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 1998

Sustainable Seas Expeditions Will Explore Sanctuaries
Agenda for the Oceans Released
Noted Marine Explorer to Visit Sanctuary
Coast Guard Auxiliary-Sanctuary Flotilla Formed
Sanctuary Currents
Update on Northern Right Whales--A Species on the Brink
Education Digest
Understanding the Demand for Whalewatching in the Sanctuary
Fishery Closure Provides Unique Research Opportunity
From Sea to Shining Sea -- News from the Nation's Marine Sanctuaries
Sanctuary Studies--White-sided Dolphins 101


Sustainable Seas Expeditions Will Explore Sanctuaries

The nation's 12 National Marine Sanctuaries, including Stellwagen Bank, will be the sites for a new research and education initiative entitled "Sustainable Seas Expeditions."

This five-year, multi-million dollar private-public partnership initiated by the National Geographic Society, the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will explore the huge underwater rim of the United States embraced within the Exclusive Economic Zone (within 200 miles of the coast) with emphasis on the nation's National Marine Sanctuaries. National Marine Sanctuaries are often considered the aquatic equivalents of U.S. National Parks or National Forests.

The Sustainable Seas Expeditions will use new submersibles and special deep water research techniques to link observations made at sea to a communication network among various institutions and classrooms across the country. Dr. Sylvia Earle, a noted marine explorer and scientist, will lead the expeditions into the sanctuaries' watery depths. She will be working from "Deep Worker," a one-person craft with a clear acrylic dome over the pilot's head and shoulders, a touch-screen control system, photo and video capabilities and mechanical arms for collecting samples.

A second Deep Worker with a Sanctuary staff scientist or Sanctuary-affiliated researcher will accompany Dr. Earle on her dives for technical support and safety requirements.

The goals of this program are to: explore the nation's underwater realms; to create awareness about the inextricable link between human health and ocean health; and to inspire an ethic of care and protection for the natural aquatic systems that are vital to human needs.

"This systematic exploration of the nation's marine sanctuaries will provide new insights into how ocean systems operate," reports Brad Barr, Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary Manager. "In some cases, Deep Worker dives will explore areas previously unseen by human eyes," he notes. "But in other sites, including Stellwagen Bank, the dives will provide supplementary data that can help scientists better interpret information collected in previous research cruises."

Although all of the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary has been mapped through recent U.S. Geological Survey and National Undersea Research Center cruises, less than five percent of the global sea has been fully explored. The outgrowth of this exploration, both local and global, has led to an ever expanding set of questions about physical and biological processes rather than a definitive set of answers. The more we find out, the more we realize how complicated our planet's oceans really are and how much of an effect they have on our everyday lives. The 1997-98 El Nino phenomenon confirmed the powerful influence the seas have on the planet. In recent years, awareness has grown of the significance of the ocean as the driving force behind climate, weather, planetary chemistry and fundamental life support functions.

The Sustainable Seas Expeditions program is a public-private alliance forged by the urgent need for a national commitment to assess and understand the nature of the sea in ways that fully complement the nation's commitment to the exploration of space.

In this cooperative initiative, most of the financial burden will be met through contributions from private foundations and industry. Support from the U.S. government will come primarily from the reallocation of existing resources to facilitate the effort.

An initial grant of $5 million has been made by the San Francisco-based Goldman Fund, which has been complemented by a $775,000 commitment from the National Geographic Society, along with significant in-kind communication and outreach resources. NOAA will contribute in-kind personnel, ship support and other services and expertise totaling approximately $2.5 million.

Since the announcement of this program in April, several major marine institutions have indicated their willingness to help support the Expeditions, including: the U.S. Navy; NASA (through the Mission to Planet Earth program); the Jason Foundation; the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute; Mote Marine Laboratory; the Center for Marine Conservation and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Discussions are underway with other agencies, foundations, educational and research institutions and industry to further aid the program.

Notwithstanding its great research and education potential, the most important benefit of the Sustainable Seas Expeditions program will be to focus public attention on the importance of the ocean to all of us, and thus inspire a national commitment to understand and care for the natural systems that sustain us.

Agenda for the Oceans Released

The Center for Marine Conservation and over 120 other groups released an Agenda for the Oceans that spells out the most important actions the United States must take to protect its ocean waters and wildlife. Sent to President Clinton on May 27th, the groups called for adoption of the recommendations at the National Oceans Conference in Monterey, California on June 11-12.

Listed on the Agenda were the following action items: protect and restore America's ocean waters and public health by strengthening the Clean Water Act; revitalize America's marine fisheries by stopping overfishing, reducing bycatch and protecting essential fish habitats; protect endangered marine wildlife by strengthening and adequately funding the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act; expand and strengthen the national marine sanctuaries and protect other critical marine areas; protect America's coral reefs; spur international efforts to protect the oceans by ratifying and implementing the Law of the Sea and other agreements; fashion a U.S. ocean policy for the 21st century that promotes stewardship and education by passing the Oceans Act of 1997 and creating an Ocean Policy Commission; increase funding for ocean research and management; eliminate federal subsidies for activities that harm the environment such as federal flood insurance for development on environmentally sensitive coastal barrier islands; and explore America's marine waters to fully inventory and map wildlife and habitats.

