Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Three from DNR Honored for Right Whale Work

Three employees of the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division’s Nongame Conservation Section have been recognized for their outstanding work during the 2008-2009 right whale calving season.

Senior wildlife biologists Clay George and Mark Dodd and wildlife technician Kate Sparks received awards at the recent Southeastern Implementation Team for Right Whale Conservation conference in St. Augustine, Fla., for their contributions to disentangling North Atlantic right whales.

The 2008-2009 calving season included five documented whale entanglements. Four of the whales were freed from the life-threatening fishing gear and line.

Along with Dodd, George and Sparks, those honored for their part in the disentanglement efforts included Tom Pitchford and Katharine Jackson of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Patricia Naessig of Wildlife Trust, Jessica Taylor of the New England Aquarium, Brian Sharp of Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies and Chris Slay of Coastwise Consulting Inc.

According to conference organizers, the group endured harsh conditions and made personal sacrifices to ensure that the critically endangered animals were given every chance for survival.

“We are very proud of the work that Clay, Mark and Kate accomplished during the 2008-09 season,” Nongame Conservation Section Chief Mike Harris said. “Their dedication and commitment to conservation of Georgia’s wildlife are an example for all of us in the Wildlife Resources Division.”

The Southeastern Implementation Team for Right Whale Conservation is made up of more than a dozen organizations and agencies, including the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Wildlife Trust, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the New England Aquarium. All work together to advance right whale conservation along the eastern U.S. coast.

Decimated by commercial whaling in the 19th century, approximately 400 North Atlantic right whales remain. Almost 200 were sighted off the Georgia coast this winter, up from 150 in 2008. The total includes 39 sets of mother and calf pairs, breaking the previous record of 31 calves set in 2001. The rest of the whales were juveniles and non-breeding adults.

Sparks, Dodd, George and wildlife technician Adam Mackinnon, all part of the Nongame Conservation Section staff at the Brunswick office, also completed training and testing requirements this year to earn the designation of captain.

Georgians can help conserve right whales and other nongame wildlife through buying a wildlife license plate featuring a bald eagle or a ruby-throated hummingbird. The program is vital to Wildlife Resources’ Nongame Conservation Section, which receives no state funds for its mission to help conserve wildlife not legally hunted, fished for or trapped, as well as rare plants and natural habitats in Georgia.

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