Alcids--Birds of Winter
can fishermen, environmentalists, educators, communicators, scientists,
and members of the general public have in common? For the members
of the first Sanctuary Manager's Advisory Council (SMAC) that
commonality is a strong belief in the intrinsic value of Stellwagen
Bank and its resources.
Meeting for the first time on September 24, the 15 members and
15 ex-officio members were introduced to each other and to the
on-going management, enforcement, research, and education programs
now underway in the Sanctuary.
of the Council will serve for one two, or three-year terms (based
on luck of the draw at the next council meeting); all subsequent
seats will offer three-year terms. In order to allow as much feedback
as possible from the public, council members will be limited to
a single 3-year term (those drawing one or two-year terms during
the first round may serve a second term if so willing). The members
will select their chairperson at the next meeting in December.
Members of the first Sanctuary Manager's Advisory Council are:
Nickerson (representing commercial mobil gear fishing)
Mr. Nickerson is executive director of the Offshore Mariner's
Association based in New Bedford. Previous experience includes
25 years of dragging and sea scalloping, and more recent experience
teaching about fisheries issues at several Massachusetts colleges.
MacKinnon (representing commercial fixed gear fishing)
Mr. MacKinnon is President of the Massachusetts Netters Association
and co-founder of the New England Harbor Porpoise Working Group.
As a member of several marine mammal protection groups, he has
worked to reduce interaction of mammals and fishing gear through
education, gear modification, and acoustic devices. For the past
20 years he has fished commercially in and around the Sanctuary.
Roger Jarvis (representing party and charterboat operations)
Captain Jarvis is the operator of Jazz Sport Fishing out of Duxbury
and a past president of the Cape Cod Charter Boat Association.
He was a participant in the process to designate Stellwagen Bank
a National Marine Sanctuary. This is now his 26th year as a charter
captain with much of that time spent on Stellwagen Bank fishing
for bluefin tuna or bottom species.
Gainor (representing recreational boating)
Mr. Gainor is a recreational boater who regularly visits Stellwagen
Bank, as well as the host of a weekly, one-hour radio program
on station WATD-95.9FM called "Nautical Talk Radio." His program
features nautical news, boating safety, Coast Guard and law enforcement
updates, and marine-related interviews.
Avellar (representing whale watching)
Mr. Avellar is the owner of the Dolphin Fleet of Provincetown
and considered to be the founder of commercial whale watching
in the area. A converted fisherman, he was the first to realize
the commercial and tourism value of bringing the public out to
view whales in their natural environment. Over the past 20 years
his fleet has made numerous voyages into what is now the Stellwagen
Clifford Goudey (representing the research community)
His interest in the sustainability of commercial fisheries leads
Mr. Goudey to believe that the Sanctuary offers a unique chance
to answer some of the scientific questions facing fisheries managers.
He is Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's
(MIT) Sea Grant Program Center for Fisheries Engineering Research
and a recipient of a 1996 FIG grant for development and demonstration
of a low-bycatch, low-bottom-impact trawl for small-mesh bottom
trawling. His work at MIT's Underwater Vehicle Laboratory led
to the design of the RoboLobster and autonomous underwater vehicle
Tessein (representing the media)
A freelance writer with a strong commitment to environmental issues,
Mr. Tessein provides the Sanctuary Manager's Advisory Council
with important public outreach perspectives. He is the author
of a monthly column for New England Out-of-Doors entitled The
Salt Line and a weekly column, Cape Cod Outdoors, which appears
in the Community Newspapers on Cape Cod. This recreational angler
was a founding member of the New England Coastal Conservation
Michael Williamson (representing the educational community)
"My philosophy regarding conservation and management of marine
resources has always been 'with knowledge comes wisdom,'" says
Dr. Williamson, an Associate Professor of Science at Wheelock
College in Boston and the Principal Investigator for the WhaleNet
Internet-based education project. He has 25 years experience in
education, much of it in marine science, along with 20 years experience
in whale watching and whale research.