Among the more than 120 groups participating in the development of the Agenda were: the Natural Resources Defense Council, American Oceans Campaign, Seaweb, Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund.


Noted Marine Explorer to Visit Sanctuary

Marine biologist Sylvia Earle – sometimes known as "Her Deepness" – is the 1998 explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society. A major focus of her work for the Society will be support for the new multi-year Sustainable Seas Expeditions.

Dr. Earle has pioneered research on the ecology of marine ecosystems and had led more than 50 expeditions, amounting to 6,000 hours underwater. She also holds numerous diving records, including several to depths of 3,000 feet in a one-man submersible called "Deep Rover."

As explorer-in-residence to National Geographic and Project Director for the Sustainable Seas Expeditions, Dr. Earle will be using, what she calls "an elegant cross between a submersible and a diving suit" to reach depths of 2,000 feet in the sanctuaries. Her dives in the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary will be a lot more shallow, perhaps 200-300 feet. Those dives are tentatively scheduled for October 1999 for observations of fish populations in rock reefs that cannot be observed through traditional submersible or remotely-operated-vehicle operations.

In preparation for those future dives, Dr. Earle is touring the sanctuaries this summer and fall to understand issues and touch base with sanctuary staff, researchers, educators and the public. The former chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (1990-1992) is scheduled to visit Stellwagen Bank later in the summer.

Born on August 30, 1935 in Gibbstown, N.J., Sylvia Earle earned a bachelor's degree from Florida State University and a master's and doctorate from Duke University. She has also been awarded nine honorary doctoral degrees. She is the author of the 1995 book, "Sea Change."

Dr. Earle follows two other explorers-in-residence: polar explorer Will Steger (1996) and high-altitude archaeologist Johan Reinhard (1997). Explorers-in-residence work at the National Geographic Society's Washington, D.C. headquarters on scientific research projects, exhibits, lectures, magazine and television projects and books. They also carry out exploration under the banner of the Society.

Coast Guard Auxiliary–Sanctuary Flotilla Formed

A flotilla of Coast Guard Auxiliarists will be patrolling the Sanctuary this summer as part of a new and unique interagency partnership.

The Sanctuary, administered under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the Department of Commerce, and the Coast Guard, under the Department of Transportation, have agreed to pool resources and support a new flotilla dedicated to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Coast Guard Auxiliary flotillas are usually based in single home ports or in small regions. In this case, the flotilla of boats will be berthed in various locations along the coast, but will be charged with patrolling the Sanctuary, located totally within federal waters between Cape Ann and Cape Cod. Both sea and air patrols will be supported.

The First Coast Guard District had been providing patrols in the Sanctuary as the primary enforcement arm, focusing on sanctuary regulations and endangered species violations. However, Brad Barr, Sanctuary manager, requested additional support because of the large concentration of boats in Sanctuary waters and the large expanse (842 square miles or 638 square nautical miles) of the site.

The solution was to make use of the Coast Guard's large volunteer force. While not capable of any direct law enforcement actions, the Auxiliary can report and document violations to appropriate Coast Guard units or Sanctuary personnel. The primary mission, however, will be to provide education to boaters and to monitor Sanctuary resources.

This tasking of the Auxiliary was made possible under a 1996 law which encompassed support of Coast Guard civil missions, including marine safety and security, environmental protection, and support of other federal agencies. The Auxiliary boat and plane patrols will check to see that Sanctuary regulations are being followed and will note the presence of marine mammals. This timely presence will give the Sanctuary a better picture of visitor uses of the area, and provide a visible presence to deter potential violations of regulations.

Auxiliary vessels and aircraft are also authorized to provide platforms for support of Sanctuary research, including whale behavior studies, tagging programs, water quality and other environmental monitoring. The crews will provide outreach to the boating public through distribution of Sanctuary-prepared literature packets and personal communication. The Sanctuary staff will play a major role in the Auxiliary training program. In an additional training opportunity, several whalewatching operations have donated passage to Auxiliarists to familiarize them with the environment. Companies participating in the program are: Yankee Fleet (Gloucester), Boston Harbor Cruises and New England Aquarium Whalewatch (Boston), Captain Mac (Scituate), Captain John Boats (Plymouth), and Dolphin Fleet (Provincetown).

Only certain Auxiliary vessels will be allowed to join the Sanctuary flotilla. These boats must be at least 32 feet in length and contain a minimum qualified boat crew of four (one of whom may be a trainee). One qualified Sanctuary Observer must also be aboard.

The Sanctuary is providing two sets of transferable gear for use on the patrols. These kits will include inflatable rafts, video cameras, pumps and other safety and monitoring equipment. Patrols will begin this summer and continue into the fall.


