An incredible moment happened to me a few years back in Southern California when I was “flying a hull” on my Hobie Cat sailboat one day. That means that I was going so fast that only one of the two hulls remained in the water while the other “flew” through the air above. Abruptly and without warning, a massive Pacific Gray whale surfaced and breached the water right alongside me and my thirteen-foot catamaran.
My heart skipped a beat but then surged into a frenzied rhythm reserved only for extreme situations. Flabbergasted, my jaw dropped with involuntarily gasp at the precise moment the whale blew a sea-breeze blast out its briny blowhole.
This majestic beauty looked to be forty feet long and somewhere near thirty tons and why it chose me and my little boat as a swimming partner is beyond me.
But… Oh… My… God.
The feeling of utter helplessness coupled with righteous worthiness gave me an euphoric rush unlike any other.
Why do I mention this profound experience? Because we can all get a flavor of communing with the whales right here in our own backyard.
Recently, I was chatting with Frank C. Barbuti, Flagler County’s Parks & Recreation Manager, and he mentioned Old Salt Park amidst the Ocean Hammock Resort as a great place to whale watch. What kind of whales? Why, The Northern Right Whales, of course!
The Right Whales are Florida’s biggest endangered mammal and can be as big as fifty-five feet long and weigh up to seventy tons. Stop and think about that for a moment: Ten times longer than you and 700 times as heavy. Listen, being dwarfed by a magnificent marine mammal is an encounter you want to experience for yourself, take it from me.
And right now, wintertime, is optimum for sightings because, during the summer, the huge animals hang out off New England and Novia Scotia. However, in November a sizable portion of them migrate south, bringing their juveniles and pregnant mommas along with them. They give birth and nurse their calves right here in the waters between Jacksonville and Cape Canaveral.
How did they get their name? It’s a sad testament. Right whales were the “right” whales to hunt back in the last century and beyond. Their high blubber content made them float when dead, lending an element of ease to their slaughter and harvest. Whalers almost entirely wiped out the species, leaving only a few dozen left in 1900. These poor mammals teetered on the brink of extinction.
Fortunately, they have been protected since 1935. That’s when the International Prohibition on Whaling went into effect and they have been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act since 1973. Whaling is no longer a threat but human interaction still causes many mortalities such as fishing line entanglement, vessel collisions, and noise that interferes with their communication and stress levels.
Their numbers are reviving but slowly as they tend to live long and reproduce slowly. Right whales are baleen whales, feeding on copepods, which are tiny crustaceans. Don’t you find it fascinating how animals so large eat things that are so small?
Come on down to the beach and give them a wave.
© Copyright 2021 Flagler Humane Society
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