National marine sanctuary offices and visitor centers closed to the public; waters remain open

NOAA's national marine sanctuary offices and visitor centers are closed to the public while the waters remain open for responsible use in accordance with CDC guidance and local regulations. More information on the response from NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries can be found on

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Summer 1995

Sanctuary and Coast Guard Team to Protect the Environment
Sanctuary Currents
Education Digest
Research Reports
Left Turn or Right?


Sanctuary and Coast Guard Team to Protect the Environment

How can you protect 638 square nautical miles of open water and the valuable marine resources they cover and hold? For a newly established Sanctuary with a minuscule staff and a large mandate, the answer was to find some like-minded partners. Relief came in the form of the United States Coast Guard.

Eyes in the Sky and on the Water
On January 5, the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and U.S. Coast Guard officially agreed to increase enforcement to protect endangered species and to uphold a set of Sanctuary regulations established when the Sanctuary was created in 1992. Numbering only three, the Sanctuary staff is hard pressed to make regular trips to the offshore waters and monitor activities there. That's where the Coast Guard fits in.

With its regular presence in the skies over the Sanctuary and in the waters from Cape Cod to Cape Ann, the Coast Guard provides added observers needed for this marine site at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay. Under the agreement, the Coast Guard now schedules one to two special overflights each week dedicated to Sanctuary concerns and adds routine surveillance of the Sanctuary to all other ship and air patrols. Coast Guard patrol boats may also stop and board vessels caught fishing or dumping illegally or threatening endangered species.

Partners in Education
Although the Coast Guard's expertise and capabilities in enforcement are invaluable to the Sanctuary, other aspects of Coast Guard operations have also provided much needed assistance to the Sanctuary. Regular crews as well as the Coast Guard Auxiliary are distributing information to boaters about the Sanctuary along with important boating safety information for these waters, particularly guidelines for whalewatching. When endangered whales are spotted, the Coast Guard broadcasts radio warnings, and has provided support for operations to disentangle whales found caught in marine debris.

The public information specialists of both organizations have worked together to develop a public service ad for television with the Boston University Ad Laboratory about endangered right whales in the Sanctuary, and to co-host several press conferences about joint operations. Sanctuary staff members have, in turn, traveled to Coast Guard facilities to train boarding officers and others on aspects of the national sanctuary program and environmental topics related to Coast Guard operations. Another partner in the formal agreement between the agencies is the National Marine Fisheries Service which is training Coast Guard crews in enforcement requirements pertaining to the Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts.

Research Too
In an effort to better understand who uses the area, the Sanctuary has contracted for a user study (see related article on page 2) for which the Coast Guard has supplied videotaped overflights. Research requests for ship support have also been provided on an as needed basis, and when regular Coast Guard operations allow. Boater safety and the air/sea rescue capability of the Coast Guard are never compromised during these Sanctuary-related projects. The installation of a radar system (once used in the war against drug traffickers in Florida) at the Coast Guard's regional communications center in Marshfield will give the Coast Guard and Sanctuary a complete overview of the number of vessels in the Sanctuary at any time, thereby simplifying data collection for the user survey. Coast Guard facilities have also served as bases of operation for Sanctuary-related research cruises and meetings.

"We couldn't have found a more efficient and accommodating partner," notes Sanctuary manager Brad Barr. "Our efforts in interagency cooperation break new ground and demonstrate how organizations can work together for the common good. Not only is this economically advantageous, but it allows each organization to specialize in the areas of its own expertise," he said. "We look forward to continuing this cooperative relationship and building upon it in the future."



Welcome to the first issue of Stellwagen Soundings, a new publication of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. The Sanctuary, the first of its kind in the Northeast, and one of only 12 sites nationwide, encompasses 842-square miles (638 square nautical miles). Within these waters can be found an important and intricate marine ecosystem that includes four species of endangered whales as seasonal visitors, important commerical fish stocks, and a host of interesting creatures, both large and small. Sanctuary History

The history of the Sanctuary began in August 1982 when a group of concerned citizens put the finishing touches on a proposal to designate the area around Stellwagen Bank as a National Marine Sanctuary. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had invited the public to nominate sites for addition to the national system and representatives from the Center for Coastal Studies and Defenders of Wildlife answered the call. In 1983, the site was added to the list of nominations that met basic criteria, sebsequently becoming an active candidate in 1989. Three years later, in 1992, Congress officially designated Stellwagen Bank as a National Marine Sanctuary.

