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Humpback Whale Migration Update: February 3, 1999

Today's Report Includes:

Greetings from the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

Migration Route of Atlantic Humpback Whales
Map courtesy of
Macalester College

Ahoy there, from the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary to all of you landlubbers out there.

This is Anne Smrcina, education coordinator of the Sanctuary -- and a landlubber myself. Our offices have just moved from Plymouth to Scituate, Massachusetts, but the actual Sanctuary is totally at sea. The boundary for this marine protected area runs from three miles south of Cape Ann to three miles north of Cape Cod, encompassing 842-square miles of open water at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay.

Whales Set Sail
The humpback whales that regularly visit the Sanctuary in summer months have left, for the most part, although some individuals can sometimes be seen throughout the winter. I went on the annual Christmas Bird Count boat trip to the Sanctuary on December 19th and saw several spouts, probably from humpbacks, but didn't get a close-up look at any of them.

Our humpbacks usually make the long trek down to waters off of the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and other islands in the Caribbean. The Silver Bank Sanctuary off the coast of the Dominican Republic is a sister sanctuary, and is a popular hangout for mating and calving humpback whales. Now that we know that some whales stick around Stellwagen Bank all winter, see if you can answer:

Challenge Question #1:
"Why would some whales stay and why do others head down to the Caribbean?"

(To respond to this Challenge Question, please follow the instructions at the end of this report.)

Latest Sightings From the Calving Grounds
Today, I have some of the latest information about sightings in the Dominican Republic. This information comes from Kim Beddall, a woman who runs a popular whalewatching company in Samana Bay, Dominican Republic.

According to Kim, the humpback whales seem to be arriving slowly this year, although part of that poor sighting record may be due to the very poor weather that has prevented many of the boats from going out. Whalewatching started on January 15th (the first official sighting), but over the last week of January winds of 25 knots and seas up to 10 feet high have kept the whalewatching fleet at home (there are some 8 companies with 39 boats in Samana Bay). Only three mother-calf pairs have been spotted, far fewer than at this time in other years. One of the calves was extremely tiny. Kim also said that 3-4 surface active pairs have been seen.

Singing a Different Tune?
Audio recordings of humpback whale sounds this year have recorded a very strange song -- one with lots of high tones. In past years, the songs have had deeper tones with rumbling sounds.

Challenge Question #2:
"Why do you think scientists are hearing different humpback songs this year?"

(To respond to this Challenge Question, please follow the instructions at the end of this report.)

Unlike some of the other Journey North correspondents, I am not a scientist, but a public outreach specialist with background in science journalism, education and ecology. I will serve as an intermediary for many field researchers and scientists who are working on cetacean studies. My reports will include sighting information from various locations, news reports on issues concerning whale conservation, and some of the latest scientific findings. My position at the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary provides me with the opportunity to work with some of the best cetacean scientists in the world.

This is Anne Smrcina of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary signing off for this week. I'll be filing my next report on February 17th.

How to Respond to Today's Humpback Whale Challenge Questions:

Please answer ONLY ONE question in each e-mail message!

1. Address an E-mail message to:
2. IMPORTANT: In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question # 1(OR # 2)
3. In the body of the EACH message, give your answer to ONE of the questions above.

The Next Humpback Whale Migration Update will Be Posted on February 17, 1999.

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