Sanctuary Currents

Sanctuary to Begin Management Plan Review this Fall
Management plans are the site-specific documents that the National Marine Sanctuary Program uses to manage individual sanctuaries. These plans set priorities, contain regulations, present existing programs and projects, and guide the development of future activities. Beginning this fall, the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary will begin its management plan review. We are the second sanctuary to undergo this process which is expected to take about 18 months from inception to production of a revised plan. Public involvement through open meetings, scoping sessions and written comments will be sought throughout the process. Members of the sanctuary community can assist us by identifying issues and potential solutions, reviewing the draft management plan and providing us with comments and recommendations for the final plan. If you are interested in participating in this process, please return the survey form on page 2 of this newsletter with the appropriate box checked off.

New Issue of Gulf of Maine Times Available
The summer issue of the Gulf of Maine Times, a publication produced by the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment, is now available. Articles in the issue include: groundfish surveys by the National Marine Fisheries Service, mud flat ecosystems, eelgrass, and ballast water as a vehicle for the invasion of exotic species. For a free subscription to this publication, contact the Times editor at: Gulf of Maine Times, 20 Park Plaza, Suite 1112, Boston, MA 02116, phone 617-728-0543, fax 617-728-0545, e-mail

Sanctuary Monitoring Studied at MIT
Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed an extensive monitoring plan for the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary as part of a graduate class in ocean engineering. Funded by MIT Sea Grant, the project provided the Sanctuary with a well researched plan at no cost to the Sanctuary and gave the class experience in a real-life situation. The program is the subject of an article in the Fall/Winter 1997 issue of NOR'EASTER, Magazine of the Northeast Sea Grant Programs. The magazine is available on-line at For a free copy of the publication, contact the editors at: NOR'EASTER, University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island Sea Grant, Narragansett, RI 02882-1197, or e-mail

Humpback Disentanglement Succeeds
What do you do when you see a whale tied up in line? You call the pros. The pros are the whale disentanglement team of the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Mass., the only federally licensed organization on the east coast that can perform these rescues.

On Friday, May 15, a whalewatch vessel out of Gloucester, the Miss Cape Ann, spotted a whale anchored by gillnet gear which was wrapped around its tail. The whale was located about six miles north of Provincetown in the southwestern corner of the Sanctuary. With easy access (compared to many other rescues further out at sea) the team was able to make its way via 15-foot inflatable to the whale as several whalewatch and Coast Guard vessels kept watch. The team attached buoys to the gear to keep the whale from diving. As the whale tired, the rescuers were able to get close enough to cut away several of the lines. As the whale sped away, rescuers followed close behind for several miles to determine that all of the gear had fallen off and could not present further problems.

The heavy gear was marked with buoys to allow recovery by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Since the area was officially closed to gillnet gear up until that date, the Fisheries Service wants to know if the whale dragged the gear in from legal fishing areas or was caught in illegally set nets. Regulations on legal gillnets require modifications to limit the possibility of entanglement. If this was that type of gear, the researchers would like to determine why it did not work as expected.

If boaters should come across an entangled whale they should never attempt a disentanglement on their own. A call to the disentanglement HOTLINE at 800-900-3622 or the Coast Guard will alert the proper authorities. The boater can assist the effort by staying on station to keep track of the whale and providing up-to-date tracking information to the rescue team.

Recreational Fishing Survey In Development
The National Marine Fisheries Service is currently accepting proposals from contractors who are interested in conducting the 1999-2001 Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey. The survey will be conducted through telephone interviews of 283,000 households and 56,000 dockside interviews with fishermen. The survey has been conducted since 1979 and is used to help assess how recreational fishing benefits the nation's economy and to provide trends in landings and angler participation in fisheries. Previous surveys indicate that more than 200 million pounds of fish are taken eah year on about 70 million saltwater fishing trips by 17 million marine anglers.

Hurricane Season Starts
June 1 marked the start of the 1998 Hurricane Season. NOAA's National Hurricane Center near Miami, Florida keeps a constant watch on oceanic storm-breeding areas for tropical disturbances that may herald the formation of a hurricane. If a disturbance intensifies into a tropical storm (with rotary circulation and wind speeds above 39 miles per hour), the Center will give the storm a name. The 1998 list of names, agreed upon during meetings of the World Meteorologica Organization, are: Alex, Bonnie, Charley, Danielle, Earl, Frances, Georges, Hermine, Ivan, Jeanne, Karl, Lisa, Mitch, Nicole, Otto, Paula, Richard, Shary, Tomas, Virginie, Walter.

Update on Northern Right Whales – A Species on the Brink

The numbers from the calving grounds this past winter were not exactly encouraging — possibly five mother-calf pairs and one calf that was stillborn or died shortly after birth. Bad weather and poor sighting conditions may have contributed to the low numbers, but few sightings of calves in northern waters this spring (and none in Cape Cod Bay) seem to reinforce the pessimism.

Today, the northern right whale is probably the great whale closest to extinction, with only about 300 individuals in the North Atlantic population and even fewer in the North Pacific. With this knowledge, and the fact that the number one known cause of right whale deaths is collisions with ships, researchers and regulators developed a ship reporting program for U.S. critical habitats.

