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Humpback Whale Migration Update: March 31, 1999

Today's Report Includes:

The Whales Have Arrived at Stellwagen Bank!
Greetings from the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Good News for all of you whalewatchers out there. The whales are returning. I just heard from several sources in the whalewatch community that whales have been seen on Stellwagen Bank. The New England Aquarium's first trips of the season this past weekend spotted a dozen humpback whales, several finbacks, minkes, white-sided dolphins and one right whale (see my right whale report).

I've heard that these appear to be juveniles, but I should have more detailed information for my next report.

One Day They're Here, And the Next...
And just as you would assume when whales start appearing up here, word from the Dominican Republic is that the whales have left. According to Kim Beddall in Samana Bay -- one day they're here, and the next they're gone.

Kim reported that the whalewatching season went until March 31st -- some 15 days later than most other years. On the 28th they even saw two surface active groups -- groups of animals demonstrating mating behaviors. But starting around the 23-24th the numbers had started to drop off. And on April 5th, despite hours of searching, not a single whale was seen in Samana Bay. A vessel will be heading out to Silver Bank for the April 7-14 period to see if any whales are remaining and whether the songs the males are singing have changed since the start of the winter.

The whales arrived a bit late this year in Samana Bay, peaked in numbers at around the end of the first week of March and have left a bit later than in past years. The numbers of mother-calf pairs seems to be about the same as in past years, however.

Official Permit Required
Kim also reported that the Dominican Republic's Navy has also acted very forcefully this year to protect the whales by prohibiting recreational boats from actively whalewatching. Boaters are only being allowed to transit Samana Bay to get to a destination -- they cannot go out just to get close to whales. Commercial whalewatching vessels had to get an official permit before they could take passengers out to see the whales in the bay.

Discussion of Challenge Question #7
Last time I asked "What is the difference between a mile and a nautical mile? And, for those of you with a love of nautical terminology, what is a knot?" Those of you who have been studying latitude and longitude know about degrees and minutes. For mariners and oceanographers, knowing latitude and longitude is vitally important -- since there are no landmarks to guide them by. They also use the nautical mile as the unit of distance.

The nautical mile is 1 minute of an arc measured along a meridian of longitude or along the equator. (The reason the equator is the only latitude parallel that can give a correct measurement is that it is the only parallel that goes through the center of the planet. The other parallels produce smaller circles that ring the planet -- for which one minute of arc would be a much smaller distance.) The nautical mile is equal to 1.85 kilometers or 1.15 miles. A knot is a term for "one nautical mile per hour." Twenty knots is twenty nautical miles per hour. Don't ever say "knots per hour" -- you'd just be repeating yourself and sounding like a landlubber.

Fifth grade Scott Young P.S.students, Stephen & Ryan, went the distance with this answer and they are no landlubbers:

"A knot is an unit of speed used by vessels/boats or aircraft. A knot being 1 nautical mile (about 1.15 mile or 1.85 km.) per hour." Ontario, Canada (

That's all for now. This is Anne Smrcina, education coordinator of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, signing off.

The Next Humpback Whale Migration Update will Be Posted on April 14, 1999.

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