This weekend we attended and exhibited at the 11th annual Right Whale Festival, held in beautiful Fernandina Beach, Florida. This unique event celebrates the arrival of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale to their winter calving grounds here off the Georgia and northeast Florida coast.
With a population of only around 400, the right whales are at great risk of extinction. That makes this one of the most sensitive cetacean breeding areas in the world.
The festival brings together thousands of whale and ocean lovers with over seventy ocean-themed exhibits. With an emphasis on conservation, education and positive action, there were guest speakers, lots of kids activities, arts & crafts, along with displays of sustainable products and responsible ecotour adventures. There were a few delicious food trucks and even a stage featuring a jamming lineup of bands. They provided a lively soundtrack for the entire event, a mini music festival of its own.
Right whales face the same threats as humpbacks, although with so few right whales remaining the impact is disproportionately deadly. The serious message of the festival was gut-wrenchingly illustrated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s (FWC) gallery of known deaths since 2017.
Highlighting the dangers that whale’s face from entanglement, ship strikes, climate change, ocean noise and pollution is critical. Just as important is educating the public as to what is being done and how they can help.
At a time in history when positive environmental stories are few and far between, it’s uplifting to spend time with so many people who care about, and are caring for, these amazing animals. Children were given a “migration map” to follow, answering questions at each booth. It was heartwarming to see how curious and excited this next generation of conservationists was as they listened and learned.
We had a fun educational challenge too, a game of “Pin the Tail on the Whale”. Knowing that every humpback has unique markings on the underside of the fluke, players had to look at six photos to find the distinctive marking in each that provided the visual clue to that specific whale’s name. It was not that easy! But it was great fun to watch folks work on it, give a few hints, and many times the kids could see what the grownups couldn’t. We’d like to give our special thanks to Whale Breath Photography by Mandy Houston for providing beautiful images of Fan, Giraffe, Victim, Pinball, Nile & Tear. Do you know which is which? Test yourself below.
With a few thousand attendees at the festival there was a steady stream of visitors to our booth. Most had no idea that humpbacks migrate south like the right whales, and that several thousand carry on to gather on the Silver Bank each winter. But one couple knew all about it. Leslie and Cameron traveled to the Silver Bank to swim with the whales in 2012 and have been subscribers to our Whale eMail newsletter ever since.
Leslie & Cameron recently moved from the Pacific coast to northeast Florida, learned about the festival from an earlier newsletter, and decided to drop by to say hello. It was a very pleasant surprise and we enjoyed sharing some old whale tales. We look forward to seeing them again here in Florida and hopefully back on the Silver Bank soon.
All in all the 2019 Right Whale Festival was a delightful way to spend a weekend, and a fun way to address a serious subject. It is no exaggeration to say that the right whales are fighting for their very survival. Extinction is forever. The stakes are high and with so much sad news coming out coming out every summer about the right whales’ plight, the camaraderie and positivity of the festival is encouraging. Together we can all make a difference, contact us if you’d like to learn how. We have already put it on our calendar for next year and encourage you to do so, too. Visit www.RightWhaleFestival.com for more information.
The changing of the seasons is also a reminder that in just a couple of months we’ll be meeting some of you, our whale loving guests, in person along with the humpback whales themselves out on the Silver Bank. Get in touch today if you’d like to join one of our cruises in February or March 2020. We look forward to the opportunity to introduce you to the whales.