to Establish Advisory Council
Banknotes-A Quiet Eye in the Sky
Blubber--Fat with a Message
Getting to Know the Big-Winged New Englanders
Whale Behavior Guide
Chow Time for Humpbacks
Stellwagen and the Aquanauts
to Establish Advisory Council
boats and whale watching vessels ply the waters in quest of their
prey. Researchers plumb its depths in the interest of science.
Educators and their charges rediscover its history and observe
its present state. The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
means many things to many different audiences.
better serve these interests and to develop a sounding board for
Stellwagen Bank-related programs and projects, the Sanctuary is
developing a 15-member Advisory Council. Seats on the Council
will be allocated to representatives of major user groups, including
commercial interests, research, education and outreach, environmental
and conservation groups, and two at-large seats. Representatives
from federal, state and regional government agencies as well as
regional Congressional offices will serve as ex-officio members
to the Council.
Sanctuary has solicited letters of interest from the public and
will announce the names of the Advisory Council by early summer.
Membership will include five representatives of commercial interests,
including fixed and mobile-gear fishing, party and charterboat
operations, recreational fishing and boating, and whalewatching.
There will be one seat allocated to research, three for environmental
and conservation groups, four for education and outreach, and
two representatives of the general public. In future years, the
Sanctuary will also seek a representative from the social science/economics
the present time, plans call for the Advisory Council to meet
twice yearly to discuss issues relating to the National Marine
providing advice on opportunities for funding options for Sanctuary
advising the Sanctuary Manager on planning for the use, development,
and maintenance of Sanctuary facilities.
advising and assisting in building support for the Sanctuary
and in the development of and informed constituency.
providing an interface to various segments of the community.
advising the Sanctuary Manager and Education Coordinator on
means of enhancing public awareness, understanding, and appropriate
use of the marine environment through educational and interpretive
advising the Sanctuary Manager and Research Coordinator on priority
research and monitoring needs, proposals, and reports.
advising the Sanctuary Manager and staff on the effectiveness
of Sanctuary regulations in providing adequate resource protection,
and providing management recommendations.
advising the Sanctuary Manager on the effectiveness of surveillance
and enforcement efforts.
providing information and advice on appropriate permits and
proposals, as requested by the Sanctuary Manager.
providing assistance to the Sanctuary Manager in identifying
human uses in the Sanctuary and facilitating those uses consistent
with the primary objective of resource protection.
will serve for one, two or three-year terms (based on luck of
the draw during the first year); all subsequent seats will offer
a three-year term. The Sanctuary has determined that, in order
to best meet the needs of the public and to reach the broadest
possible public, terms will be limited to three years (except
for first term advisors drawing one and two-year terms; they will
be allowed to serve a second term if so willing). The first meeting
of the Advisory Council will be held in early summer.
is a National Marine Sanctuary?
In response to a growing awareness of the intrinsic natural, cultural,
and historical value of our oceanic and coastal waters, Congress
passed the National Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries
Act in 1972. The goal of National Marine Sanctuaries is to promote
comprehensive management of special ecological, historical, recreational,
and aesthetic marine resources. These Sanctuaries may be designated
in coastal and ocean waters, in submerged lands, and in the Great
Lakes and their connecting waters. Fourteen National Marine Sanctuaries
have been designated to date and include near-shore and open ocean
waters ranging in size from less than 1 to more than 5,000 square
Sanctuaries Belong to All of Us
Grassroots support is vital to the success of marine sanctuaries.
Without grassroots support in the nomination and designation process,
and continued public involvement in day-to-day operations, they
would not exist. National Marine Sanctuaries are cherished recreational
spots for diving, sport fishing, and wildlife viewing, and support
valuable commercial industries such as fishing, boating, and tourism.
These protected waters provide a secure habitat for species close
to extinction, and protect historically significant shipwrecks
and cultural artifacts. Once designated, sanctuaries belong to
all of us, and come with a responsibility to preserve these special
places for our children, and their children.
Marine sanctuaries strive to protect entire ecosystems by balancing
resource protection with commercial, recreational, cultural, scientific,
and educational uses. Marine sanctuaries are where we earn our
living , experience the thrill of a whale watch or a first scuba
dive, teach our children, connect with our cultural past, and
research natural and human processes. Our challenge is to balance
these and other important uses with long-term protection of the
Are a Good Investment
Sanctuaries are excelling in every phase of marine resource management:
research, education, community involvement, volunteerism, international
relations, state-federal partnerships. One of the most important
roles a sanctuary plays is bringing people together. With a $12
million federal budget for 14 marine sanctuaries and two more
in the designation process, we look to partners to join us in
our resource protection efforts. The list of partners include
local and state governments, large and small businesses, environmental
organizations, other federal agencies, and thousands of citizens.
sanctuaries are important for all Americans, not just those living
along the coast.
our coasts and oceans is as important for people living in Iowa,
Kansas, or Colorado, as it is for those in Florida, California,
or Hawaii. Our oceans and Great Lakes provide jobs, act as our
favorite vacations spots, serve as natural classrooms for children
across the country, hold the secrets to our past and the promises
for the future. They are a national trust that we all have a responsibility
to protect and enjoy.
can I help?