Ward (representing education and public outreach)
Author of the critically acclaimed "Field Guide to the Whales,
Sea Birds, and Marine Life of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine
Sanctuary," Ms Ward provides expertise in both natural science
and public education. She teaches graduate level courses at the
Boston University Marine Program in Woods Hole on marine mammals,
conservation and management, and science writing. This founding
member of the Stellwagen Bank Steering Committee also has strong
ties to our sibling sanctuary at Silver Bank in the Dominican
Gray (representing the nontraditional educational community)
The former Acting Curator of Education at the New England Aquarium
is now attending school for a graduate degree in education while
continuing to manage several Aquarium program. Ms Gray has had
extensive experience in educating the public about the riches
of Massachusetts Bay and Stellwagen Bank, as well as work in grants
management, teacher training and curriculum development.
Weinrich (representing environmental/conservation organizations)
Mr. Weinrich serves as the Director and Chief Scientist of the
Cetacean Research Unit in Gloucester, a non-profit organization
dedicated to research, conservation and education pertaining to
marine mammals and the marine ecosystems of New England. As a
field biologist and licensed captain of CRU's research vessel,
he has an intimate knowledge of all of the waters of the Sanctuary
through thousands of hours spent in and around it. Mr. Weinrich
was another active member of the steering committee for the Stellwagen
Bank Coalition, which helped to garner support for sanctuary designation.
For the past two years, he has served as chairman of the Coastal
DeConti (representing environmental/conservation organizations)
This former member of the Stellwagen Bank Coalition steering committee
actively fought for the strongest sanctuary possible, which meant
testifying in Washington, DC. Mr. DeConti serves as Director of
Conservation for the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown,
the organization that was one of the two sponsors of the sanctuary
nomination. "We had a positive impact on the creation of the Sanctuary
then, and I very much welcome the opportunity to work with you
now on developing this sanctuary into a national model for marine
research, conservation, and education," he notes. Mr. DeConti
is a former environmental planner, board member of the Association
for the Preservation of Cape Cod, and presently co-owner of a
small shellfish mariculture company in Nantucket Sound.
Dorsey (representing environmental/conservation organizations)
Ms Dorsey is a Staff Scientist with the Conservation Law Foundation
specializing in issues related to pollution from municipal sewage
treatment plants, management of New England groundfish, disposal
of contaminated dredged materials, seafood contamination, and
protection of right whales. "Many of these issues of of direct
concern to the Sanctuary," she observes. Prior to her move to
CLF in 1988, Ms Dorsey obtained a master's degree in zoology and
gained 11 years experience in cetacean studies working with Dr.
Roger Payne at the Whale Conservation Institute.
Broadrick (representing the public, at-large member)
This Planning Director for the Town of Duxbury has a long-standing
interest and love for the marine environment. His planning experience
spans seven years, two with Duxbury and five with the Town of
Dennis on Cape Cod. Prior to his work in Massachusetts, he was
employed as a Park Ranger and biologist at the John Pennekamp
Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, Florida. At that time the
Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary was gaining national and international
recognition, and Mr. Broadrick ably assisted in public outreach
programs for both the State Park and National Sanctuary. His training
and skills in planning and years of experience with another sanctuary
will be of value to Stellwagen Bank.
Golden, J.D. (representing the public, at-large member)
Mr. Golden provides the Sanctuary with a wealth of experience
in marine and environmental issues. As a solicitor for the City
of Quincy, he became appalled by the polluted shoreline while
jogging along Wollaston Beach one summer morning in 1992. This
concern led to action and the initiation of the historic lawsuit
to clean up Boston Harbor. As a State Senator from 1985 to 1990
he actively promoted environmental measures while serving on the
energy and natural resources and agriculture joint committees.
He was one of the founders of Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, as
well as the South Shore Coalition and Massachusetts Public Interest
Research Group, East (MassPIRG). He is now a partner in the law
firm Burns and Levinson in Boston.