But in some respects, the history of the Sanctuary began at the end of the last ice age, as the retreating glacier left behind deposits that became the Bank. This area -- located at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay in the southwestern corner of the Gulf of Maine -- has, for eons, been a productive area, filled with a rich treasury of marine life. Those who fish for a livelihood have long recognized the area for its abundant fish and invertebrates (such as lobsters, scallops, and squid). Even before humans cast there nets and lines into the waters, whales, seals, sea birds and other creatures sought out the bounty of the Stellwagen Bank area.

For those of you visiting the Sanctuary for the first time, enjoy your excursion. For those of you who have never been out to this portion of the Gulf of Maine, we encourage you to learn more about this fascinating place and hope you will one day have the opportunity to explore it yourself.

Sanctuary Currents

What to do when Oil Spills and Whale Spouts Meet

The National Marine Fisheries Service and NOAA's HAZMAT (Hazardous Materials Response and Assessment Division) sponsored a one-day workshop at the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in May that looked at the ramifications of an oil spill in a whale habitat. When corraling the oil is impossible, what can be done? Do cleanup personnel disperse the oil with detergents? Do they burn it? Do whales understand the sound of a fire and avoid it -- this being an unknown phenomenon in the wild? Can whales be chased away from the site of a spill by the sound of orcas (killer whales) -- the only commonly observed predator of great whales (albeit juvenile whales for the most part). Representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard, whale research institutions such as the New England Aquarium, and others discussed the possible scenarios, possible solutions, and trade-offs involved in each method. Over the next few months, the National Marine Fisheries Service will develop official policies for all contingencies based on these inputs and other suggestions gathered at similar fact-finding sessions.

Sibling Sanctuaries Cooperate to Protect Humpback Whales

Where do the humpback whales go in the fall? Like many human residents of New England, they go south to the Caribbean. The whales of Stellwagen Bank join their breathren from elsewhere in the Gulf of Maine, Gulf of Labrador, Newfoundland, Greenland, and Iceland, and travel to the warm, sheltered waters of Silver Bank and Navidad Bank off the Dominican Republic. This important breeding and calving area for humpback whales has been designated a National Sanctuary by the Dominican government, which unfortunately has only limited resources available at this time to devote to this conservation effort. In order to help protect the species at both ends of its migration corridor, Brad Barr, manager of the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary serves on the Silver Bank advisory board. The Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary will also help develop educational materials that both sanctuaries can use. An additional link between the sanctuaries will be an hour-long television program on humpbacks, produced by a crew from the Venezuelan television series "Expedicion" (the show has an international distribution and is scheduled to be shown on the Discovery Channel). The filmmakers plan to film at Stellwagen this summer; Silver Bank filming was completed last winter.

All Tied Up and No Place to Go -- Disentangling Whales

When a whale gets caught up in nets, who do you call? The answer's not so simple. Until now, reports have been going to local police and fire rescue departments, the U.S. Coast Guard, local aquariums, local wildlife refuges, and whale research institutions. The Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary is working with other organizations in the region to develop a disentanglement network in the Gulf of Maine; other participants include the National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Center for Coastal Studies. Such a network might include an emergency response team that could be flown immediately to entanglement sites and an 800 emergency call-in number for entanglement sightings.

Kiosk Goes Up in Provincetown

A new exhibit showing the wide range of species at the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the marine food web will have a summer installation in Provincetown at the State Pier. The free-standing kiosk was produced for the Sanctuary by the Center for Coastal Studies. Copies of the graphics panels are also going up in the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster and at the Sanctuary's headquarters in Plymouth.

Sanctuary Considers Experimental Closure Area

Fisheries management decisions have been made over the past decades without a complete understanding of what happens to the seabed when fishing gear sweeps across it. The effects of gear on the benthic (sea bottom) community of living resources is little understood, as are the similarities or differences of natural phenomena, such as storms. A team of researchers has proposed a five-year research program that would call for the closure of a small section of the sanctuary, to compare the effects of fishing (primarily dragging and trawling) in an area of diverse habitats just outside the closure area to a geologically similar area where fishing is not permitted. After a series of public meetings , it was clear that a closure of part of the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary, in addition to existing closures on Georges Bank and southern New England, would be unacceptable to many of the meeting attendees. Based on comments received, the science team has decided to delay any further discussion of the experimental closure until the New England Fisheries Management Council proposes its overall plan for groundfish management. Once that decision has been made, and if the science team decides to proceed, there will be a second series of public information meetings, and, perhaps, a formal request to the Fisheries Management Council regarding action in the experimental area.