National marine sanctuaries need your support. When visiting sanctuary
waters, comply with all rules and regulations, and assist in spreading
the word. Staff are receptive to suggestions and comments from
user groups about sanctuary-related issues and programs. And,
or course, donations of equipment, photography, artwork, and volunteer
time are always welcome. These are your sanctuaries. Enjoy them
today, but let's also work together so that future generations
may appreciate these same resources tomorrow.
Marine Sanctuary Quiz
Some of the richest shellfishing grounds in the world are found
within this sanctuary. It also contains the largest bald eagle
population in the continental U.S. The strong cultural history
here indicates that the area has been revered as a sanctuary by
Native Americans for centuries.
This sanctuary has such diverse habitats and rich seasonal upwellings
that it supports both warm and cold water species of marine life.
It is also known for its spectacular underwater canyon and significant
The northern-most coral reefs on the North American continental
shelf are found in this sanctuary. These vibrantly colored coral
reefs, the envy of any botanical garden, may be as much as 15,000
This was the very first to be designated as a National Marine
Sanctuary. It is only one nautical mile in diameter, yet it is
of great historical significance -- it protects the wreck of an
important Civil War vessel.
5. This tiny, remote area, the only U.S. National Marine Sanctuary
located south of the equator, protects nearly 200 species of coral
that form a fringing reef around an eroded volcano crater.
Not only is this sanctuary the home of one of the largest limestone
(or hardbottom) reefs, it is also near one of the only known calving
grounds for the endangered Northern Right Whale.
This sanctuary of offshore, nearshore and intertidal habitats
completely surrounds a National Park. Aside from a wealth of wildlife,
the sanctuary also contains significant ancient Indian artifacts
and many historical shipwrecks.
This sanctuary now incorporates two older sanctuaries, with a
grand total of 2,800 square nautical miles of bay waters, mangrove
islands, seagrass meadows and coral reefs that support a rich
array of tropical marine life.
Located on the edge of the western continental shelf, this sanctuary's
bank rises to 115 feet below the surface, while only a few miles
away there are water depths of 6000 feet or more. This small sanctuary
shares its staff and headquarters with another nearby sanctuary.
Host to many marine mammals (including the endangered blue whales,
California sea lions and elephant seals), this sanctuary is also
home to the largest concentration of breeding seabirds in the
continental U.S. California's largest breeding population of harbor
seals can be found here, too.
This sanctuary's prominent submarine feature was created by glacial
activity about 15,000 years ago. It is surrounded by a variety
of marine habitats that support a rich diversity of marine life.
It is also a popular summer feeding ground to several species
of migrating marine animals and birds, including the endangered
northern right whale.
After feeding in Alaska's food rich waters, humpback whales migrate
3,000 miles to spend their winters in this tropical paradise.
Aside from its beauty, this sanctuary's warm, shallow waters are
ideally suited for the humpback's mating and calving activities.
to Sanctuary Quiz: 1. Olympic Coast NMS 2. Monterey Bay NMS
3. Flower Garden Banks NMS 4. Monitor NMS 5. Fagatele Bay NMS
6. Gray's Reef NMS 7. Channel Islands NMS 8. Florida Keys NMS/
including Key Largo NMS & Looe Key NMS 9. Cordell Bank NMS 10.
Gulf of Farallones NMS 11. Stellwagen Bank NMS 12. Hawaiian Island
Humpback Whale NMS
-- A Quiet
Eye in the Sky
Bank National Marine Sanctuary sees its share of unusual creatures.
Take the goosefish, for example. This outlandish denizen of the
ocean bottom calmly sits partially buried in the sand waving its
own fishing lure. Any animal foolish enough to investigate the
possible prey, becomes prey itself. Or, for another example, take
any of the annelids or sea worms that together may
account for over 15% of the benthic (ocean bottom) biomass at
Stellwagen Bank. Some of these segmented worms even have gills.
Among the birds, the razorbills, who are related to puffins and
murres, seem just as comfortable in the water as the air.
perhaps the most unusual "creature" out at Stellwagen Bank, sporadically
seen over the past few years, has been an oversized and seemingly
quite ungainly "bird" of a different color. Two years ago Blimpus
gulfus (the Gulf Oil airship or blimp) circled Stellwagen Bank
searching out its prey the great whales -- while later
that year Blimpus fuji (the Fuji Film blimp) continued the effort.
Hain, a marine mammal researcher for the National Marine Fisheries
Service, has been enlisting the aid of the nation's airship fleet
for his whale research. Slow moving, stable, and, most importantly,
quiet, the blimps provide an ideal platform for studying whale
behavior in a non-intrusive manner. When whales are spotted, the
airship, unlike a plane, can hover in place for continued observations
and photography. And unlike helicopters, the blimps cause no downdrafts
or noise, other than the subdued hum of their directional engines.
the summer of 1993 the MetLife blimp flew several tracks over
Stellwagen Bank and the southern portion of Jeffreys Ledge, allowing
the scientists on board to get a "bird's-eye" view of fin whales,
humpback whales, and white-sided dolphins. The next year, the
Gulf blimp and the Fuji blimp were used to study diving behavior
of fin whales (a study that is next to impossible with airplanes
or ships due to the inability for on-board observers to identify
individual whales and track their movements) as well as the feeding
behaviors of these and other endangered large whales. Hain hopes
for another visit this year by a member of the airship fleet.
blimp flights also offer Sanctuary personnel and scientists a
chance to more closely monitor interactions between protected
species and humans, and to evaluate the effects of close approaches
between whales and vessels. With increased interest in whale watching,
an increasing number of vessels are heading out to Sanctuary waters
where whales and humans meet, occasionally with serious and potentially
fatal consequences (usually to the whales). However, Hain indicates
that preliminary analysis seems to indicate that the nonconfrontational
meetings (where whales and humans eye each other with curiosity
or where whales totally disregard the human visitors) may have
little effect on the whales' lifestyles.
if you see an unusual "bird" hovering over the waters of the Stellwagen
Bank National Marine Sanctuary, it may not be something listed
in any of the marine guidebooks. Instead, this migratory, mechanical
visitor to our waters (most commonly seen elsewhere at sporting
events) may be contributing to our storehouse of knowledge about
the marine ecosystem.
