Coastal Diaries - Right Whale Sighting

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Sunset picnic 

October 23, 2016. I spent the day working on a story about Little Pink Houses of Hope, a retreat for Breast Cancer Survivors which took place here in Surfside Beach this past week.  After hours in front of the computer, I decided to reward myself with a sunset picnic on the beach this evening.  I didn't realize the spectacular experience I would have.

I was sitting there eating the last piece of Imen McDonnell's Buttermilk Chocolate Cake when I paused mid-bite.  What was I seeing in the water?  I jumped out of my chair, shielded my eyes from the glare of the evening sun and gazed intently at the breaches in the water.  I saw three black whale-like bodies, half-submerged and gliding swiftly past my line of vision about 100 - 150 yards away from shore. Surely they were dolphins, I thought. I looked for the familiar fin associated with the dolphins I have often seen along the coast of North Carolina. There were no fins.  Then I saw the water spout.  Sprays of water plumed into the air even as a thrill ran through my body.  I watched until they were mere ripples in the ocean, then quickly packed up my picnic and ran for the house.  I had research to do. Could I truly have seen whales off the South Carolina coast?

The first article that came up from my Google search was an article in USA Today's travel section titled How to Whale Watch in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The article went on to say that the majestic North Atlantic Right Whales make their way past Myrtle Beach each year on their way to the calving waters off the coasts of Georgia and Florida.  It also mentioned the importance of reporting a (rare) whale sighting to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration so they can collect data to help them with conservation efforts, as only about 500 Right Whales remain.

After a friendly and informative chat with a marine biologist from NOAA, he informed me the data I provided was helpful and the descriptions I gave were consistent with Right Whales. Though I had been the first to report a sighting this year, he said the current cold spell we are having could be enough of a change in temperature to cause the whales to begin their migration southward. He advised me to be on the look-out for others, though he warned often they are too far from shore to be spotted.

I must say, this has been a definite highlight of my time here along the coast in the past two weeks. I'm not sure whether it was due to the luck of the Irish in Imen's fabulous cake recipe, or just the fact that God was smiling on me, but it was my most memorable picnic to date.

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