Members of the Sanctuary Manager's Advisory Board include representatives
from the following agencies and organizations:
NOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service--Habitat Branch
1st US Coast Guard District--Fisheries Law Enforcement
US Army Corps of Engineers, NE Division
US Environmental Protection Agency, Region 1
Northeast Fishery Management Council
National Park Service, Cape Cod National Seashore
US Geological Survey, Atlantic Branch
Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management Office
Massachusetts Marine Fisheries Commission
Mass. Dept. of Environmental Management, Ocean Sanctuary Program
Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archeological Research
Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, Environmental Quality
Representatives from the offices of Senator John Kerry, Senator
Edward Kennedy, Congressman Gerry Studds, Congressman Joseph
Kennedy, Congressman Peter Torkildsen, Congressman Barney
Frank, and Congressman Joseph Moakley; and Arnold Carr, Special
Advisor, Underwater Search and Survey.
hearty welcome to all members of the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary
Manager's Advisory Council.
-- Message from the Sanctuary Manager
new fiscal year for the Federal Government (which began October
1) ushers in a revised name and expanded outlook for this National
Marine Sanctuary, in particular, and a renewed enthusiam in the
National Program, in general.
reauthorization, a bipartisan Congress reaffirmed their support
for the protection and management of important marine resource
areas, including expansion of one Sanctuary (Flower Garden Banks
off Texas) and the possible future designation of another (Northwest
Straits in the State of Washington). In honor of the work and
dedication Congressman Gerry Studds exhibited over years of service
to Congress, much of it in the now defunct Merchant Marine and
Fisheries Committee, the House proposed and both the House and
Senate approved the renaming of this Sanctuary to the Gerry E.
Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Mr. Studds has
been a friend to the Sanctuary Program and was a major force in
reauthorization of the program in 1988, 1992 and again this year.
It was through his (and Senator John Kerry's) leadership that
this Sanctuary became a reality in 1992.
we've also wecomed new faces on both the national and local fronts.
We look forward to working with NMS Program Director Stephanie
Thornton on program-wide issues as well as the many important
resource questions that are unique to this region. We also salute
the incoming Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary Manager's Advisory Council.
It is our hope that this outstanding group of individuals will
provide us with insight and expertise so that we might better
serve the public by providing balanced and appropriate management
strategies to protect the valuable resources at Stellwagen Bank.
we celebrate our fourth anniversary as a Sanctuary (on November
4th), we look forward to the challenges that lie ahead as we continue
our important work to better understand, and thereby better manage,
this marine ecosystem.
Honors Congressman Studds; Sanctuary Renamed
Included within the 1996 National Marine Sanctuaries Preservation
Act is recognition for retiring U.S. Congressman Gerry Studds
(D-MA) who was a key player in the process of designating the
Stellwagen Bank sanctuary, in particular, and providing support
for the sanctuary program, in general. In his honor, this sanctuary
has been renamed the "Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National
1988 Congressman Studds proposed amendments to the National Marine
Sanctuary Program that a prospectus on the proposed Stellwagen
Bank sanctuary be submitted to Congress by September 1990. This
Prospectus and a draft Environmental Impact Statement and Management
Plan were published in February 1991. During the formal comment
period, 860 written comments were submitted to NOAA as well as
petitions signed by more than 20,000 persons supporting designation
of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.
October 7, 1992, Congress, upon the urging of Congressman Studds,
passed legislation reauthorizing and amending the law that created
the National Marine Sanctuary Program. This legislation, which
was signed by President George Bush on November 4, 1992, designated
Stellwagen Bank as the 12th National Marine Sanctuary.
supporting the 1996 legislation to reauthorize the sanctuary program
and rename the 12th site, Representative Don Young (R-AK) said:
"Gerry has long been a leading proponent in the Houser of the
protection of the marine environment -- most prominently when
he served as chairman of the former Committee on Merchant Marine
and Fisheries. Now that Gerry is leaving after 24 years of service,
I believe this is a fitting tribute."