Boundaries on Electronic Maps
C-MAP, the world's leading designer and manufacturer of electronic
charts and charting systems, is now including sanctuary boundaries
in its data bases. Beginning with Stellwagen Bank National Marine
Sanctuary, which will be highlighted on all Massachusetts Bay
maps, C-MAP/USA has agreed to incorporate sanctuary boundaries
whenever appropriate regional charts are revised. Stellwagen Bank
Sanctuary Manager Brad Barr provided coordinates for the national
network of sanctuaries to the company. Each data cartridge, in
addition to outlining sanctuary boundaries, offers a link to a
dialog box which provides more information about the sanctuary,
including address and phone number. C-MAP received the National
Marine Electronics Association's award for Best Electronic Charts
for the second consecutive year this past fall. The company's
chart library includes more than 9,000 digitally stored electronic
charts covering all major areas and ports of interest worldwide.
Its USA subsidiary is based in Mashpee, Mass.; its World Wide
Web site, which provides easy access to quick reference charts
of specific areas of interest, is located at http://www.c-map.com.
Guard Educates Boaters About Sanctuary
A coordinated boater education effort kicked-off on Memorial Day
weekend and will continue throughout the summer, sponsored by
the U.S. Coast Guard, the Coast Guard Auxiliary and the Sanctuary.
The program aims to advise boaters about Sanctuary regulations
and proper boating techniques around whales. The Sanctuary is
the summer feeding grounds for several species of whales, including
endangered humpbacks and fin whales, as well as minkes and the
occasional sei, orca, and sperm whales. Another common visitor
is the white-sided dolphin. The northern right whale, the most
endangered great whale, has been spotted in the southern part
of the Sanctuary during the spring when it comes to feed on rich
copepod patches here and in Cape Cod Bay, and has also been seen
sporadically throughout the summer. The joint project with the
Coast Guard will provide on the water education, as well as instruction
through Auxiliary-sponsored courses.
Characterization Study Going On-Line
A newly delivered site characterization for the Stellwagen Bank
National Marine Sanctuary will be available on-line to visitors
of the Sanctuary's home page on the World Wide Web (http://vineyard.er.usgs.gov).
The characterization provides an overview on the environmental,
historical, and cultural conditions that shaped the Sanctuary.
The history of whaling, fishing and vessel traffic (and shipwrecks)
are detailed, as well as the physical oceanography, sediments,
water quality, benthic community structure, marine mammals, fish,
and seabird populations. Conservation issues are discussed, as
well as ocean disposal, fisheries management, and mariculture.
A complete bibliography on topics related to Stellwagen Bank is
included. The study was compiled by the Urban Harbors Institute
at the University of Massachusetts/Boston with contributions from
the Center for Coastal Studies.
Works with Children's Museums
What could be more exciting than taking a voyage underwater or
on top of the water? Not much, or so it seems at several children's
museums in Massachusetts. The Sanctuary is helping to bring the
excitement of ocean exploration to children at the Cape Cod Children's
Museum through a new exhibit that lets children see live fish,
view videotapes from Stellwagen Bank, study photographs of fish
and other sea creatures, map tracks on detailed charts of the
Sanctuary, and work with other hand-on activities. All of these
exhibits will be housed in a simulated "submersible" (actually
a small room) with video screen and fish tank. The Sanctuary has
also provided materials to the Boston Children's Museum which
is opening a new ports and harbors exhibit. Sanctuary produced
boating education material will be available there as well as
displays of Sanctuary posters and charts. The Sanctuary hopes
to develop cooperative efforts with other local and regional museums
in the future.
Needed; Donations Gladly Accepted
The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is seeking a volunteer
corps of "Stellwageneers" who can assist in our education and
outreach efforts. Of particular need are educators (retired teachers,
amateur naturalists, college and graduate students, and anyone
else with a love for the marine environment) who can staff Sanctuary
exhibits at fairs, conferences, and other public events, and who
can travel with the Sanctuary's right whale education program.
Volunteers will receive instruction about the Sanctuary and its
history, the resources at Stellwagen Bank, and major issues of
regional concern. The Sanctuary is also in need of artwork and
photography, computer expertise in graphics and animation, exhibit
design and construction, and, occasionally, clerical assistance.
To volunteer, please contact the Sanctuary at (508) 747-1691 or
send in the response card on the bottom of this page.
-- Fat with a Message
biologists have suspected that pollutants from industry and agriculture
could be hindering the recovery of marine mammals such as humpback
and right whales. But evidence on the extent of the problem has
eluded them. Researchers believe that unlike oil spills or encounter
with ships and fishing gear, the consequences of toxins are more
insidious than dramatic, and are therefore difficult to measure.
