right whales have been scarce the last two winters in the southeast U.S., begging the question: where are they? The Coast Guard Auxiliary may help answer that question, or at least help us understand where the whales aren’t.”
MRC’s training is particularly relevant to the Coast Guard Auxiliary, which encounters whales while conducting routine offshore air and boat patrols. According to Flotilla Commander Donna Miller, “Our boat and air crews are especially interested in the Coast Guard’s Living Marine Resources mission, which includes whale reporting.” Auxiliary Pilot Mark Cannon agrees: “We see many kinds of whales while on patrol. Learning how to identify the different species is great training.”
Local Coast Guard Auxiliary air and boat patrols are conducted frequently, extending the Coast Guard’s operational capabilities throughout the Indian River Estuary, and into the Atlantic. Central Brevard’s Flotilla 17-6 meets at 6 p.m. the second Tuesday monthly, at the Veteran’s Memorial Center & Museum, 400 S. Sykes Blvd (adjacent to the Merritt Island Mall). Other local Auxiliary Flotillas are in Palm Bay and Titusville.
The Auxiliary’s Space Coast flotillas actively seek new members interested in supporting a wide range of Coast Guard prevention and response missions, which includes marine mammal conservation.
Whale spotter training by MRC is available to the public, and to groups upon request. The next public training session is scheduled for Sunday, December 10th at 2:00 p.m. The class will be held at the Barrier Island Sanctuary (8385 S Highway A1a, Melbourne Beach, FL 32951).
To report a right whale sighting in Florida, call MRC’s right whale hotline at 888-97-WHALE (888-979-4253). For more information on MRC’s whale program, visit:http://mrcirl.org/our-programs/northern-right-whale-monitoring