Congressman Studds, the honor bestowed upon him by his colleagues
was both surprising and gratifying. He noted, "One would be hard
pressed to find something that would have meant more to me than
Sanctuary Program Reauthorized
The U.S. Senate joined the House of Representatives in unanimously
reaffirming support for marine sanctuaries with the passage of
the National Marine Sanctuaries Preservation Act. The President
signed the bill on October 18, 1996. The Act authorizes $45 million
for the next three years for continued management of the 12 marine
sanctuaries presently in the system and for developing final federal
approval for the proposed Northwest Straits sanctuary in the Pacific
we continue to work with sanctuary communities around the nation
toward healthier marine environments and healthier coastal economies,
it is good to know that we have Congress's full support and confidence,"
said Sanctuary Program Director Stephanie Thornton. "That we were
able to receive unanimous bipartisan support sends a clear message
that it is important to the American people that our oceans and
coasts be preserved now and for the future."
Leads NMS Team
The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary welcomes Stephanie
Revesz Thornton as the new director of the National Marine Sanctuary
Program. With a resume that covers 30 years of wide-ranging experience,
Ms Thornton combines expertise in marine science, business management
and resource conservation. Her special expertise is in fisheries.
Thornton's career has been built upon a series of positions that
allowed her to diversify her expertise in the marine field. She
began as a fisheries biologist studying Pacific salmon with the
California Department of Fish and Game and later worked for the
National Marine Fisheries Service focusing on albacore tuna migration.
Subsequently, she served as manager of the Humboldt Fisherman's
Marketing Association, representing a 350-member trade association
for salmon, crab, and herring fishermen.
Thornton became directly involved in marine resource management
through her participation in the development of the Salmon Management
Plan for the Pacific Fishery Management Council and her working
relationships with the California Department of Fish and Game
and the California State Legislature. During this time, she was
appointed by former Governor Jerry Brown as a California Commissioner
to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commissioner (PSMFC). She
served four years as Commissioner to this five-state interpact.
These cumulative work experiences led to the opportunity to create
and administer the Coastal Resources Center (CRC), a nonprofit
organization with a mission to preserve, maintain, and enhance
marine fish and their ecosystems in coastal California.
CRC was still in the conceptual stage, Ms. Thornton was hired
to develop the organization into a fully operating entity. Throughout
the CenterÕs existence, she created and implemented over 15 applied
marine conservation projects, as well as comprehensive public
education efforts. She served as CRCÕs Executive Director for
eight years until its recent closing.
academic background includes a B.S. in Fisheries Biology, with
an emphasis in Marine Ecology, from Humboldt State University
and an MBA from Golden Gate University.
addition to Ms. Thornton's academic training and broad based work
experience, her professional association, and appointments have
strengthened her leadership capabilities. She served three years
as President of the American Fisheries Society, Humboldt Chapter
and was founder and President of the Women's Fisheries Network,
Northern California Chapter. Currently, she is a Board member
to the National Research Council's Marine Board where she is a
representative to the Marine Area Governance Committee. Good luck
Stephanie and welcome to the Sanctuary program!
Program Funded for 1997
The National Marine Sanctuary Program has received level funding
for 1997 under the FY97 Omnibus Spending Bill/Continuing Resolution
(CR) which was passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton
on September 28. Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, in support
of the bill, testified: "Another ocean program very important
to my State is the National Marine Sanctuary Program. Stellwagen
Bank National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Massachusetts
is an excellent example of Federal activity that provides both
environmental protection and economic enhancement. This marine
mammal feeding area is popular with whale watchers and fishermen,
and protection of the bank has received wide support -- not only
among my constituents, but Nationwide. The funding provided in
the CR will help to maintain this important national program,
especially Stellwagen Bank."
Top Space in Public Survey
By a 71-19 percent margin, the American public believes that
ocean exploration is more important than space exploration, according
to a new national poll of public attitudes towards the world oceans.