Toxic chemicals, such as PCPs and the pesticide DDT, work their
way up the food chain, from zooplankton, to fish, to whale, and
accumulate in the higher predators over many years. Scientists
fear that at high enough concentrations, these toxins could increase
a whale population's susceptibility to stress and disease, decrease
the birth rate, or even lead to birth defects.
the past, scientists could only gather information on the bioaccumulation
of pollutants by dissecting dead whales that had washed up on
shore. Now, scientists are taking advantage of a new source of
information -- the hundreds of biopsies extracted from humpback
whales in the Gulf of Maine and throughout the North Atlantic.
Haebler, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientist in Narragansett,
Rhode Island, is analyzing blubber from these biopsies for signs
of toxic chemicals. "There is a wide spectrum of organic chemicals
that we know are in the ocean," said Haebler. "These tests will
help us determine which ones are coming through the food chain."
hopes to gather baseline data on the concentrations of toxins
in healthy whales. In the future, scientists will be able to use
these data to study trends in bioaccumulation of toxins. For example,
they will be able to compare chemical concentrations in whales
before and after the extension of the outfall pipe from Boston
Harbor into Massachusetts Bay.
advantage of gathering information from biopsies is that scientists
can correlate the concentrations of pollutants in an individual
whale with the whale's sex and genetic composition. Haebler says
that she will also be able to coordinate with scientists who track
humpbacks to determine whether there is a relationship between
bioaccumulation and the age of the whale and where the whale has
"It's a marvelous opportunity," she said.
to Know the Big-Winged New Englanders
first, only the "footprints" were visible -- evenly-spaced patches
of swirling water, stirred by the pumping massive flukes. Then
dark shadows and neon- green shapes appeared below the surface,
gliding towards the whale watchers. Finally, the shadows took
form. The green shapes transformed into long, wing-like fins.
A mother humpback whale and her calf broke the surface in unison,
sharply expelled clouds of mist through their blow holes, then
arched back under. The pair reemerged less than 50 feet from the
idling boat, the nursing calf now on the opposite side of its
mother. The whales surfaced several more times before the captain
maneuvered the boat away so that other whale-watch cruises could
take their turn.
than any of the other great whales, humpbacks entertain. Seeing
these whales throw their 45-foot, 40-ton bodies out of the water
and perform the ultimate backflop, or roll around slapping their
fins and tails on the water, is an unforgettable experience.
whales (Megaptera novaeangliae or "big-winged New Englanders)
are found throughout the world's oceans from Alaska to the Antarctic
despite their regionally-associated scientific name. In the North
Atlantic, humpbacks spend their summers feeding in the Gulf of
Maine and off the coasts of Canada, Greenland, and Iceland. As
winter approaches, the whales migrate thousands of miles south
to courtship and calving grounds in the Caribbean. [See sidebar
on Silver Bank.]
one time, spotting humpbacks in the productive waters over Stellwagen
Bank was almost a sure thing. Brian Forist, a naturalist for the
Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises in Barnstable on Cape Cod, and a
veteran whale observer, says that in the late 1980s, whale watch
customers typically saw a dozen humpbacks per trip. But over the
past few years, the situation has changed. Although the number
of humpbacks at the bank declined to much smaller numbers, a few
whales still make regular appearances and occasionally mother-calf
pairs may wander by.
the humpbacks have not disappeared entirely from the Stellwagen
Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the Gulf of Maine. They have
just moved. Last summer, fishers, whale watchers, and scientists
reported seeing dozens of whales feeding over the Great South
Channel southeast of Cape Cod. Smaller groups of whales have gathered
along Jeffrey's Ledge northeast of Gloucester (part of which is
in the Sanctuary) and the along ledges paralleling the Maine coast.
Among these whales, researchers have identified 25 new calves.
and other observers agree that the humpbacks have shifted locations
because their prey has shifted. These baleen whales feed on small
schooling fish such as sand lance, herring, and capelin, and on
tiny shrimp-like crustaceans called krill. Mason Weinrich, chief
scientist at the Cetacean Research Unit in Gloucester, says that
during the peak of humpback abundance in the 1980s, the bank was
thick with sand lance. Then over the past several years, sand
lance on the bank declined, herring further offshore multiplied,
and humpbacks moved a short distance to where these fish are flourishing.
humpback populations is not only important to the whale-watch
industry, it is also critical to scientists figuring out how best
to preserve them. Although humpbacks are faring better than the
beleaguered northern right whales, numbering in the thousands
instead of the hundreds, scientists don't know whether the population
is recovering from centuries of hunting. During the 1800s, New
England supported a small humpback whaling industry. Extensive
commercial whaling continued on in Canadian, Caribbean, and the
Antarctic waters until the International Whaling Commission banned
commercial hunting in the 1960s. Despite 30 years of international
protection, humpbacks are still listed as endangered in the United
also face other dangers. Approximately 40% of the North Atlantic
humpbacks display scars from colliding with ships or entangling
themselves in fishing gear. Nobody knows how many succumb to these
encounters. Scientists also worry that pollutants, particularly
organic chlorines, may be sapping the strength of the remaining
whales. (See sidebar story on blubber.)
are finally accumulating the information they need to patch together
a profile of the humpback population. David Mattila, a senior
scientist at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, boasts
that the North Atlantic humpback whale population is now one of
the most thoroughly studied groups of marine mammals in the world.