President Supports Reporting
On April 23, President Clinton approved the proposal and will submit it to the International Maritime Organization for their consideration and approval. The plan would require commercial vessels over 150 feet or 300 gross tons to report to the Coast Guard when entering either the northeast critical habitat (encompassing the Great South Channel, southern Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary and Cape Cod Bay) or southeastern habitat (Georgia and north Florida). Reporting information includes name, call sign, course, speed, location and destination. The report would trigger an automatic response from the Coast Guard with basic information on right whales and most up-to-date information on sightings.

The President's support for the program overrode objections from advisers in the Department of Defense and National Security Council who feared loss of security for military ships. Another argument focused on the idea that other countries might attempt to impose reporting zones and limit freedom of navigation. The wording of the proposal attempts to minimize this threat by stipulating that this reporting requirement is an "extraordinary measure" and not a trivial action. It should be noted that there already are several reporting areas in other parts of the world, most notably the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Supporters suggest the military's objections could be solved by having voluntary reporting by Navy vessels so that they would be indistinguishable from other ships at sea, and the suspension of reporting during times of conflict.

The International Maritime Organization, based in London, is responsible for international shipping regulations. The proposal will be submitted in July. This is the first time a whale protection measure has been proposed to this governing body. Approval, if it does happen, may take several months, with implementation beginning in July 1999.

Shipping/Right Whale Workshop
Also in April, the New England Aquarium held a Shipping/Right Whale Workshop for which Sanctuary manager Brad Barr was one of the plenary speakers and chair of the education working group. Recommendations emanating from this workshop included the need: to develop and distribute educational materials to the shipping industry as soon as possible and to develop whale avoidance procedures for inclusion in the International Safety Management Code; to delineate critical habitats on NOAA charts and in other shipping publications (Coast Pilot, Guide to Port Entry); to evaluate the feasibility for expanding the Early Warning Network of aerial overflights for whale sightings; to evaluate other technologies for whale detection or to deter whales from entering dangerous areas; and to study the feasibility of shifting traffic lanes to avoid whale concentrations.

A first step towards these goals is a right whale information brochure for mariners developed by the Center for Coastal Studies and the International Fund for Animal Welfare with funding from MassPort and the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment. A sticker for recreational boaters is being developed by IFAW and the Sanctuary.

Right Whale Alerts Issued for Second Year in Northeast
This year the National Marine Fisheries Service intensified its efforts at locating right whales in the northeastern critical habitat with more numerous aerial surveys. The plane (and occasional helicopter) patrols also gathered vital research information about distribution, reproduction, as well as potential entanglements and mortalities. As in the southern habitat, inclement weather kept many planes grounded. But sufficient flights showed a minimum of 85 right whales in and around Cape Cod Bay between January 4 and April 22, and unexpected concentrations of whales in areas off Block Island and Long Island. In early March, about 30 whales were seen subsurface skim feeding in Provincetown Harbor. Whales continue to feed on copepod patches in the Great South Channel, directly within the east coast shipping lanes.

Sanctuary Sponsors High Speed Vessel Workshop
With an increasing number of high speed vessels crossing Gulf of Maine waters at speeds of 40 knots and more, whale researchers have begun to voice concerns. Are the boats going too fast to spot surfacing whales? Can they stop or change course in time to avoid a collision? Are boat noises causing acoustic problems in the ocean? One particular fear was that the use of a high speed ferry to cross the Bay of Fundy (a primary summer feeding and breeding ground for the right whale). In an effort to clarify issues, the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary hosted a May 11 workshop.

As a result of the meeting, whalewatch operators agreed to meet again to discuss self-regulation measures. And the ferry service in the Bay of Fundy has hired a consulting firm to develop a voluntary whale avoidance plan.

Education Digest

Mall Sponsors Sanctuary Exhibit
In a unique public-private partnership, the Independence Mall, just off Route 3 in Kingston, has developed an exhibit in conjunction with the Sanctuary. "A Window on the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary," located inside the mall and near the Bradlees entrance, offers shoppers a look into the wonders of the national marine sanctuary. Spectacular photographs of species ranging as large as right whales to as small as phytoplankton (photosynthetic one-celled organisms) grace the former information desk. Pearls of marine wisdom as well as nuggets of little-known fact are scattered around the exhibit. Mall tenants have contributed prizes (movie tickets, swedish fish candy, gift certificates) to a children's trivia contest which is based upon the exhibit material. Walden Books has contributed books to a "read-more-about-it" display, and will be sponsoring several book fairs in which part of the day's profits go to sanctuary education programs. The exhibit will be up until November, and may be reinstalled in January after the holiday shopping period.

Frontiers in the Sea on Radio
National Public Radio (NPR) and National Geographic Society have produced a new CD called "Frontiers in the Sea." The hour-long program is a Radio Expedition into the nation's National Marine Sanctuaries. Hosted by Alex Chadwick, the expedition explores fish habitats in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, tracks migrating whales off the California shore, dives to explore fragile coral reefs in the Florida Keys, and explores the coastal waters off Georgia with a marine archaeologist. Copies of the special digital stereo CD are available for sale through NPR. For more information on NPR, Radio Expeditions, or NPR products, call 202-414-3232.