The poll also reveals a deep concern among Americans over the
declining marine environment. The poll was funded by The Pew Charitable
Trusts, a national philanthropy and major supporter of environmental
protection, and conducted in mid-May by the Washington, D.C.-based
Mellman Group. Other poll results indicate that 82 percent agree
that the oceans are threatened by human activity, explicitly rejecting
the idea that "the oceans are so vast and plentiful that there
is little humans can do to destroy them"; and 85 percent of respondents
agreed that "the federal government needs to do more to help protect
The Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary offers its long-awaited Site Characterization
study on-line via our web site at http://vineyard.er.usgs. The
document provides information on the site designation, the significance
of the resources, and detailed information on environmental, historical,
and cultural conditions that shaped the sanctuary. Management
and conservation issues included in the characterization cover
marine mammal protection efforts, dredge material disposal, monitoring,
mariculture, and fisheries.
The Third Annual Plymouth MIMIFest, sponsored by the Sanctuary
and The Barn School Trust, has been scheduled for the week of
May 19-23, 1997. Teachers interested in bringing their students
to the Fest should contact Sanctuary education coordinator Anne
Smrcina or office manager Sandi Dentino as soon as possible. Last
year's Fest was highly successful, with over 1,800 students taking
part. For information and reservations, call 508-747-1691 or send
an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org (provide your name, e-mail
address, day and evening phone numbers please).
Takes to the Road
"Lefty," the Sanctuary's 50-foot inflatable right whale, has been
taking some excursions this past summer, including three visits
to the Boston Children's Museum. The walk-in whale and accompanying
hands-on exhibits have introduced hundreds of children and their
parents to the wonder of this magnificant animal and the very
real threats to its continued existence. The Sanctuary is investigating
the possibility of developing a Docent Corps of trained volunteers
who would be charged with the "care and feeding" of Lefty. To
volunteer for the corps or for more information, call the Sanctuary
Hosts Boston University Interns
During the past summer, students from Boston University's Graduate
Programs in Science Communication and Mass Communications, devoted
many hours of work towards development of Sanctuary-related education
products. Several of the feature stories in this issue of the
Newsletter (as well as several slated for the next issue) were
written by Andrew Wilson. Urmila Ranadive and Jennifer Connor
worked on a soon-to-be-released CD-ROM on the food web at Stellwagen
Bank, while Joshua Ulick assisted in the writing and editing of
a curriculum package with naturalist Richard Wheeler. These students'
dedicated efforts have resulted in exemplary products that will
enhance public understanding of the resources of the Sanctuary.
Photo Exhibit Planned
Snaggle-toothed wolffish; other-worldly diatoms; magnificant leviathans.
The Sanctuary is preparing a traveling exhibit of marine life
photography, using wonderful images provided by generous local
photographers. Among the contributors are: Andrew Martinez (whose
work has been seen in the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine and his
own book Marine Life of the North Atlantic), Norman Despres, David
and Susan Millhouser, Jeff Hannigan, Jonathan Bird of Oceanic
Research Group, and others. The schedule is still in development;
look for future updates on this project. Underwater and surface
photographers interested in adding their works to the exhibit
should contact the Sanctuary (photos should include creatures
that reside in or visit the Sanctuary). Organizations with exhibit
space that are interested in hosting the exhibit should contact
the Sanctuary as soon as possible by calling (508) 747-1691 or
e-mail to: email@example.com.
Complete; Auk Curriculum in the Works
In 1991, Richard Wheeler followed his heart and the migration
path of the extinct Great Auk and completed a marathon sea kayak
trip that became a NOVA show. Following up on that program, the
Sanctuary is supporting the development of a curriculum about
that voyage as well as the issues of extinction, survival and
the sustainable use of marine resources. The Great Auk, the penguin
of the north, probably wintered in the waters of Stellwagen Bank.
The educational unit will focus not only on the auk, but the cod
and right whale too. As part of the curriculum package, a 15-minute
video has recently been completed which looks at bank environments
in the northwest Atlantic, in general, and Stellwagen Bank, in
particular, and the reasons for their attractiveness to marine
species. A curriculum book and audiotape by master storyteller
Jay O'Callahan are in the making. The videotape will be available
to schools free of charge as of January 1, 1997.