"Everybody looks at our database and drools."
the past 20 years, Mattila, Mason Weinrich, and other scientists,
have combed New England waters aboard research boats and commercial
whale-watch vessels, photographing over 950 whales in the Gulf
of Maine alone. The most intensive effort to gather information
came in 1992 and 1993-dubbed YONAH (Years of the North Atlantic
Humpback). Scientists from seven North Atlantic countries fanned
out from Greenland to the Dominican Republic, photographing over
3,500 whales and taking skin and blubber samples.
keep a file of photos of every whale, each photo marked with the
time and place it was taken. The pictures are equivalent to fingerprints
helping researchers to distinguish one whale from another.
Each whale has a unique black-and-white pattern on the underside
of its flukes and a distinctive shape to its dorsal fin. The photographic
records enable scientists to keep tabs of an individual from year
to year and determine where and how far it travels each season.
They can also discern important reproductive information by monitoring
individuals since calfhood. For example, researchers have learned
that females reach sexual maturity at five years and give birth
every one to two years.
also use these records to count whales. Even the most dedicated
whale watchers can't expect to find every humpback in a particular
area, so instead they use a technique called "mark/recapture."
Scientists "mark" (photograph) as many whales as possible one
year, then return the next year to photograph the whales again.
Then they compare the number of "recaptured" whales (individuals
photographed both years) to the number of whales photographed
only once. If the percentage of recaptured whales is high, scientists
conclude that they have spotted most of the whales in the region.
If it is low, they conclude that they are only finding a small
proportion of the population. Once analyzed, the mark/recapture
data from the YONAH studies should yield the best estimates yet
on the size of the North Atlantic population.
are not the researcher's only tool. Marine biologists have also
armed themselves with crossbows and small, specially-tipped darts.
Like the commercial whalers of old, the scientists in small boats
pursue the whales, and then take aim. Their prize is not the oil
or baleen, but rather a sample of DNA, the whale's genetic material.
The dart penetrates four millimeters into the whale, and extracts
a small plug of skin and blubber. Based on careful observations
of the whales' reactions, scientists have concluded that the whales
hardly feel a thing.
scientists decipher the DNA found in the skin, they not only can
determine an individual's gender, they can trace a whale's family
history back over many generations. Researchers have already established
the maternity of many whales based on studies of mitochondrial
DNA, and are currently trying to establish their paternity. Scientists
will then be able to determine which whales mate with which and
whether there are discreet breeding populations. Researchers are
especially interested in whether only a few males are succeeding
in mating. If the majority of the humpbacks are descended from
only a few individuals or if there substantial inbreeding, harmful
genes could accumulate, stifling the recovery of the population.
intriguing revelation from these studies is that most whales appear
to return to the same summer feeding areas where their mothers
brought them as calves, although they move around within these
areas depending on the prey distribution. Scientists have identified
five distinct feeding aggregations, including a Gulf of Maine
group which may, according to Mattila, contain as many as 1,000
individuals. Other aggregations spend their summers in the Gulf
of St. Lawrence and the waters off of Newfoundland, southwest
Greenland, and Iceland.
the winter, whales from all the feeding groups mingle in the Caribbean
where mating occurs. Scientists are currently trying to determine
whether whales from different feeding groups interbreed.
whales' affinities to certain feeding areas has important conservation
implications, according to David Mattila. "Because the whales
are strongly linked to certain locations, we can't assume that
they will move if the sites are threatened." Governments therefore
will need to pay particular attention to protecting these regions.
while the resident population of whales at Stellwagen Bank may
be low at the present time, scientists are still unsure as to
whether or not the herring and sand lance booms and busts are
cyclical natural phenomenon. It may be that the humpbacks will
return in force one day soon. Even if they don't, other whales,
including finbacks, minkes and white-sided dolphins, continue
to make Stellwagen Bank a destination of choice, offering whale
watching passengers a daily treat.
watching is an exciting and awe-inspiring activity. Whales may
demonstrate a wide range of behaviors that may serve a variety
of functions -- some of which we still do not understand. Here
is a key to some of the more commonly seen behaviors.
This word refers to both the act of breathing and the cloud of
air and condensed water that the whale releases voluntarily at
the surface. Different species of whales have different shaped
blows. Right whales have distinct v-shaped blows, humpbacks have
bushy, medium-height blows (3 to 5 meters or 10 to 16 feet), fin
whales may reach to over 5 meters, and the blue whales have tall,
columnar blows up to 15 meters (49 feet). The occasional sperm
whale has a blow that angles forward and to the left.
In order to dive, the whale will arch its body while moving forward
at the surface (rounding out). Some whales may arch their bodies
more dramatically than others during this diving sequence. The
peduncle is the area of the body between the flukes and the main
After arching its body, the humpback and several other species
may bring their flukes above the surface. If the tail is brought
straight up so that spectators can see the ventral (bottom) side,
it's called fluke-up. At other times the flukes may clear the
water but remain turned down.
Slap or Flipper Slap
Some whales, particularly humpbacks and occasionally rights, will
roll on their sides and slap the water with their pectoral fins.
At other times they may lie on their backs and wave their flippers
in the air before slapping.
Rise or Spyhop
When whales rise vertically out of the water and get their heads
(and eyes) out of the water, it's called spyhopping. The animal
may turn 90-180 degrees around before slipping back into the water.
