Jacksonville Beach festival to raise awareness for endangered whales


UNF coastal biology program will be at festival
By Sara Gossman

In less than a week, hundreds of North Atlantic right whales will return to their only known calving area in the southeastern US, and hundreds of people will be there to celebrate the whales’ arrrival with a festival.

The third annual Right Whale Festival will be Nov. 19 at Jacksonville Beach’s Seawalk Pavilion. The UNF biology department is setting up a booth at the festival to inform the community about right whales and UNF’s coastal biology program. Julie Richmond, a UNF biology professor, will be running the booth with her research laboratory and other UNF professors and volunteers.

The Right Whale Festival was created to raise awareness about North Atlantic right whales. The whales constantly face threats such as boat collisions and fishing gear entanglements. They are considered critically endangered.

“The festival is a public outreach and awareness opportunity for marine mammal scientists to talk about the plight of the right whale,” Richmond said. “Some of the population estimates suggest that there’s only about 300 individuals remaining in the wild.”

The festival, which started in 2009, achieved success in previous years. The festival will include a beach cleanup, activities for children, music, food, and displays dedicated to the right whale. Previously, right whales have been seen off of the coast, sometimes about 50 yards away from the shore. There is no way to tell if the whales will be spotted this year.

Savannah Parker, a UNF biology senior and participant in the festival, said the event’s educational aspect is important even to non-biology majors.

“It’s a good opportunity to get out there and get a viewpoint on something other than their own,” Parker said. “Not many people are educated about the right whale.”

Richmond gave a similar response.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to learn about the environment, learn about the community, and to learn about what you can do as an individual to help conserve this phenomenal organism that lives right off of our coast,” she said.