National Geographic Features Sanctuaries
A beetle may have made the cover, but the National Marine Sanctuaries were the lead story in the March issue of National Geographic magazine. With its traditionally astonding underwater and surface photography, National Geographic introduced its readership to the Sanctuary system. A close-up photo into the mouth of a feeding humpback whale at Stellwagen Bank leads off the story which covers the progress, promise and problems associated with each of the 12 sites.

Traveling Exhibits On the Move
The Sanctuary's popular traveling photo exhibit, "Creatures of the Bank: an exploration into the biodiversity of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary," continues to attract viewers. Two versions of the show have been booked for the summer. The Nantucket Whaling Museum installed the exhibit in the main hall (near their fin whale skeleton), while the Salem National Historic Site is scheduled to open its version of the exhibit on July 25th. Smaller subsets of the exhibit are also on display at the New England Aquarium's education center, the Cape Cod National Seashore's Eastham Visitor Center, and the Scituate Public Library. The exhibits were made possible by the gracious donation of photographs by numerous local professional and amateur photographers. Photographers wishing to add their works to the exhibition are invited to contact Anne Smrcina, Sanctuary education coordinator and exhibit curator at 508-747-1691.

Sanctuary to Sponsor Photo Contest
In honor of the Year of the Ocean, the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is organizing a photo contest, targeting resources and uses of marine waters in the Gulf of Maine. Surface and underwater photographs (color or black & white) of individual species, groups of species or uses of resources (whalewatching, fishing, boating) are all possible subjects. Entries can be made into any one of three categories: student (under 18), college student or adult (professional and amateur). Contest rules are being finalized at this time. Contact the sanctuary via phone or e-mail for more information.

Student Art Contest Underway for Year of the Ocean
Students in grades K-12 are encouraged to "Get Into It" and celebrate the Year of the Ocean by participating in the 1998 Massachusetts Marine Educators annual art/poster contest. Entries will be grouped into the following divisions: K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12 and scientific illustration. The top entrant of all categories will be named "Best of Show."

Topics include: living and non-living resources (single species, group of animals, predator-prey, food chain, food web) with particular attention to local species; or uses of the ocean, including whalewatching, fishing, bird watching, shipping, boating, diving and research.

The New England Aquarium, co-sponsor of the contest, is graciously providing aquarium passes to the winners, as well as Behind the Scenes passes for the Best of Show award. The Sanctuary will provide certificates to all participants, award certificates to the winners, a copy of the book "Stellwagen Bank: A Guide to the Whales Sea Birds and Marine Life of the Sanctuary" to the Best of Show winner and Frontiers of the Sea CD to the teachers of each first prize winning poster/artwork.

For more information about the contest (deadline November 30, 1998) contact Anne Smrcina, Sanctuary education coordinator, at 508-747-1691 or check the Massachusetts Marine Educators web site at

In Memoriam – Norman Despres
The Sanctuary reports with sorrow the death of Norman Despres, an amateur underwater photographer with a unique talent at capturing the wonders of the ocean realm. Mr. Despres graciously donated use of his remarkable photographs for use in the Sanctuary's traveling photo show, soon-to-be-released CD-ROM on the food web and other educational products. His "Wolfish in Den" photo (pictured to the left) was used by Audubon Magazine to illustrate the species of Stellwagen Bank in a National Marine Sanctuary article and was selected by NOAA for a "Tour of the Sanctuaries" brochure. Mr. Despres took delight in showing viewers that the North Atlantic had its fair share of colorful creatures — such as "fiberoptic" appearing frilled anemone and otherworldly "flying" flounder. We will greatly miss this gifted and creative friend of the oceans. [The Sea Rovers organization with funding from Fuji Corp. is preparing a retrospective exhibit of Mr. Despres' works for display later this year, time and place to be determined.]

Understanding the Demand for Whalewatching in the Sanctuary

Why are almost a million people venturing out into the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary each year. The answer is: to watch whales.

Since its beginnings in the mid-1970s, whalewatching has grown tremendously to rank among the New England region's most important recreational industries. Gross sales revenues reach approximatley $21 million annually. A study by researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's Marine Policy Center estimates that more than 860,000 whalewatches originated from Massachusetts during 1996, with most trips occuring in July and August, but with a season stretching from April to October. Most of these trips focused on whales located within the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

The researchers, Porter Hoagland and Andrew Meeks, conducted a survey of whalewatch trips during August 1996. Respondents reported that the number of whales seen was the most attractive feature of whalewatching. The value of a whalewatching experience cannot be attributed solely to the viewing of whales, however, as "going on a boat trip" was also identified as an attractive feature. "Not enough whales seen" and "boats too far away" were cited as potential drawbacks.

