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Right Whale Migration Update: April 12, 2000

Today's Report Includes:

Greetings from the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.
This year's migration reports on right whales have been somewhat skimpy due to the lack of whale sightings in parts of their range. The few whales that did show up in the calving ground, and the scientists who traveled to study them, have cleared out for other waters.

The Final Tally for Winter 1999-2000
The final tally was one definite calf, and an unconfirmed second sighting. The researchers are now setting their sights on the possibility of seeing that one calf, and possibly others in the northern spring and summer feeding grounds. The one hope the researchers have is that they might have missed a calving area There may be one that was either further offshore, or north or south of the section of ocean that was patrolled. In the past, a few calves showed up in the feeding grounds that had not been seen down south. We can hope this is the case this year.

Mysterious Whales, Where Are You?
Range of Right Whale
Courtesy of Macalester College
Right whale migrations are somewhat mysterious. We do know that pregnant females have gone to the shallow, warmer, calmer waters off Georgia and Florida in the past. However, this year the whales seemed to have moved a bit northward off South Carolina. In the winter and early spring, while mothers and calves are usually down south, other adults (non-pregnant females and males) and juveniles visit Cape Cod Bay to feed on abundant zooplankton (primarily small crustaceans called copepods). But this feeding group which can be just a few, or up to 3-4 dozen, is only a fraction of the total population. On March 23rd there were 43 counted by teams in an airplane and the Center for Coastal Studies' research vessel. Where are the others? There are supposedly some 300 whales in this population of northern right whales.

In late summer-early fall, the whales have tended to congregate in the Bay of Fundy and off the southern and eastern coasts of Nova Scotia. While numbers can reach several score ("score" means 20), there are still a large number of missing whales that are out there somewhere. Where are the whales? This is a research question that researchers are working on right now.

Challenge Question #11:
"If you were a scientist, what would you do to find the missing whales?"

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

YIKES! Big Whales and Bigger Ships Share Channel
In April and May, as copepod concentrations shift with changing water temperatures and water movements, the whales have tended to move out into the Great South Channel, a deeper passage between Nantucket and Georges Bank. All three of these areas have been named right whale critical habitat by the U.S. government. The Channel, unfortunately for the whales, is part of the coast that also serves as the major shipping channel for north-south movement of large ships.. This area is a lot less accessible to whale protection patrols than the southern grounds or Cape Cod Bay.
Look at the Ocean Floor
Find a map of the eastern United States that shows the topography of the ocean floor. Study the water depths around Cape Cod and find Nantucket Island and the Nantucket Shoals. Look for Georges Bank to the east (between 40 and 42 degrees north latitude)and then see how you would answer this next challenge question.

Challenge Question #12:
"After studying the maps of the ocean depths in the whale's summer feeding grounds, write 5 questions that come into your mind. Challenge your classmates to answer them and submit your best ones to us."

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

That's all for this week. This is Anne Smrcina, education coordinator of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, signing off.
How to Respond to Today's Right Whale Challenge Question:
1. Address an E-mail message to: jn-challenge-rwhale@learner.org
2. IMPORTANT: In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question #11, or #12
3. In the body of the your message, answer the question above.
The Next Right Whale Migration Update will Be Posted on April 26, 2000.

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