FY 2010 expenditures: $281,191
FY 2011 budget: $261,565
Whales are threatened by disease, loss of habitat, and other factors that lead to an average of one stranding per week along Florida’s coastline. Studying these events can help characterize human impacts on marine ecosystems and potential impacts on humans. There are as many as 12 whale species that inhabit Florida coastal waters, including the most endangered of all great whales: the Northern Right Whale, which depends on Florida’s warm winter waters for calving and nursing.
As enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida, funds from the Protect Florida whales Specialty License Plate can be used to:
Protect Florida Whales license plate revenue primarily supports the response efforts of the Harbor Branch-FAU Marine Mammal Research and Conservation Program (MMRC) and the research of the Marine Resources Council’s Northern Right Whale Monitoring Program. A portion of the funds supports educational programs in Florida by the Wyland Foundation promoting the conservation of Florida marine mammals.
- collect, analyze, and archive scientific data regarding whale populations that inhabit, utilize, or migrate in state waters
- provide care and assistance to stranded whales
- construct and maintain a Harbor-Branch-based teaching marine mammal hospital
- train veterinary students in the rescue, medical and rehabilitation treatment, and release and postrelease monitoring of stranded whales
- distribute information for the purpose of protecting and preserving whales
- identify whale populations
- conduct scientific research through genetic, telemetry, bioacoustical, and photographic identification research programs
- advance the research technology associated with tracking, monitoring, and categorizing whales
- develop methods of monitoring whale movements
- provide for methods of early-warning detection systems and advance notification that will help prevent accidental boat strikes in state waters
As a member of the NOAA Southeast Region Marine Mammal Stranding Network, MMRC maintains 24/7 response readiness for strandings. Incident response includes veterinary assessment to determine if the animal can be released, requires treatment, or must be euthanized. The MMRC necropsy laboratory is used to perform pathological examinations to better understand illness. On January 1, 2011, for the first time since being severely damaged by hurricanes in 2004, the HBOI-FAU Marine Mammal Critical Care Center became available to accept marine mammals in need of rehabilitative care. HBOI-FAU researchers include Steve McCulloch and Dr. Juli Goldstein.
The Marineland Right Whale Project began in 2001 as a part of the Northern Right Whale Monitoring Program, a collaboration of the Marine Resources Council and the Associated Scientists at Woods Hole. Sightings between the St. Augustine and Sebastian Inlets by air and boat are supplemented by the efforts of volunteer community/condominium watch teams and through reports of opportunistic sightings. Right whale data are maintained by the New England Aquarium.