The majority of survey respondents were from the New England region, but more than one-third of those surveyed were vacationing from outside the region. More than two-thirds of vacationers (from New England and elsewhere) had planned to go on a whalewatch as a part of their vacation. When asked on their trip out about the importance of whalewatching relative to other activities on their vacation, vacationers reported that, on average, whalewatching represented more than one-third of the value of their vacation. Other highly ranked complementary vacation activities include going to the beach, shopping, going to museums, visiting relatives, and fishing.

The researchers concluded that the economic value of whalewatching is on the order of $440 million. Consumer spending per person per trip is about $26.00, which compares favorably with other studies of the value of environmental resources.

According to the researchers, the higher the travel costs or the higher the income the less likely the vacationer will go whalewatching, but the higher the education level the more likely the vacationer will seek to go out on such a trip. They note that the relationships between income, education and whalewatching seem at odds, unless one hypothesizes that higher income groups tend to benefit from the presence of whales in ways other than through commercial boat rides or by substituting other forms of enjoyment of the environment in place of whalewatching (trips on private boats, for example).

It appears that the rate of increase in whalewatching capacity has been fairly constant over the last few years. Hoagland and Meeker expect whalewatching to grow with increasing economic growth, but there may be other factors, such as congestion, that limit the continued growth of the industry. According to their analysis, the demand for whalewatching may not necessarily expand if coastal residents become more wealthy. However, demand should expand with increased education levels. The latter finding suggests that a policy of raising the level of education could help to maintain the growth of this particular form of "eco-tourism."

Whalewatch organizations participating in the survey included: Captain John Boats (Plymouth), Hyannis Whalewatcher (Barnstable), Captain Bill and Sons (Gloucester), the Dolphin Fleet (Provincetown), the New England Aquarium (Boston), the East India Cruise Company (Salem), Captain Mac (Scituate), and the New England Whale Watch (Newburyport).


Fishery Closure Provides Unique Research Opportunity

by Peter Auster, Sanctuary Research Coordinator and Science Director,
National Undersea Research Center for the North Atlantic and Great Lakes

Recently, the New England Fishery Management Council closed a 900 square-nautical-mile area in the Gulf of Maine to groundfishing. The closure, which went into effect on May 1, 1998, includes eastern Stellwagen Bank and much of Jeffreys Ledge. This closure is the result of rapid action by the Council to deal with record low population levels of Atlantic cod and other commercially important species.

The closure provides a unique opportunity to study the effects of fishing on marine systems. The information produced from such studies will not only be of use to fishery managers, but may also answer some pressing questions regarding effects of fishing activity on biodiversity and the role of protected areas as a tool for conservation, in particular, the validity of creating protected areas in cold and temperate marine systems.

The closure area, relatively close to the coast, contains the wide diversity of habitats which are representative of habitats across the northeast United States continental shelf (the relatively shallow area between the coast and the deep ocean). The National Undersea Research Center, the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary, the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Marine Fisheries Service (with colleagues from the Universities of Maine, North Carolina and Rhode Island) collaborated to fund and conduct a cruise to collect data on the initial set of conditions at closure. This cruise took place from April 27-May 10 aboard the F/V CHRISTOPHER ANDREW.

Research has been focused on four major issues: 1) biological and geological elements of habitat diversity [differences in animals and types of seafloor]; 2) differential habitat use and size structure of fish assemblages (including recruitment of early benthic phase fishes) [in other words — how different animals use different parts of the Sanctuary, how many fish are found in different areas, and where young fish are found]; 3) soft and hard substrate community structure [what lives on sand and mud, and what lives on rocky bottoms]; and 4) differential rates of benthic primary production [where do ocean "plants” grow better on the seafloor].

The science team selected 24 sampling stations representing mud, sand, gravel (pebble-cobble) and boulder habitats. High resolution maps produced by the U.S. Geological Survey during the past two years were used for this site selection process, along with previous experience from submersible and remotely-operated-vehicle (ROV) studies. There will be both open and closed area stations (3 each) for all four of the habitat types.

In the past, studies of fishing gear impacts to seafloor habitats in the Gulf of Maine, on Georges Bank and elsewhere around the globe have shown measurable effects to structural components of habitat, benthic communities and ecosystem processes. Gear often removes bottom dwelling creatures and plants, such as sponges, anemones and kelp. Fish and other animals that once used these stationary structures for shelter are now more vulnerable and predator/prey relationships are changed. While this past research produced information about the types and extent of impacts, it did not address the rates of these impacts nor the rates of recovery from chronic (continuing) impacts in the absence of fishing.

The ultimate goal of research on gear impacts should not be to retrospectively evaluate what fishing does to the environment but to confidently predict cause and effect given a particular managment decision. If we are to develop regulations about the use of different types of gear and/or the establishment of no-take (no-fishing) zones, we must be confident that the data support the decisions.

From Sea to Shining Sea--News from the Nation's Marine Sanctuaries

Stellwagen Bank
The humpback whales returned in strong numbers again this year, with Salt and her newest calf among the early arrivals. Salt was one of the first humpbacks to be named, and has had at least seven calves over the past two decades. The Sanctuary is working with the Coast Guard Auxiliary to develop greater awareness among boaters about whalewatching guidelines and boating safety around marine mammals in the Sanctuary.