Sanctuary Field Guide Published

A 240-page, full-color field guide to the whales, birds, fish and other marine life of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary has just been published. Filled with stunning photographs and artwork, the book delights the reader with the rich treasury of the Sanctuary's resources. Sections of the book, written by Nathalie Ward of the Center for Coastal Studies and printed by Down East Books, cover whales and whaling, fish and fishermen, sea birds, and the food web. The first edition retails for $14.95; copies of subsequent print runs will go for $16.95 each. The book is available at many of the stores affiliated with whalewatch operations, the Center for Coastal Studies shop in Provincetown, and other bookstores.

Whalewatching Grows Around the World

According to a new report from the Whale & Dolphin Conservation Society (Bath, United Kingdom), 50 independent countries and 15 overseas territories or dependencies, including Antarctica, have at least some level of commercial whale watching. The United States leads the field with 3,600,000 whale watchers recorded in 1994, up from 3,243,025 in 1991. Based on these numbers and local estimates, the Stellwagen Bank/Jeffreys Ledge area probably attracts about 11% of the total U.S. whalewatching public. Worldwide, the number of whale watchers stands at 5,425,506. Erich Hoyt, the report's author, notes that several communities have been transformed by whale watching with substantial economic, educational, and/or scientific impacts, including: Provincetown, Mass., U.S.A.; Friday Harbor, Washington, U.S.A.; Lahaina, Hawaii, U.S.A.; Ogata, Japan; Andenes, Norway; and Dingle, Ireland. Although whale watching seems to be leveling off in the United States, Hoyt reports that the five highest rates of increase between 1991 and 1994 were: Brazil, Spain, Japan, Argentina, and New Zealand.


Education Digest

MIMIFest Comes to Plymouth

For anyone who has used the curriculum or has seen the series of videos on public television, the Voyage of the MIMI is a memorable experience. In May, the Sanctuary sponsored the first annual MIMIFest in Plymouth -- bringing the MIMI -- an actual 72-foot sailing ketch -- to the State Pier while hosting four days of activities. Over 1,400 students got to tour the ship, meet Peter Marston (aka Captain Granville), take a harbor cruise, and participate in marine studies workshops. Scrimshaw, knot-tying and net-mending (and its relationship to fisheries issues), a planetarium show on celestial navigation, identification of the whales of Stellwagen Bank, and weather forecasting rounded out the program. A teacher's conference led off the week's activities on May 22. The Sanctuary intends to host an expanded MIMIFest next year.

Northward Ho! or Following the Great Whales on the Internet

From Groundhog's Day through June 1, the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary served as one of the contact points for an innovative education program that followed the northward advance of spring and migrations of various species. The Journey North program, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, looked at leaf-out (the first buds of spring) and ice-out (the last signs of ice on once-frozen lakes) as well as the spring migrations of monarch butterflies, northern orioles, american robins, common loons, caribou, peregrine falcons, bald eagles, leatherback turtles, humpback whales and northern right whales. For some of these species, students e-mailed in sighting reports; for other species, not as easily located, experts provided the tracking reports. The Sanctuary prepared a weekly log on whale sightings along the east coast from a network of whale researchers, whale watch operators, and government agency whale specialists from as far south as the Dominican Republic to as far north as Newfoundland. The Sanctuary also provided background information on whale biology and behavior, as well as whale information from other Sanctuaries in the national system. The Sanctuary is planning to continue participating in the Journey North program next spring. For more information, contact the Sanctuary or the Journey North program at 125 North First Street, Minneapolis, MN 55401; (612) 339-6959; e-mail

Student-Produced Video Highlights Sanctuary

A graduate student from Emerson College has prepared an outstanding 20-minute video about the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary as her master's thesis project. Amy Young, majoring in television production, co-wrote, co-produced, and directed the show which details the geological history of the Bank, the Sanctuary designation process , and the on-going work of the Sanctuary staff and associated researchers. Creative Resources Group of Plymouth donated narration, music and audio services; while videotape footage was donated by Robert Brown of Passage Productions, Inc., National Undersea Research Center at Avery Point, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Associated Scientists of Woods Hole. Plans call for distributing the videotape to libraries, schools, exhibit centers, and other education outlets.