- Birds of Winter
The waters over Stellwagen Bank can appear desolate
during the winter. The humpback, finback, and right whales have
migrated south, and the swallow-like storm-petrels no longer can
be seen bouncing along the surface of the water. But awards still
await the hardy nature lover willing to brave the wind and waves.
The return of the cold marks the arrival of the alcids-a group
of stocky black-and-white seabirds that include one of the most
recognizable of all birds, the rainbow-billed puffin.
Alcids are the northern hemisphere's equivalent of penguins, although
the two groups are not related. In fact, a now extinct alcid,
the flightless Great Auk, Pinguinus impennis, was called a penguin
long before the southern hemisphere penguins were described. Like
the penguins of the Antarctic, alcids walk upright -- their legs
set towards the backs of their bodies. And like penguins, alcids
thrive in the cold water. They nest in dense colonies along the
rocky coasts and islands in the high latitudes of the North Atlantic,
North Pacific, and the Arctic Ocean. On shore, alcids waddle clumsily,
and in flight, they resemble giant, stubby-winged insects, but
in the water, where they spend most of their lives, they are agile
swimmers and prodigious divers. Using their wings as flippers,
alcids swiftly pursue crustaceans and small fish, such as herring,
at great depths, often emerging with their bills filled with multiple
prey to bring back to their nests. One species, the Common Murre,
has been recorded diving to depths of 550 feet.
During the summer, spectacular colonies, often containing thousands
of birds, cram themselves along ledges, inside crevices, and between
boulders. In sites supporting multiple seabirds, the species segregate
themselves. For example, on an island off the coast of Newfoundland,
Black Guillemots nest at the base of the cliffs, Common Murres
on ledges along the cliffs, Razorbills in crannies along the cliff
face, and Atlantic Puffins in the grassy slopes on the tops of
the cliffs. Most species are monogamous and produce one brood
per year of one to two chicks. In some species, pairs may remain
together for several years. Chick mortality is as high as 90%
during the first year. Gulls prey on chicks, and others succumb
to the harsh conditions at sea. But birds that survive the first
few months of life often live into their twenties.
Their habit of nesting in dense colonies and their awkwardness
on land made alcids easy targets for hunters seeking eggs, meat,
and feathers. In the early 19th century, this overexploitation
led to the extinction of the Great Auk -- a two-and-half-foot
tall flightless alcid that formerly nested from Newfoundland to
Britain. By the 1840s, colonies of other alcid species had also
disappeared from most islands in the Gulf of Maine. Currently,
some alcids are recolonizing their former nesting sites. Starting
in 1973, Stephen Kress of the National Audubon Society and current
director of the Maine Coastal Sanctuary program pioneered efforts
to restore seabirds to their historical nesting sites off the
coast of Maine. Kress and other scientists and volunteers of the
Audubon Society's Puffin Project transported Atlantic Puffin chicks
from Newfoundland to Eastern Egg Rock in Muscongus Bay, placed
decoys and ceramic eggs around potential nesting areas, and played
audio tapes of nesting puffins and chicks. In 1981, for the first
time in 150 years, puffins returned to the island to nest. Today,
over 15 puffin pairs are nesting on Eastern Egg Rock. Conservationists
have also lured puffins to two islands near the mouth of Penobscot
Bay. Twenty-five pairs are nesting on Seal Island, and over 150
pairs, along with 60 to 80 pairs of Razorbills, are nesting on
Matinicus Rock. Puffin Project workers are currently deploying
decoys and audio tapes to lure Razorbills to Seal Island and Common
Murres to Matinicus Rock. They have also used these methods to
reestablish colonies of other seabirds, including Common, Arctic,
and endangered Roseate terns.
these colonies is a real challenge, according to Steve Edwards,
an Audubon Society naturalist aboard a puffin-watch cruise that
visit the new colonies. Edwards estimates that of the 3,000 islands
off the coast of Maine, 30 are suitable for recolonization. The
islands must contain enough suitable habitat to support many nests,
because alcids "like being a face in the crowd." Islands
must also be free of humans and introduced mammals such as rats
or foxes that consume chicks and eggs and be far enough off the
mainland that owls and other predators can't make the journey
over to prey on the colonies.
