Humpback Humpback
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Humpback Whale Migration Update: February 2, 2000

Today's Report Includes:

Greetings from the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
Greetings from the Stellwagen Band National Marine Sanctuary. I'm Anne Smrcina, the education coordinator of the sanctuary and your humpback whale correspondent. Although I'm not a whale researcher, I'll be contacting a variety of scientists and naturalists and government officials over the next few months to give you the latest updates on humpback whale migrations and status of the population.

The humpback whale is one of the marine mammal species that is listed as endangered by the federal government. There were once many of these types of whales ranging over the world's oceans, but centuries of whaling (with the greatest effort from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s) decimated the populations. A whaling ban by most nations (and a promise by the whaling nations of Japan and Norway to concentrate on the more numerous minke whales) has led to a humpback whale population increase.

Top Ten List
The humpback population that we will be focusing on will be the North Atlantic population, and particularly the feeding group that moves between the Caribbean and the Gulf of Maine with a focus on the Stellwagen Bank area. The World Wildlife Fund a few years ago called the region off Cape Cod (actually Stellwagen Bank) one of the ten top areas in the world for whalewatching. The visiting humpbacks are the main reason for that title. The annual return of the humpbacks was also a major factor in the designation of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

I am also planning on getting information from other areas in the world where humpbacks can be found, including the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Students in that state have been asked to make observations from shore of whale sightings (the humpbacks spend the winter here in this calving ground) and then let us know when the whales have disappeared (beginning their long migration to Alaska).
Still Hanging Around

Migration Route of Atlantic Humpback Whales
Map courtesy of

Although it's generally accepted that the Stellwagen Bank whales are now down in the Caribbean (many of them visit the Silver Bank Humpback Whale Sanctuary off the Dominican Republic), we just don't know for sure if all the whales go there. I went out on the Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 21st and saw at least a dozen whales still hanging out in the sanctuary waters feeding on the numerous sand lance (a small bait fish). It is suspected that some juvenile whales (who are not of breeding age) may not always make the long trip to the Caribbean; during past years juvenile whales have been spotted off the coast of Virginia during the winter.

Positive ID
We were not able to get close enough to identify the humpbacks, and we suspect they may have left by now for the trip south. However, most of the whales in these waters can be identified by the researchers.

Challenge Question #1:
"How do researchers recognize one humpback from another?"

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

...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 16th.

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

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
3. In the body of the EACH message, give your answer to the question above.

The Next Humpback Whale Migration Update will Be Posted on February 16, 2000.

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