Stellwagen and the Aquanauts

GOING DOWN! They are diving in submersibles to the Bank, studying its wealth of resources with remotely-operated vehicles, and listening to its sounds with sonar equipment. No these aren't research scientists from marine research institutions -- these are high school students from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut who are participating in the Aquanaut program of the National Undersea Research Center at the University of Connecticut, Avery Point. The students will travel to Stellwagen Bank to pursue studies in benthic (sea bottom) biology, ocean acoustics -- impacts of low frequency noise on whales -- and other topics. After completing the data gathering cruises, the students will analyze their information and write research papers which they will present in the fall. For more information on this project, contact the Sanctuary or the National Undersea Research Center at (203) 445-3483.

Massachusetts-Georgia Link for Education

What do Massachusetts and Georgia have in common? They both have named the northern right whale as their state marine mammal. They both also have National Marine Sanctuaries offshore -- Gray's Reef off Savannah and Stellwagen Bank at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay. The two Sanctuaries are collaborating on a right whale education package that will include an oversize poster and workbook that details the history of the whale and whaling, anatomy and physiology, behavior and migration, and conservation efforts. In addition, the Sanctuaries are jointly funding the production of a 20-minute video by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources which will include amazing film footage of right whale mating behavior in the Bay of Fundy, the right whales summer feeding and breeding ground. Right whales spend the spring in Cape Cod Bay and sections of Stellwagen Bank and pregnant females travel to the shallow waters off the Georgia and northern Florida coast for calving. For more information on the educators package, contact the Sanctuaries this fall.

Research Reports

Who's Who and What's What Among Sanctuary Invertebrates?

In an effort to better understand what types of prey groundfish are seeking, and to understand the effects of trawling on these animals, Dr. Les Watling and a team from the University of Maine will study the marine life of the Sanctuary's seafloor this summer. Based on images from remotely operated vehicles and side-scan sonar, the research team has selected five different habitat types for study. Using an apparatus called the Smith-McIntyre grab sampler, the researchers will identify and count the invertebrates (animals without backbones such as worms, clams, sand dollars, etc.) found in the sand, mud, or gravel. At least five "grabs" will be done for each site. This small project will form the basis of a larger and longer-term (3-year) project already funded by Maine Sea Grant which is scheduled to start in February 1996. That study is designed to assess the effects of trawling on bottom communities and to investigate patterns of benthic (seafloor) habitat recovery following the end of trawling.

Tiny Creatures with Big Roles

For the great circle of life in the Sanctuary, the little creatures on the sea floor and in the water column play important roles. A researcher from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington is looking at links between benthic microalgae (small single-celled plants living on the seafloor) and dermersal zooplankton (free-floating animals, such as shrimp-like copepods and krill). These organisms are an important part of the marine food chain -- zooplankton eat the algae, and fish, birds, and whales eat the zooplankton. Dr. Lawrence Cahoon and his team want to determine if there are differences in the types and amounts of algae and zooplankton in dragged versus protected areas. Studies during the summer of 1995 will include placement of demersal zooplankton traps and a benthic microalgal lander (for measuring oxygen exchange -- a good indicator or the amount of photosynthetic material). If available, a remotely-operated vehicle will also be used for sampling.

Understanding Fish Habitats

What roles do different types of sea floors have on the numbers and types of fish that live there? A research program proposed by the National Undersea Research Center at the University of Connecticut, Avery Point will begin to clarify those roles. Some examples of habitat features associated with mobile fauna (such as fish, crustacea, and bivalves) include: skates, crabs and hermit crabs with coarse sand deposits on top of the Bank; snake blenny , alligatorfish, sculpin, and ocean pout with sand-silt areas along the southwestern flank; juvenile cod and scallops in areas of sand waves and shell deposits. The goal of Peter Auster and his team is to develop a better picture of the role that landscape features play on the distribution of organisms. Through this process, scientists can better understand if particular areas serve as nursery, breeding, or feeding grounds for commercially important species. By better understanding who lives where and when, marine resource managers can better protect exploited species at critical points in their life cycles.

