Fernandina Beach, for the first time, is the venue of the regional Right Whale Festival, a two-day event happening the weekend of November 2-3, 2019. Festival hours are Saturday 10 a.m to 6 p.m., and Sunday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The 11th Annual Festival, to be held at Main Beach Park on Amelia Island, kicks off the beginning of whale calving season.
Just off the coastline here is a prime calving area of the North Atlantic right whale, a critically endangered species. From around mid-November, pregnant female right whales migrate south to the coastal waters of Florida and Georgia, designated “right whale critical habitat.”
Free Admission, Entertainment, Exhibits
A family-friendly and free admission event, bring the kids and grandchildren to the Right Whale Festival at the oceanfront. Several bands are scheduled to play during the weekend. The musical lineup will feature Mama Blue, Kalani Rose, Brian Ernst, The Honey Badgers, Amy Nixon Fiddle, and The Kooks. Educational and fun activities, exhibits, lectures and more are scheduled over the weekend to enhance public awareness of the plight of this critically endangered species. Co-hosts of the Festival include Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute and the NOAA Fisheries (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).
Food Trucks, Vendors & More
The Festival will happen rain or shine. Besides enjoying the musical entertainment at this beachfront setting, there will be lots of vendors and exhibits promoting marine conservation. Marine mammal experts will be on site. Activities for kids include a bounce house for younger children and a right whale obstacle course. For sale will be crafts, gifts, Festival T-shirts, art, and photography. For the hungry and thirsty, there will also be food trucks, “Just Water” for $2 (sustainably sourced water in a plant-based carton), and beer available for purchase (must be aged 21).
Right whales are huge, reportedly reaching up to 55 feet long and weighing up to 70 tons, and were once a target of whalers for their oil and whalebone. Learn more about right whales now by watching the video further below.
This is a big event, previously held for the past ten years in Jacksonville (attracting around 8,000 attendees). For the Festival at Main Beach Park in Fernandina, an additional parking area has been designated at Fernandina Beach Middle School on Citrona Avenue. There will be shuttle bus transportation to Main Beach ($2 per person round-trip).
Whales’ Numbers Declining
The right whale has been protected for more than eight decades, beginning in 1935. Even so, few exist today. How many North Atlantic right whales remain on the planet? Estimates this year (before the winter calving season begins this November), puts the number in the vicinity of 400 to 420. Research and data on the breeding patterns and whale deaths indicate a dire situation.
Low Number of Calves Sighted
The best calving season ever recorded was 39 births, back in the 2008-2009 winter season. As far newborn calves being sighted the last three seasons, the numbers look rather bleak. Just five right whale calves were recorded during the 2016/2017 season. The winter calving season of 2017/2018 was very concerning when not a single right whale calf was sighted, the worst season on record. While better than the previous two seasons, only seven calves were recorded in the 2018/2019 winter season.
Deaths Outpace Births
However, a total of nine North Atlantic right whale deaths have been recorded so far in calendar year 2019, outpacing this past year’s births. The most recent discovery was a dead right whale near Long Island, NY in September 2019.
Big Conservation Challenge
“Fewer than 100 breeding females are left. Only 12 births have been observed in the three calving seasons since 2017, less than one-third the previous average annual birth rate for right whales. This, together with an unprecedented 30 mortalities since 2017 (part of a declared Unusual Mortality Event), accelerates the downward trend that began around 2010, with deaths outpacing births in this population. “SOURCE: NOAA FISHERIES
Top Threats To Right Whales
What are the top threats to North Atlantic right whales? Vessel strikes and becoming entangled in commercial fishing gear.
Eyes In The Sky
Aerial surveys are conducted over the waters of Florida and Georgia to attempt to spot and count right whale mothers and calves. Like guardian angels, they surveil the waters between December 1st to March 31st. Referred to as “eyes in the sky” by one researcher with the New England Aquarium, the planes also help to prevent vessel strikes with the whales. Flight crews watch the waters from above and when whales are spotted, they radio alerts to the captains of ships in the area.
Watch Right Whale Video To Learn More
How To Sight Right Whales
Coastal dwellers have the opportunity to learn more about how to sight right whales off our shores. Attend a presentation, “Right Whale Volunteer Training” by Julie Albert of the Marine Resources Council. This presentation is scheduled both Festival days at 12 pm. Julie Albert operates the toll-free Right Whale Sightings Hotline 1-888-979-4253. Members of a local organization, the Amelia Island Right Whale Action Group, will also be at the Fernandina Festival.
Volunteers For Beach Clean Up
Prior to the opening of the Festival on the morning of November 2, 2019, join Keep Nassau Beautiful at 9 a.m. for a beach clean up to kick off the Festival. Supplies will be provided, but volunteers are asked to bring water (reusable bottle preferred), sunscreen, and shoes.
See the Right Whale Festival website to view full 2019 activity schedule and more event information. (The annual Festival will be back in Fernandina Beach in 2020).
Read recent NOAA article, “10 Things You Should Know About North Atlantic Right Whales,” — 10/17/19
Visit NOAA Fisheries website for further research and in-depth information about North Atlantic right whales.
Amelia Island Living has published previous articles:
“Right Whale News and 2019 Festival” –1/2/2019