As the name implies, this behavior entails lifting the tail out
of the water and slapping the water, often quite forcefully. The
whale may do this in either a ventral down or dorsal down position.
Peduncle Slap This behavior has a whale swing the rear portion
of its body, often as far as its dorsal fin, out of the water
and then drop it down sideways onto the water (or another whale).
This behavior includes a quick, horizontal burst through the water
with open mouth, most often associated with feeding.
When whales are seen lolling on the surface, with little movement
and widely spaced blows, they are said to be logging. This may
be a resting (semi-sleeping) behavior.
Time for Humpbacks
humpback whale's flamboyant, often bizarre antics are a delight
to whale watchers, but a puzzle to many scientists. For example,
researchers aren't sure why humpbacks propel themselves out of
the water, an activity that requires a huge amount of energy.
Scientists speculate that the whales may be trying to shed barnacles,
stun fish, or show off to other whales.
is just one example of these whales' complex behaviors. Humpbacks
also display an array of social interactions and feeding methods.
In their wintering grounds, male humpbacks compete fiercely for
mates. But in the summer, whales not only tolerate each other,
they appear to cooperate, especially while feeding. Scientists
have observed male-male, female-female, and male-female pairs
dive and surface in unison within a body length of each other.
Most "associations" appear to be temporary, although researchers
have observed some pairings that have lasted several seasons.
Mason Weinrich from the Cetacean Research Unit in Gloucester,
and Phillip Clapham from the Center for Coastal Studies have studied
these interactions. They speculate that the whales are helping
each other concentrate prey for easy feeding. According to Weinrich,
the whales have different strategies, depending on the species
of fish on which they are dining and whether the fish are close
to the surface or far below.
are the only whales to release clouds of bubbles around their
prey. Scientists hypothesize that the bubbles induce schooling
fish, such as sand lance and herring, to clump together so that
the whale can engulf them in a single gulp.
the 1980s, Weinrich and other researchers observed a new twist
to the bubble-net strategy spreading among humpbacks dining on
sand lance off the Massachusetts coast and commonly on Stellwagen
Bank. As the whales dove, they slapped their flukes against the
water as many as three times, "creating a pretty good sized splash."
The whales then submerged and released bubble clouds under the
spot where they had slapped their flukes. Then they knifed upward,
jaws agape, and emerged with mouthfuls of sand lance. Weinrich
thinks that the tail slapping may stun or confuse the sand lance,
inducing them to clump.
Weinrich first observed the population, none of the whales he
saw were "lobtail feeding." But the number of whales slapping
their tails increased from year to year. By the late 1980s, over
50% of the whales he saw were feeding in this way. Weinrich theorizes
that the humpbacks changed their feeding behavior as the number
of herring declined and sand lance increased, and that whales,
especially younger ones, may have learned this behavior from other
may have another example of the introduction and spread of a new
feeding behavior among a humpback population. From 1989 to 1993,
researchers taking aerial surveys of Stellwagen Bank observed
abrasions and wounds around the jaws of a majority of the humpbacks.
In an article published recently in Marine Mammal Science, scientists
hypothesized that these whales obtained these wounds while bottom-feeding.
Although nobody has actually seen the whales doing so, the scientists
speculate that the whales were scuffing against the bottom, flushing
out burrowed sand lance. The scientists further speculate that
the whales adopted this new feeding method in response to the
changing prey concentrations on Stellwagen Bank.
E.P. Oberlander (courtesy of National Marine Fisheries Service)
Artwork: Mark Gilmore (courtesy of Center for Coastal Studies)
Artwork: Allan Parker (courtesy of Channel Islands NMS) Photo:
Anne Smrcina Photo: Center for Coastal Studies
and USGS Share WWW Home Page
In what is proving to be an exciting and rewarding cooperative
effort, the Sanctuary and the U.S. Geological Service, Atlantic
and Gulf Branch, are developing a shared home page on the World
Wide Web. The Stellwagen Bank Information Center (located at http://vineyard.er.usgs.gov)
offers a wealth of information -- from the latest geological map
products from USGS to the Sanctuary's new right whale curriculum
and site characterization study. Also on-line are animated fly-bys
of the Bank, photographs, and links to sources of additional Stellwagen
Bank-related information. Come visit us on the web.
MIMIFest Returns to Plymouth
Over 1,400 students were treated to tours of the MIMI sailing
vessel in 1995, along with harbor cruises, planetarium shows,
and science workshops. This year, MIMIFest Plymouth, promises
to be an even bigger event with 1,800 students signed up for the
May 20-24 program which complements the Voyage of the MIMI curriculum.
Students and teachers, through videos, computer programs and a
text, have been following the exploits of a (fictional) research
team and ship's crew as they study whales in the Gulf of Maine.
Not surprisingly, the first whale they spot is located at Stellwagen
Bank -- and thus the Sanctuary's interest in the curriculum. The
1996 Fest participants include students from as far away as Indianapolis
and Rochester, NY, as well as many schools in eastern Massachusetts.
