Monday, November 15, 2010

Protecting Whales From the Sky: EcoHealth Alliance's Annual Aerial Surveys of Endangered Right Whale Populations

/PRNewswire/ -- EcoHealth Alliance (formerly Wildlife Trust), is gearing up for the organization's annual aerial surveys for the protection of endangered North Atlantic right whales. For the fourth consecutive year, the South Carolina State Ports Authority (SCSPA) has pledged up to $200,000 per year for a total of five years to increase aerial surveys for the protection of endangered right whales off the coast of S.C. Aerial surveys provide valuable information to wildlife conservationists and researchers, including location and photo-identification of right whales during their winter calving season off the Southeastern coast of the U.S. "Through productive partnerships, we can develop new port business while also enhancing our natural environment," said Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the South Carolina State Ports Authority. "We'll continue to grow in a responsible way."

"Right whale populations were nearly hunted to extinction by whalers long ago, and they've been fighting their way back from the brink ever since," said Dr. Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance. "With fewer than 500 North Atlantic right whales alive today, EcoHealth Alliance's Aquatic Conservation Program is a key factor in ensuring the ongoing viability of this beautiful, critically endangered mammal."

North Atlantic right whales migrate from November through April to give birth to their calves off of the Southeast coast, which is the only known calving ground for the species. Aerial surveys give the EcoHealth Alliance team a bird's eye view of whales in relation to the heavily trafficked coastline navigated by cargo, military, and recreational boats. Flights are conducted an average of two days a week during the best weather conditions; the teams log an average of 600 hours of flight time at the conclusion of the calving season in April 2010.

"During our aerial surveys, we document the births of new calves, record sightings of returning whales, and alert shipping officials about the whereabouts of these slow moving mammals, to help keep them out of harm's way," said Cynthia R. Taylor, associate vice president of the Aquatic Conservation Program at EcoHealth Alliance. "The biggest threats to right whales are from ship collisions and entanglement in fishing gear, so we immediately alert rescue crews when we see whales that are in trouble."

Survey flights originate from Mt. Pleasant regional airport near Charleston, S.C. from November 15, 2010 through April 15, 2011 and from the Malcolm McKinnon airport on St. Simons Island, Ga. from December 31, 2010 through March 31, 2011. EcoHealth Alliance's aerial survey team in South Carolina, which covers the airspace from Cape Romain, S.C. to Fripp Island, S.C., includes team leader Dianna Schulte, Jonathan Gwalthney and Melanie White. The aerial survey team in Georgia, which covers the airspace from Sapelo Island, GA to Cumberland Island, GA includes team leader Patricia Naessig, Julianne Kearney, Lisa Barry, and Ashley Dobrovich.

EcoHealth Alliance partners in its efforts with The South Carolina Ports Authority, The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, who provide funding annually for the intensive survey effort. For more information about this EcoHealth Alliance program, visit http://www.ecohealthalliance.org/wildlife/9-protecting_endangered_right_whales.

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