Whale Watching and Boat Cruising in NE Florida
by: Kacie Couch
WHALE, WHALE, WHALE. WHAT HAVE WE HERE?
The North Atlantic Right Whale, of course! Every year during the winter months the North Atlantic Right Whales migrate from the frigid waters in the Gulf of Maine to the more temperate waters off the coasts of Georgia and Florida; which of course includes the coast of our little island.
Why are they called the “Right” Whales, you ask? Well it all started back in the old days when whaling was popular. The Right Whales are known to be extremely docile and curious creatures. They tend to stick close to shorelines and stay near the surface of the water and they also have high blubber content. This causes them to float when killed and produces tons (literally) of the formerly popular whale oil. In short, they were the perfect target for whalers and for this reasons these beautiful beasts were called the “right whale to kill” by sailors. The “Right” whale stuck, and that is what they are called today.
These magnificent mammals come here to reproduce every three to six years, birthing calves thirteen to fifteen feet in length and weighing around three thousand pounds. That may sound like a BIG baby, but a North Atlantic Right Whale calf is only a fraction of how big its parents are. Fully grown Right whales can weigh in at over 70 tons and reach lengths of over fifty feet! While they are easily the biggest creatures hanging out off of our shorelines (that we know of, anyway), whales aren’t the only large animals under the sea near Amelia Island. It’s recently been discovered that Great White sharks have been migrating to our area around the same time as the whales. The reason for the shark migration hasn’t been confirmed, but it is suspected that they are following one of their favorite food sources. As the famous Great White shark Bruce would say: “WE’RE HAVING BABY WHALE TONIGHT!!!”
Unfortunately the whalers did some major damage to the right whale population that continues to be seen today. The Right whales are an endangered species and their numbers continue to dwindle. With no more whalers in North America, what could the problem be? You need only look out to sea to figure it out. Amelia Island and northeast Florida has always been a major port area for large ships, and while you won’t hear about a whaling ship purposely killing a curious and slow moving Right Whale, you may hear about a large tanker ship accidentally striking and killing one. As with most other sea animals, abandoned or unwatched fishing gear also poses a threat to these beautiful beasts.
Similar to the problem manatees are facing, Right Whales simply do not understand the danger of ships and are too slow to move out of the way. To combat this problem the government has put into place numerous whale protection programs, examples of which include mandatory and voluntary vessel speed reduction in designated areas and recommended shipping routes to avoid whale interaction. Unfortunately, humans continue to be the greatest threat to the Right Whale population.
With their population so low, Amelia Island residents and guests are extremely lucky to be able to occasionally spot a Right Whale (and maybe even a calf) off shore from our beaches or from the deck of a boat. And speaking of boats, Amelia River Cruises and Charters will be resuming our eco tours this summer, so come aboard and hear some tales about some whales (and other sea creatures too, of course)! In the meantime, come aboard and enjoy one of our regularly scheduled tours to view some of the most beautiful sights Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia have to offer.