Scheduled activities include meeting Captain Granville (actually
Peter Marston in real life, an MIT researcher and owner of the
MIMI), touring the MIMI vessel -- a 72-foot sailing ketch, attending
a planetarium show on celestial navigation at the Plymouth Community
Intermediate School, and participating in workshops on marine
weather by the National Weather Service, fishing techniques, and
whale identification. The Sanctuary intends to make MIMIFest Plymouth
an annual event, and is presently making plans for next year's
North with the Whales
Did you know that right whales and humpback whales migrate --
moving south in the winter and north in the spring just like many
other species of animals? This year the annual treks are being
followed through an Internet-based education program called "Journey
North." The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary's education
coordinator, Anne Smrcina, is the field correspondent -- relaying
information to Journey North on the whales' progress northward
from February (Groundhog's Day) through June. "Although they label
me the 'whale expert' for the project, I see myself as an educator,"
notes Anne. "I, in turn, rely on a group of technical experts
from such places as the Center for Coastal Studies, the New England
Aquarium, and other research institutions to give me the latest
information on whale sightings and scientific insight." The Journey
North Project, which also tracks peregrine falcons, bald eagles,
monarch butterflies, caribou, and several other species besides
whales, has been awarded an Annenberg Grant from the Corporation
for Public Broadcasting as a significant effort in math and science
education. The Sanctuary is pleased to be a part of this innovative
and exciting education effort.
and Curriculum Book Educate About Right Whales
It's 50-feet long, fills a school gymnasium, and generates excitement
wherever it goes. It's the sanctuary's traveling, inflatable right
whale, nicknamed "Lefty," constructed out of plastic sheeting
by the sanctuary staff and a Hingham High School marine science
class. The life-size, walk-in model of a right whale has made
appearances at several sites including the Cape Cod Children's
Museum and the Otis Air National Guard YMCA (where second graders
from Bourne "toured" the whale). In addition, the sanctuary offers
a new curriculum book, geared for middle school teachers but adaptable
to all grades, on the right whale and its history entitled "From
Whaling to Watching." The book also comes with a five-foot long
poster that shows the migration route of the right whale, a cut-away
view of its anatomy, and an external view with comparisons to
humans. The curriculum book and poster was a joint project between
the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary and the Gray's Reef Sanctuary in
Georgia. [The right whale is the state marine mammal of both Massachusetts
and Georgia, and appears on a special Massachusetts environmental
license plate.] Teachers are invited to contact the Sanctuary
to obtain a copies of the book and poster for their classes.
-- A Wealth of Resources at the Bank
More than 3/4 of the species recorded to date are terrestrial,
but if one looks at the higher taxonomic groups, diversity in
the oceans may be considerably greater. In the seas, there are
more phyla and orders -- the big groupings in the classificiation
system. Whereas on land there may be dozens of closely related
species (such as ants in a section of rain forest), in the ocean
there are often several species from a widely diverse assemblage
of phyla, such as sponges (Phylum Porifera), comb jellies (Phylum
Ctenophora), sea urchins and sea stars (Phylum Echinodermata),
lobsters, crabs, shrimp and tiny copepods (Phylum Arthropoda),
bivalves such as clams and scallops (Phylum Molluska), marine
worms (Phyla Annelida and Nemertea), anemones (Phylum Cnidaria),
and marine fish (Phylum Chordata) all within a small, discrete
area. Rather than the splintering at the ends of the twigs, the
marine environment provides support for the many branches of the
taxonomic tree. Due to its high productivity and wealth of resources,
the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary serves as an ideal
location to study local marine biodiversity. To that end, Stellwagen
Bank NMS's education coordinator Anne Smrcina led a three-week
marine strand in a Cape Cod Biodiversity course offered at the
Cape Cod Museum of Natural History this spring (co-sponsored by
the Museum, the Sanctuary, and the Association for the Preservation
of Cape Cod). Assisting in the three-week effort were biologists
focusing on invertebrates and fisheries science from the National
Marine Fisheries Service (Northeast Fisheries Center in Woods
Hole) and a marine mammals specialist. The Sanctuary hopes to
continue education efforts in the area of marine biodiversity
in the future.
and the Aquanauts
bow of the ship dipped down as the crane plucked the small yellow
submersible from the ocean. The submarine settled on deck. Water
streamed off the lights, scoops, and probes that bristled from
the front. The hatch opened. First the pilot, then the two researchers
-- Monica Foster and Julie Brittain emerged.
talked about the fish that they saw along the bottom, and about
the "horrible" spectacle of fish, lobsters, and small sharks caught
in an abandoned drift net. They reported that they had accomplished
the most important mission of their dive. Using one of the submarine's
arms, they had plucked a dozen sea scallops and sand dollars from
ship was now alive with activity. Foster and Brittain climbed
above to plot the course that the submarine had taken. Other researchers
collected water samples and analyzed them for nutrients in the
lab. Two more took the scallops that Foster and Brittain had collected
into one of the ship's labs to measure and dissect them. Once
back on shore, the different organs would be tested for traces
of metals such as cadmium, magnesium, and silver. This project
was part of a multi-year study to determine extent to which scallops
accumulating these toxic metals.
Foster, Brittain, and the others, this cruise aboard a research
vessel culminated a year of intense study and preparation. They
are not veteran scientists. They are high school students from
the Prout School in Wakefield, R.I., getting their first taste
of marine research.
students were taking part in the Aquanaut Program. Directed by
the National Undersea Research Center at the University of Connecticut,
the Aquanaut Program pairs selected classes of motivated students
with marine scientists to conduct research on important environmental
problems. The students and their teachers start preparing up to
a year in advance. They learn basic marine biology, how to design
and analyze an experiment, and how to present and publish their
the summer, the students gather at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass.