The propeller and shaft were recovered from the wreck of the USS Monitor by Navy divers on Friday, June 5, and placed aboard the Kellie Chouest, a vessel provided by the Navy for the 1998 expedition to the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. The 5,000-pound, four-blade propeller will be transported to The Mariners' Museum on June 12 for conservation and eventual exhibition. The ship's anchor, presently on display, was recovered in 1983. Plans are being formulated for a possible multi-million dollar rescue attempt in 1999 or 2000 that would shore up the decomposing wreck and recover as many artifacts as possible from the site which is 230 feet deep. To see photos of the artifact recovery on the Internet, check out

Gray's Reef
Work continues on the underwater excavation of a mastadon graveyard within the confines of the Sanctuary. Florida Keys A trail of history is being blazed in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary – a Shipwreck Trail. Nine shipwreck sites scattered along the treacherous coral reefs and buried in the sandy shallows have been researched, located and documented to create the educational trail. With underwater site guides and extensive support materials, the program helps visitors appreciate and understand these irreplaceable remnants of our past. Archaeologists, historians, educators and divers have joined together to make this unique underwater trail a reality. For more information on the Shipwreck Trail, contact the Sanctuary office at 305-852-7717 ext. 24.

Flower Garden Banks
Eighteen educators will learn by doing at the third annual "Down Under, Out Yonder" Workshop, sponsored by the Gulf of Mexico Foundation's Flower Gardens Fund. Participants, selected through a competitve process, will study the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, located 115 miles south of the Texas/Louisiana border, in both the classroom and the field via scuba diving. Topics covered include coral reef biology, resource management, turtle tracking, environmental aspects of oil and gas production, and reef fish identification.

Channel Islands
Scientists, environmentalists, and career fishermen continue to debate protections needed to stem depletion of the nation's marine resources already strained by overfishing. A recent proposal before the California legislature prohibits fishing in about 20% of the waters surrounding the Channel Islands National Park and National Marine Sanctuary. If approved by the state Fish and Game Commission, a National Park Service proposal would forbid fishing in certain areas off the Channel Islands, turning these spots into underwater parks for scientific study.

Monterey Bay
The National Ocean Conference, featuring President Clinton and Vice President Gore, was held in Monterey, California on June 11-12. The conference was held as a U.S. contribution to the celebration of the International Year of the Ocean and was organized by Commerce Secretary William Daley and Navy Secretary John Dalton. Representatives of academia, environmental groups, business and industry, and local, state and federal government met (along with similar groups nationwide via teleconference links) to discuss pressing issues including overfishing, endangered species and pollution. An agenda for the ocean, developed by over 120 environmental groups, was released at the meeting (see related article in the Sanctuary Currents section).

Great American Fish Count
This year's Great American Fish Count, scheduled for the first week of July, will survey several of the National Marine Sanctuaries, including Florida Keys, Flower Garden Banks, Channel Islands, Monterey Bay and Gulf of the Farallones. During this week, volunteer divers from around the country conduct fish surveys and collect date which is scanned in a computer at the University of Miami and made available to scientists and resource managers. An established web page is up and running at

Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank
The jointly managed sanctuaries will be hosting a grand opening of their new visitor center at Crissy Field in the Presidio on August 30th. The facility provides space for exhibits and programs relating to research and conservation in the two sanctuaries. The wide range of species found in these sites will be highlighted.

Gulf of the Farallones
Great white shark research will resume this summer with scientists curious to see if activity returns to normal after last fall's orca attack. In the first documented interaction between these two apex predators, an orca killed and ate a white shark near the Farallones Islands. A whalewatch vessel got a ring-side view of the orca assault which was video documented by researchers from the Pt. Reyes Bird Observatory. Soon after the October attack, white sharks left the area. The sharks normally visit from August through October to prey on the local population of elephant seal pups.

Olympic Coast
Dr. Sylvia Earle launched her tour of the National Marine Sanctuaries as a National Geographic "Explorer-in-Residence" with a visit to Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary May 14 - 18. Dr. Earle and Dr. Nancy Foster, director of NOAA's National Ocean Service, took a boat tour of the rugged Cape Flattery area to see the seabird colonies, sea otters and gray whales. Dr. Earle also hosted the Year of the Ocean Student Summit, an event that brought together 40 middle and high school students from small towns and Indian reservations of the Olympic Coast to discuss critical ocean issues. The National Marine Sanctuary Program hopes to expand the Sustainable Seas Student Initiative through a partnership with the National Geographic Society, the Jason Foundation, and the NOAA/National Undersea Research Program.

