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Marine Life

The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary was designated for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which was its long history of human use and its high natural productivity.

Two distinct peak productivity periods produce a complex system of midwater and benthic habitats. These communities support benthic and pelagic species by providing cover and anchoring locations for invertebrates; they also provide feeding and nursery grounds for more than a dozen cetacean species including the endangered humpback, northern right, sei, and fin whales. The area supports foraging activity by diverse seabird species, dominated by loons, fulmars, shearwaters, storm petrels, cormorants, phalaropes, alcids, gulls, jaegers, and terns. Fish and invertebrate populations subject to seasonal and migration shifts include both demersal and pelagic species, such as bluefin tuna, herring, cod, flounders, lobster, and scallops. Leatherback and Kemp's ridley sea turtles (endangered species) use the area for feeding.

Data strongly suggest the presence of over 50 shipwreck sites within the sanctuary. Important sites that have already been investigated include the historically significant wreck of the steamship Portland which sank in 1898 during a gale named after the ship. Large vessel traffic is steady due to the fact that the major shipping lanes to Boston pass through the Sanctuary, The presence of whales and fish, in turn, attract vessels engaged in watching the former and catching the latter.

For more in-depth looks at the resources and uses of the Sanctuary, please refer to the Sanctuary Management Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement. A new section on shipwrecks has also been created on this web site, and can be accessed at the Maritime Heritage Resources page.

 

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