Monday, November 19, 2012

Right Whale Festival

Saturday was the 4th Annual Right Whale Festival in Jacksonville Beach.  It was a cold, overcast and windy day but despite the weather, the event was amazing.

There were booths from several different advocacy and research agencies for Right Whales and other marine life such as manatees, dolphins and sea turtles.  Each booth brought something new, including educational aspects.  

Some of the booths included:

Harbor Branch - part of Florida Atlantic University founded in 1971 by J. Seward Johnson, Sr. and Edwin Link to provide research, education and conservatism.  
Harbor Branch has also paired with Wyland, Marine Life Artist known best for the Whaling Walls around the world, to provide education to children, including an almost-life-sized painting of Stella.  Stella has been migrating around the state with her last stop at the festival.  Wyland also designed the Protect Florida Whales specialty tag for Florida drivers.


Sea Shepherd was there as well, promoting their campaigns including Operation Zero Tolerance and the fight in Taji.

Other agencies and booths include:
Sea to Shore - a Florida based organization protecting manatees, sea turtles and right whales
University of North Florida's Coastal Biology Program
Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
Jacksonville University's Marine Science Research Institute
Keepers of the Coast
Coast Guard, Navy, and others.

There were also several activities for children including a passport program.  Children could ask questions at each booth to have their passport stamped for a prize at the end.  There was also an obstacle course for children based on some of the dangers that Right Whales might encounter in the sea including pollution, fishing lines and plastics.

Right Whales were named because they were thought to be the "right whale to hunt".  They frequented coastal waters, swam slowly, floated when dead, and yielded large amounts of oil and baleen.  They finally gained protection in the 1930s.  There are only approx 400-500 remaining at this time.  The species has not recovered well from the previous hunts.  

Right whales are baleen whales which grow up to 55ft and weight up to 70 tons.  Their main form of identification is white splotches on the top of their head called callosities.  These callosities are covered by white cyamids, also known as whale lice.  To me, they look like large albino spiders.  Right Whales have no dorsal fin and short, stubby flippers.  
This man is holding a piece of jawbone and baleen of a Right whale.

They feed on copepods and zooplankton by skimming the water with their mouth open, catching the organisms in their baleen.  When in coastal waters, however, they do not feed.  

The coastal waters of Georgia and Florida are the only known calving grounds for the whales.  They travel down between mid-November and remain until March.  It is mainly females that come down for the main purpose of having their calves and nursing to bulk them up before heading north for the winter.  Females reach sexual maturity at approximately 10 years old and are able to reproduce every 3-5 years, depending on conditions.  In order to make the trek down to Florida, they must bulk up.  This requires adequate food sources and that can be problematic without good water temperatures.  

Threats to them include commercial ships and entanglement of fishing lines.  There have been laws put into place to report sightings in order to reduce the number of ship strikes.  With more public awareness, the species will have a better chance of survival.

I will be taking a blogger break for the rest of the week to spend time with friends and family for the Thanksgiving holiday.  I hope you and your families have a very Happy Thanksgiving.


  1. Definitely sounded like a great festival! And wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. It sounds like it was a great festival, in spite of the weather. Have a fantastic Thanksgiving!

  3. Fascinating facts about Right whales! Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving Heather!