Even after the colonies are established, the sites need constant
maintenance, according to Stephen Kress. Gulls, having benefited
from the proliferation of garbage dumps and fishing boat waste,
have replaced humans as the pilferers of nesting alcids. Not only
do gulls compete with alcids for nesting sites, they eat both
young and adult birds. Therefore, gull populations on these islands
must be constantly monitored and controlled.
Alcids are now protected in the Gulf of Maine. But hunting is
not the only activity that threatens alcid populations. Kress
says that in the waters off of Newfoundland and northern Europe,
the commercial fisheries compete with alcids for bait fish such
as sand lance and herring, and that overharvesting of these fish
may be contributing to regional declines of alcids. Scores of
diving birds become entangled in drift nets and drown. But oil
spills are the conservationist's greatest nightmare. An oil spill
in the wrong place could wipe out entire colonies, putting a severe
dent in the world population. For example, 90% of all Common Murres
nest in only three colonies in Canada. By increasing the number
of nesting colonies, conservationists hope to lessen the impact
of localized disasters such as oil spills.
As summer ends, alcids leave their nests and scatter southward
seeking productive, ice-free waters where they can dine on the
bounteous fish and marine invertebrates. Stellwagen Bank is one
such site. The number of alcids off the Massachusetts coast likely
varies depending on the distribution of food and the severity
of the winter. A deep freeze up north forces many birds south,
and storms, particularly in late fall and early winter, may push
alcids towards shore. But because few people venture out over
the Bank during the winter to survey the birds, data on the numbers
of alcids that frequent the sanctuary are scarce. During years
when the weather cooperates, birders survey the sanctuary during
the annual Stellwagen Bank Christmas Bird Count in mid-December.
However, most sightings come from land. Good locations for spotting
alcids from land include Andrews and Halibut Point in Rockport,
Race Point in Provincetown, and Nauset Lighthouse in Eastham.
First Encounter Beach in Eastham can also be a great place to
observe alcids following severe northeast storms in November.
Those who do go out seeking alcids must not only be impervious
to the cold, but they must have sharp eyes. Alcids are difficult
to spot as they bob among the waves, only to dive and stay under
water before the boat can approach close enough to get a decent
view. The fact that alcids spotted during the winter are often
immatures or in their winter plumage makes distinguishing the
species especially challenging.
Six species of alcids breed in the North Atlantic and migrate
to the waters off the coast of Massachusetts in the winter. The
following are descriptions of what to look for. Wayne Petersen,
field ornithologist for the Massachusetts Audubon Society, provided
Alcid-seekers plying the waters over Stellwagen Bank or
staring out from the headlands on Cape Cod or Cape Ann are
more likely to see Razorbills than any other alcid, especially
from November through January. Razorbills are black on top
and white below with a pointed tails that are often cocked
upwards. But their most distinguishing feature is their
large, laterally-flattened bill. A vertical white band running
through the middle of the bill is also characteristic of
adults. The bills of immature Razorbills are easy to confuse
with those of murres. Juvenile bills are shaped the same
as adult bills, but are smaller and lack the white band.
In flight, Razorbills have a hunchbacked, bull-necked appearance.
Other helpful fieldmarks for flying Razorbills include a
white trailing edge on the wing and white on either side
of the black tail.
Two species, the Thick-billed Murre and the Common Murre,
nest in the North Atlantic Ocean. During most winters, bird
watchers usually report seeing a handful of Thick-billed
Murres along the Massachusetts coast, most often in late
winter. But during some seasons, the numbers increase dramatically,
especially during cold winters when extensive icing closes
large areas of their winter range. Following a major storm
in December, 1976, birders reported seeing a record number
of 3,000-5,000 Thick-billed Murres flying past the Massachusetts
Common Murres rarely venture close to shore, but they may
occur regularly over Stellwagen Bank. However, following
oil spills off of Cape Cod and Nantucket, oiled murres regularly
get swept ashore, indicating that they do winter at sea
off of Massachusetts. The two species are difficult to distinguish
from each other. In winter, both birds are black on top
and white below with white throats and cheeks. However,
the dark hood of the Thick-billed Murre extends below its
eyes, whereas the Common Murre has a dark stripe running
from its eyes to its cheeks. The Common Murre also has a
sharper, slenderer bill and is browner on the back than
the Thick-billed Murre. In flight, murres appear more streamlined
than the thick-necked Razorbills.