Getting to the Bottom of Things

The geological history of Stellwagen Bank is relatively simple -- it was created (as was Cape Cod) by the last great ice sheet that deposited sand and gravel during its northward retreat. In geological terms this happened only recently, about 18,000 years ago. But what of the underlying bedrock. Dr. Robert Oldale of the U.S. Geological Survey reports that these rock formations may have a history that spans more than 500 million years. A 1994 study using seismic soundings showed that the deepest rock below the bank resembles bedrock exposed at the surface in eastern Massachusetts (which ranges in age from 570 million years old when there was little life on earth to 150 million years when dinosaurs roamed). Between the bedrock and the glacial deposits, scientists have recorded rock layers that resemble the strata under the coastal plain of New Jersey (ranging in age from 140 to 5 million years). These sedimentary deposits were eroded by rivers and streams, beginning the process that would shape the present bank. Successive glaciers, in their turn, swept away most of the coastal plain deposits, leaving behind only remnants of sedimentary rock and carved basins in the bedrock. The retreat of the Laurentide Ice Sheet of the last ice age created the bank that we know today.

Sanctuary Research Plan in Development

On April 6, 1994, over 60 scientists and resource managers from across New England came together in Plymouth to assist the Sanctuary in identifying specific scientific research projects the Sanctuary should encourage, support, and facilitate over the next five years. The workshop, organized by Peter Auster and Ivar Babb of NOAA's National Undersea Research Center at the University of Connnecticut, with logistical support provided by the Urban Harbors Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, focused on three broad research categories: baseline studies to determine features and processes of the environment, including abundance, distribution, and interactions among living marine resources and patterns of human activities; monitoring studies to document changes in ecological processes and patterns, environmental quality, and human activities; and, predictive studies to assess causes and effects of ecological and environmental changes. A summary document details the workshop recommendations which cover a broad spectrum of issues, all focused on providing information to enhance the effective management of Sanctuary resources. The document is being used as the basis for the Sanctuary's formal research plan, which will ultimately be incorporated into the Sanctuary management plan. Copies of the Workshop Summary are available from the Sanctuary office.

Special Report Prepared for the New England Fishery Management Council

The New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC), seeking innovative management strategies, and attempting to effectively address the burgeoning interest in activities such as mariculture, is developing policies to guide them in identifying and designating "special management areas" or SMAs. While regional fisheries management councils have had this authority for years under the Magnuson Act (the federal statute focused on fishery management), only recently have they begun to identify potential uses for SMA designations. To assist the New England Council in developing its SMA policies, the Sanctuary has prepared a special report, delivered to the Council in January 1995, entitiled "Use of Special Management Areas by Fishery Management Councils: Examples and a Case Study." As the title suggests, the report details examples of the use of the SMA designations by regional councils, with a focus on the groundbreaking work of the South Atlantic Council in an area known as Oculina Bank off northern Florida. Copies of the report are available from the Sanctuary office.

A second special report is currently in preparation which will make recommendations regarding the process by which SMA designations are made. The report focuses on guidelines for submission of proposals, possible decisionmaking criteria, and some observations on implementation and oversight of designated areas.


Left Turn or Right

Was it right at the bank and left at the river? Or vice versa? For some whales, those long distance migrations don't always go as smoothly as Mother Nature planned.

On December 3, 1994, a right whale was spotted off Penns Landing, Philadelphia in the Delaware River -- some 80 miles from the ocean (it eventually reached 100 miles upriver). The animal seemed disoriented and was bumping into vessels with audible thuds which produced bloody wounds on its head. Researchers thought the animal might be entangled in debris since it was swimming at an unusual angle. However, after more study, the rescue crew decided that the animal was not entangled.

The team then tried to guide the whale out of the river by playing female right whale sounds to attract it and killer whale sounds to scare it (killer whales or orcas prey on young right whales). The would-be rescuers had nets ready to capture the whale if that option became necessary. In the end, the whale swam out of Delaware Bay on December 10th and continued on out into the ocean.

The rescuers determined that the whale was a juvenile male and named him Shackleton after Sir Ernest Shackleton, a not-so-very successful Antarctic explorer who survived ten danger-filled months on the Antarctic ice without a ship before leading all his men to safety. It was felt that Shackleton the whale had also encountered his greatest hardship and survived. Although Shackleton may have suffered some damage during his sojourn up the river (he was hit by at least one boat -- a tug), the researchers hope to see him in the Bay of Fundy this summer or perhaps Stellwagen Bank next spring. Although he wasn't seen in Cape Cod Bay this year, scientists were not surprised. The whale's older sibling, born in 1990, was not seen for four years after its birth -- so Shackleton may just be following family tradition. That earlier sibling and Shackleton's mother had also been seen near Delaware Bay, so the area may be a sort of landmark for this family. Perhaps Shackleton just wasn't paying attention when his Mom showed him the route the first time.

Information on Shackleton provided by Phil Hamilton, Right Whale Research Group, New England Aquarium.

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