They then depart from Gloucester aboard research vessels for day-long
cruises to Stellwagen Bank, Pigeon Hill, or Jeffreys Ledge off
the Massachusetts coast to gather data. In November, all the school
groups come together at the University of Connecticut at Avery
Point to present their findings.
summer, groups of students from six schools in southern New England
participated. Students from Lyman Memorial High School in Lebanon,
Conn. deployed and underwater robot equipped with a video camera
to examine the relationship between the abundance of different
species on fish and the different types of habitat on the ocean
bottom. Students from Montville High School in Oakdale, Conn.
studied whether pingers attached to gill nets would deter dolphins
from entangling themselves. And for the first time, the Aquanauts
included students from the American School for the Deaf. These
students gathered measurements of noise levels at Stellwagen Bank
by lowering microphones in the water. The information gathered
will help scientists determine whether sounds from ships could
alter the behavior of whales.
Peter Scheifele, director of Marine Education Programs at the
National Undersea Research Center, said that the Aquanaut Program
was founded in 1988 "in response to declining interest in science
by high school students." The founders of the program hoped that
by studying problems facing the undersea environments, high school
students would be enticed to pursue science in college and beyond.
the initial years of the program, students took experiential rides
in the submersibles, but did not participate in the research.
Then the teachers started to push to get the students involved
in the investigations. Today, the students experience first hand
how scientists work. Not only do they have a chance to work directly
with the scientists, top students can return the following year
to conduct their own independent research. These "Phase II" students
often receive college credit for their work. So far, 88% of past
Aquanaut students have become college science majors.
the students, the chance to go out on a research vessel, ride
in submersibles, and operate underwater robots was a "once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity. But for students such as Aletha Holmes of Ponagansett
High School in Ponagansett, R.I., working closely with scientists
was one of the most valuable parts of the experience. Holmes and
her classmates collected plankton samples from different, tested
water samples for nutrients, temperature, and conductivity, helped
guide a remote operated vehicle along the ocean floor, and watched
for whales. They were looking for correlations between plankton
densities, the composition of the water, and the presence of whales.
many people have that type of chance," she said. Added Holmes's
classmate Kristy Simeone, "the scientists treated us like we had
brains in our heads."
again high school student Aquanauts will be visiting Stellwagen
Bank National Marine Sanctuary sites, including Stellwagen Bank
and southern Jeffreys Ledge, during the summer of 1996. And, as
was done last year, Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary interns from the
Boston University Graduate Program in Science Journalism will
offer mini-courses in science writing and science journalism to
the high school students. "We all gain from this program," notes
Sanctuary Education Coordinator Anne Smrcina. "The high school
students get hands-on introductions to science and science communication,
the graduate students practice their writing and teaching skills,
the National Undersea Research Center continues important research
programs, and we here at the Sanctuary are able to collect and
disseminate important information about Sanctuary resources."
Landscapes at Stellwagen Bank
Peter Auster (NOAA's National Undersea Research Center at the
University of Connecticut), Page Valentine (U.S. Geological Survey),
and Richard Malatesta (Sea Education Association) are continuing
a study to understand how variations in the underwater landscape
affect the distribution and abundance of fishes and related species.
High resolution side-scan sonar and multibeam bathymetric maps,
produced by the USGS, are being used to plan underwater surveys
using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that holds video and still
cameras, sensors, and a manipulator arm for collecting samples.
Video surveys are used to census fishes, crabs, scallops, and
other mobile species, as well as record characteristics of seafloor
habitats. Data collected in 1994 and 1995 indicate that there
are four relatively distinct fish communities within the Stellwagen
Bank National Marine Sanctuary. A cruise during May 1996, on the
MV Diane G, will survey communities which occur during the winter-spring
period on the bank. Other interesting results from the project
reveal that some habitat types may be of equivalent value to fishes,
such as cobble and shell bottom types. Both contain complex interstices
for small fish and crustaceans to seek shelter. The ROV surveys
have also allowed investigators to identify "sensitive" habitats
on the seafloor, such as areas where sponge "forests" are abundant.
Other ongoing studies are addressing the need to use remotely
sensed data to classify seafloor habitats and predict fish communities
which occur there. Stay tuned... more to come.
Program Provides Matching Funds for Whale Research
The Center for Coastal Studies recently completed its 1996 field
season for the North Atlantic Right Whale Habitat Use Project,
funded in part by NOAA/Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The researchers
are particularly interested in why this endangered species, with
approximately 350 animals in the entire population, spends time
in Cape Cod Bay and the southern section of Stellwagen Bank during
late winter and early spring. Plankton tows show that the whales
are feeding on a rich mixture of zooplankton, particularly copepods
(small shrimp-like creatures each smaller than a grain of rice).
Studies have been looking at these biological characteristics
as well as the physical oceanography of the area. In late spring
and early summer, the whales move to the Great South Channel and
western section of Georges Bank. Both the western (Cape Cod Bay-Stellwagen
Bank) and eastern (Great South Channel) areas were federally designated
as the Northeastern Critical Habitat in recognition of their importance
as feeding and nursery grounds for the right whale. Over the past
10 years, researchers have photographed nearly two-thirds of the
right whales of the North Atlantic Ocean in Cape Cod Bay. In addition
to continuing the photographic documentation, researchers have
been able to observe feeding and socializing behaviors. The goal
of this research is to provide important baseline data that can
be used in the creation of a management and conservation plan
for right whales and their habitats.