FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Conservation Scientists Expand Aerial Surveys to Monitor Winter Calving Season
NEW YORK - Scientists at Wildlife Trust will significantly increase their aerial surveys of right whales thanks to extended funding from the South Carolina State Ports Authority (SCSPA). SCSPA is currently developing a new shipping terminal in Charleston Harbor and has partnered with Wildlife Trust to increase aerial surveys to ensure the safety of right whales in the region. Endangered North Atlantic right whales migrate to the southeastern U.S. coast to give birth to their calves. This region is the only known calving ground for the species and has been designated as a critical habitat for right whales. Collaboration between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the SCSPA during the project permitting process resulted in increased efforts to protect right whales along the coast. “This survey work is a special measure that we included in the new terminal's project design,” said Bernard S. Groseclose Jr., SCSPA President and CEO. “It will benefit all shipping in and around Charleston, not just vessel traffic associated with the new terminal. This is another example of how new terminal development is good for both the economy and our environment,” said Groseclose, referring to a $12.1-million community and environmental mitigation program developed for the new terminal.
The purpose of monitoring right whales using aerial surveys is two-fold. Aerial surveys provide vital information to wildlife managers on right whale calving distribution and most importantly the location of these slow-moving animals. The largest threats to the right whale population are human-related, including ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear. Wildlife Trust works to minimize the risk to these animals by locating right whales during daily aerial surveys from November through April and reporting locations to military and commercial shipping traffic to mitigate potential ship strikes. “Right whales are slow-moving, especially when accompanied by a calf, and they have a broad, flat back that makes it difficult for vessels to see them when they are at the surface of the water. During our daily aerial surveys, we get a bird's eye view of the whales and the shipping traffic offshore and we are able to report on the whereabouts of these amazing creatures in relation to the shipping traffic,” said Cynthia Taylor, Director of Aquatic Programs and Senior Research Scientist at Wildlife Trust. Aerial flights are conducted three to four days a week during the best weather conditions and the team will log in an average 400 hours of flight time at the conclusion of calving season.
Wildlife Trust has conducted right whale surveys in the Southeast U.S. for over six years to ensure the protection and recovery of the species. “With fewer than 400 right whales remaining in the population every whale is vital to the survival of this critically endangered species,” said Dr. Mary C. Pearl, President of Wildlife Trust. SCSPA has pledged up to $200,000 per year for the next five years so Wildlife Trust can continue this important work. The surveys will provide valuable information through location and photo-identification of right whales and possibly location information for humpback whales and leatherback sea turtles as well.
About Wildlife Trust
Wildlife Trust empowers local conservation scientists worldwide to protect nature and safeguard ecosystem and human health. Wildlife Trust is a conservation science innovator and leverages research expertise through strategic global alliances. Wildlife Trust pioneered the field of Conservation Medicine, a new discipline that addresses the link between ecological disruption of habitats and the effects on wildlife, livestock and human health.
Founded in 1971 by British naturalist and author Gerald Durrell, Wildlife Trust has built its reputation on 35 years of global research, education, training and experience. Work in the United States includes research, conservation, and training programs in the metropolitan New York area, Florida and along the coast of the Southeastern U.S.
Internationally, Wildlife Trust trains and supports a network of scientists around the world to save endangered species and their habitats and to protect the health of vital ecosystems. Wildlife Trust created the first egalitarian international network of science-based conservation organizations, the Wildlife Trust Alliance, and is a founding partner organization of the Consortium for Conservation Medicine, a unique collaboration between Wildlife Trust and prestigious academic institutions around the world. To learn more please go to http://www.wildlifetrust.org.
About The South Carolina State Ports Authority
The South Carolina State Ports Authority, established in 1942, owns and operates public seaport facilities in Charleston and Georgetown, handling international commerce valued at $55 billion annually.
Anthony M. Ramos
Byron D. Miller
South Carolina State Ports Authority