Humpback Humpback
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Humpback Whale Migration Update: February 16, 2000

Today's Report Includes:

Greetings from the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
I'm Anne Smrcina, the education coordinator of the sanctuary and your humpback whale correspondent. 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.

Photo Courtesy of
Thomas L. Conlin

Whales Meet Whales in the Caribbean
This is the heart of the breeding and calving season for northern hemisphere humpback whales. In the North Atlantic, many humpbacks are spending their days in the Caribbean, with the waters off the Dominican Republic serving as a prime location but other islands offering sheltered waters for new mothers and calves and for groups of socializing adults. The whales that once actively fed in the cold, northern waters of the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary and Gulf of Maine have met up with their counterparts from other northern feeding grounds.

Challenge Question #2
"Why would it be good to have groups of whales from various feeding grounds mix in the breeding grounds?"

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

Migration Route of Atlantic Humpback Whales
Map courtesy of

Some Whales Stay in the North
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 humpbackwhales go there. I wrote last time that on Dec. 21st, that I saw at least a dozen whales still hanging out in the sanctuary waters of the Stellwagen Bank 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.

Humpback Found Off Georgia Coast
Although many whales make these migrations, there are some whales that seem to ignore the regular timetable, and some whales appear to not make any migration at all. Researchers in Virginia are reporting that some humpbacks have been seen off their coast this winter, and a dead whale was found off of Cumberland Island, GA (30 44N 81 25W) and towed to shore on Jan. 31. Barb Zoodsma, a senior wildlife biologist with the Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources reported that the carcass was very decomposed, much too far gone to determine its sex or if human interaction was involved in the animal's demise. She did not know at that time if the skeleton would be examined for possible trauma (things like broken or crushed bones that might have been caused by a ship strike). She did report that a visual examination did not show any entangling gear. The straight length of the whale (as best as she could take it) was 895 cm.

Challenge Question #3
"The whale's length was 895 cm. How long is that in feet? Do you think this whale was a calf, a juvenile or an adult?"

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

Response to Challenge Question #1:

Photo courtesy of
Thomas L. Conlin

"How do the researchers tell one whale from another? How do they identify each individual?"
Anne Smrcina says: "Humpbacks are distinguished by the markings on the underside of their tails (also known as flukes). The patterns can range from all black to all white, with most having a mix. The researchers pick out distinguishing marks (which may also be scars - scars on the white portion appear dark and scars on the dark portions of the tails appear white). A whale named "Cat's Paw" has a mark on her tail that looks just like a paw print. "Seven" has a mark that looks like the number 7. Since humpbacks lift their tails out of the water when they dive, researchers can see and photograph the flukes, allowing for identification."

Thanks to all of the classes that responded! Here is one of the great responses we received. It is from Mrs. Howley's fifth grade class: "We think the answer to question #1 is that the scientists can tell one whale from another by looking at their flukes for any marks, scars, color, or notches bitten out of it. We are pretty sure of this because we live by a harbor, we see lots of whales. Luckily, we are on the migratory route in Southwest Harbor, ME."

...This is Anne Smrcina of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
signing off for this week. I'll be filing my next report on March 1.

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 #2 or Challenge Question #3.
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 March 1, 2000.

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