Dovekies are chubby, starling-sized alcids that feed on
planktonic crustaceans. They are believed to be especially
concentrated at the upwelling zones along the edge of Georges
Bank where food is particularly abundant. During the fall,
storms often deflect Dovekies towards land, but Dovekies
are seldom seen from shore in Massachusetts after December.
Like all alcids, Dovekies are black above and white below.
However, their small size, short necks, and stubby beaks
make them easy to distinguish from other species, both in
the water and in flight.
Atlantic Puffins are undoubtedly regular visitors to Stellwagen
Bank and waters off the Massachusetts coast from October
to mid-winter. They are chunky, black and white birds with
white cheeks and enormous triangular, tricolor bills, inspiring
the nickname "parrots of the sea." Puffins are
smaller than Razorbills and Murres but not as tiny as Dovekies.
In winter, Atlantic Puffins shed the colorful bill plates,
so their bills are smaller and less gaudy, but still the
same triangular shape. Their white cheeks also turn gray.
In flight, puffins can be identified by their rounded, solid
black wings, bright orange feet, and big-headed appearance.
Juveniles have much smaller, gray, unpuffin-like bills.
However, juvenile puffins can still be identified by their
gray cheeks and chunky shape. Some ornithologists speculate
that juveniles, after fledging, actually drift south to
the Massachusetts coast, following the Labrador current
instead of flying.
Black Guillemots are slender, duck-like alcids with fairly
long pointed bills. More than any other North Atlantic alcid,
Black Guillemots stay close to rocky shores. During the
winter, they can often be seen off of Provincetown, Cape
Ann, and Boston's outer harbor islands, but they usually
do not venture as far offshore as Stellwagen Bank. In winter,
Black Guillemots are white molted with black, and have large
white patches on top of the wings. They also have
orange legs and feet.
There is never a shortage of gulls over Stellwagen Bank, and winter
is no exception. Because most gulls take three to four years to
reach their adult plumages, and because they have several distinct
immature plumages, identifying species can be tricky. The following
descriptions are of adult winter plumages, although immatures,
particularly first year birds, are also common during the winter.
Black-legged Kittiwakes, which feed on small fish such as
sand lance, are abundant over Stellwagen Bank during the winter.
They are small (half the size of a Herring Gull), have black legs,
an unmarked yellow bill, and pure black wingtips that look as
if they had dipped their wings in ink. In winter, Black-legged
Kittiwakes have a dusky spot behind each eye. The much larger
Herring Gull has a gray mantle (back), pink legs, a yellow bill
with a red spot, and black wingtips with white spots. In winter,
herring gulls have heavy brown streaks on their heads and necks.
The large and distinctive Great Black-backed Gull has a heavy
yellow bill with an orange spot on it and a black back and wings
that contrast sharply with its snow-white head and undersides.
Glaucous Gulls and Iceland Gulls often attend fishing boats during
the winter. They are gray above with white underparts, pink legs,
and yellow bills with orange spots like the Herring and Great
Black-backed gulls. Both species lack black wingtips. The less
common Glaucous Gull is larger and has a heavier head and bill
than the Iceland Gull.
Northern Gannets are large, white seabirds with black wingtips,
a yellowish wash on their heads, large bills, and pointed tails.
Juveniles are variously molted with brown and white. Gannets catch
fish by hovering up to 40 feet above the ocean, then plummeting
head first into the water.
Other Northern Fulmars and Great Skuas winter well offshore,
but occasionally can be seen in the Sanctuary, particularly after
(Information provided by Wayne Petersen, field ornithologist for
the Massachusetts Audubon Society)