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Humpback Whale Migration Update: April 28, 1999

Today's Report Includes:

First Mother/Calf Pairs Arrive at Stellwagen!
Greetings from the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

Lots of whales are making appearances in the Sanctuary, including our first mothers and calves. Anvil and her calf were first seen on April 23 by the Center for Coastal Studies out of Provincetown, Cape Cod, Mass. on the southern portion of the Bank. She was also spotted by researchers from the Cetacean Research Unit (CRU) based in Gloucester, Mass. It appears that the whales are moving up and down along the bank in a ravenous search for food -- which they're finding in large supply. According to the CRU staff, the humpbacks are returning in record numbers, including many whales who have not been seen in several years.

The Center for Coastal Studies reports that Anvil's calf is probably less than four months old, yet it has already migrated some 1,600 miles. It will continue to nurse and stay with its mother for the next six months, before heading out on its own. Calves usually return to the same feeding grounds as their mothers, so this calf should be returning in future years. Anvil was first sighted in 1985 and has had at least three other calves (Dragonfly in 1989, an unnamed calf in 1993, and Orator in 1997). She was named for the symmetrical anvil-like shape of black pigment on her fluke.

Another returning mother (seen in both the northern and southern ends of the bank) is Dyad. And both groups of whale researchers report an additional unknown sighting (which means two additional mothers -- the researchers say the markings on the two reported unknown whales are different). In addition to the mother-calf pairs, the researchers from both groups have been seeing lots of finbacks and Atlantic white-sided dolphins (up to 1,000 in a trip). In Cape Cod Bay, researchers are still seeing right whales, and CRU reported a right whale on the northern tip of Stellwagen Bank.

What's in a Name? Challenge Question #10

"Based on all of the humpback names you see below, can you figure out the rules for humpback whale naming?"

Here are 3 important rules we use when naming humpbacks:

1. The names cannot be ____ names, like Ted or Heather.

2. The names cannot tell the ____ of the whale, like Mr. Tibbs, Miss Take, Filly or Fowl.

3. The names should be ____ about some of the whale's _____.

Among the humpback whales that have been seen on Stellwagen Bank are:
Abrasion Follicle Nile Springboard
Bandit Foxfire Nimbus Staff
Cajun Funnel Onyx Stellar
Cardhu Giraffe Orbit Sword
Churn Grommet Palette Thalassa
Collision Hancock Pepper Thread
Crystal Isthmus Purity Trident
Division Lasso Pylon Tunguska
Dome Leukos Rapier Underline
Echo Loon Reaper Vulture
Eyebrow Mauro Reflection Walrus
Fern Meerkat Relampago Wizard
Firefly Meteor Salt Wyoming
Fist Milky Way Shears Zebra
Flamingo Mural Skateboard Zeppelin
      Tabasco ('98 calf of Salt)

(To respond to this question, please follow the instructions below.)

Ladies and Children First? Discussion of CQ #8
Challenge Question #8 was about returning whales and we asked: "Why do you think the last year's mothers and their calves are usually the first to return to Stellwagen each spring?"

Fifth Graders in NJ had a healthy appetite for this question and said: "The mothers want to get back to Stellwagen, because they want to get the food before the rest of the pack." Alex Yeaw and Vijay Bakshi, 5th grade Travell School Ridgewood, NJ Mrs. Lang's class - E-1048 (

Last year's mothers AND JUVENILE WHALES are often the ones that appear first back at the feeding grounds. These are the animals least concerned with breeding (the females are recovering from their earlier calving and nursing period, and the juveniles are not yet able to breed) and most concerned with eating (and building up their blubber reserves). Mothers with calves probably leave the breeding grounds next, but may take some time to arrive. Usually, the last animals to leave the breeding grounds are the mature males and females who are not yet pregnant. But as you can see from the list, there are a lot of whales back in the Sanctuary, and they do not fit any one category -- there are males and females, mature adults and juveniles, and now mothers and calves.

Why Winter Whales in Virginia? Discussion of CQ #9
Last time we asked "Why do you suppose the young humpbacks remained off the Virginia coast rather than migrate?"

Researchers believe that if large amounts of prey are available, young whales may find the food more irresistible than the urge to migrate -- since there's not much for them to do in the breeding grounds.

A Whale of a Curriculum
A free whale curriculum is available for teachers on the Cetacean Research Unit web site. The CRU web page also has weekly updates (posted on Mondays) of whales seen during CRU's research trips and local commercial whalewatch cruises.

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

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Question:

1. Address an E-mail message to:
2. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question #10
3. In the body of your message, answer the question above.

The Next Humpback Whale Migration Update will Be Posted on May 12, 1999.

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