Hawaiian Islands
A 1998 survey covering some 7,191 nautical miles counted 2,558 marine mammals in the waters in and around the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Among those numbers were 681 humpbacks of which 44 were calves. Other species spotted were: spinner dolphins (519), spotted dolphins, pilot whales, bottlenosed dolphins, melon-headed whales, a record number of sperm whales (65 including 8 calves), rough-toothed dolphins, false killer whales, Blainville's beaked whales, Cuvier's beaked whales, and 3 fin whales including the first sighting ever of a calf in Hawaiian waters. Survey scientists were concerned that they only saw one pod of false killer whales (15 individuals), which is considerably fewer than in previous years. A complete report is due out by September.

Fagatele Bay
This, the smallest of the National Marine Santuaries, located in American Samoa in the South Pacific, will be welcoming the return of the southern humpback whales soon. These whales migrate to the Antarctic during the southern summer and spend the southern winter in warmer climes. During the months of August, September and October the whales come to these waters to calve and mate.

Sanctuary Studies: White-sided Dolphins 101

The humpback's blow spout erupted like a geyser about half a mile away from the whale watching vessel. "Oohs and Aahs" filled the air with excitement and anticipation. The ship began moving toward the humpback, but before reaching it, a pod of 150 creatures advanced on and surrounded the ship. Over ten white-sided dolphins, Lagenorhynchus acutus, jockeyed for position on the bow wave, only mere inches from the speeding vessel. Occasionally a dolphin would explode out of the water, reaching heights of five feet or more. White-sides, as they are sometimes called, frequently swim near humpback or finback whales, so whale watchers have a good chance of seeing this playful dolphin.

While relatively unfamiliar to the casual observer, these toothed whales are one of the most common marine mammals in the North Atlantic. Like most dolphin species, white-sides are also streamlined and torpedo-shaped. Adult males can reach lengths of 9 feet and weights of 500 pounds, and scientists believe that females are somewhat smaller. Though similar in size to other species of dolphin in Stellwagen Bank waters, white-sides have unique markings. Black covers all of the back and the pectoral fins; Both flanks are gray and the underbelly white. Below the black dorsal fin and running several feet back to the tail, a well-defined, narrow stripe of white stands out like a white-dashed line on a highway. A similar yellow or tan patch continues from the end of the white stripe toward the tail.

A highly social dolphin, this mammal usually travels in pods of 50, and it is not unusual to see 500 in one group. Scientists do not know much about the social structure of pods. There is some speculation that pods are chiefly composed of adult females and their offspring, leaving the males to roam about in bachelor pods. White-sides are often spotted in the Gulf of Maine but are also seen as far north as Greenland and as far south as North Carolina. Sadly, much of the knowledge of white-sides comes from mass strandings—a little understood phenomenon in which an apparently healthy group of dolphins become stranded on the beach, such as the recent strandings in North Falmouth and Wellfleet (both on Cape Cod). Researchers rush to such scenes and collect as much data as possible from the dead animals. From these studies, scientists know that white-sides live to their mid-twenties. They breed from May to August, gestate for about 11 months and give birth to summer babies from June to July. Females give birth at an average rate of about one calf every 2.5 years. The calf nurses for nearly 18 months and reaches sexual maturity at 5 to 8 years of age. Among one pod of stranded dolphins, half of the mature females had damaged mammary glands due to parasitic nematodes (worms). This raises concerns about greatly reduced reproductivity.

Before 1975 it was rare to find this dolphin anywhere near the coast, sightings usually occurred on the continental slope, a sharp incline about 120 miles off the coast of Massachusetts. Now white-sides are frequently seen closer inshore.

Around 1975 scientists and fisherman noticed an explosion of sand lance, a small eel-like fish, in coastal regions like Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Sand lance are a key source of food for many species, including the white-sided dolphin, which mainly feeds on short-finned squid and small fish. Many predators feed on these small bait fish but researchers suggest that over-fishing of mackerel and herring in the 1970s led to an increase in sand lance which in turn led to a shift in habitat of white-sided dolphins.

Presently researchers estimate that about 27,200 white-sides inhabit western North Atlantic waters. While not listed as endangered or threatened, white-sided dolphins are not immune to dangers. From 1991 to 1995 fisherman accidentally caught nearly one thousand white-sided dolphins in New England waters. In 1995 scientist calculated that in order to keep the population at sustainable levels, human-caused moralities could not exceed 192 white-sided dolphins. The annual average human-caused mortality for 1990 to 1995 is 181 white-sided dolphins – a number dangerously close to surpassing safe levels.

Fortunately, many of the efforts to protect harbor porpoises, a dolphin-like marine mammal, may transfer to white-sided dolphins. Groundfish sink gill nets present the greatest danger to harbor porpoises and also account for 67% of the annual U.S. white-sided dolphin mortality. By placing acoustic alarms or "pingers" on the gill nets, harbor porpoises and white-sides may avoid the net (Many scientist still question the efficacy of pingers, and some completely dismiss its ability to reduce incidental catches). Also certain areas are closed to fishing during high harbor porpoise activity, which in some cases turn out to coincide with areas of high white-side activity. Hopefully, both measures will reduce the number of human-caused moralities. This article was written by Michael Franklin, a student in the graduate program in Science Journalism at Boston University and a 1997 science writing intern at the Sanctuary.

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