Tagging Whales in Stellwagen Bank this July!

Humpback in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Photo by Elliot Hazen

Do you remember the first story in Ocean Frontiers—Saving Whales at Stellwagen Bank? Not sure anyone could forget the amazing whale footage and the funny little suction cup things called DTAGs that the scientists were sticking onto the whales. But in case you did, you can always watch the clip from that story here. We are also excited to give an update on how the whale-tagging is going this summer.

Marine ecologist, Ari Friedlaender, attaches a DTAG on a humpback. Photo by Alison Stimpert

Dave Wiley, research coordinator for Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in Massachusetts, might have one of the coolest jobs ever. Since 2002, each summer, Dr. Wiley and his colleagues head out on a 187-foot research vessel to tag whales—to collect data, such as how whales move around, what their feeding patterns are, what they do at different depths and when they vocalize. Watch them in action here in a short 3-minute video.

Humpback breaches near research team. Photo by Ari Friedlaender

In those two weeks this summer, Dr. Wiley and his crew successfully tagged 21 humpback whales and identified around 160 individuals. Dr. Wiley proclaims, “We probably have one of the largest databases for fine-scale foraging behavior of anywhere in the world at this point.” Wiley added however, “The most striking insight is that each humpback has its own set of behaviors, often confounding efforts to generalize about the species. It’s frustrating and complicated and fascinating all at the same time.”

Ultimately, Dr. Wiley and his colleagues’ goal is to use the collected data to influence fishing and shipping rules that make sense for the whales and will help protect them. Read more about this summer’s tagging here in the New York Times.  

Best regards from all of us on the Ocean Frontiers team!
Karen Anspacher-Meyer
Executive Director, Green Fire Productions



Ocean Frontiers: Saving Whales at Stellwagen Bank

Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is a rich stretch of ocean at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay. It is home to several species of endangered whales including humpback whales and North Atlantic right whales. There are only an estimated 350-550 right whales remaining in the world.

The shipping lanes of Boston Harbor traverse through the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, bringing large ships through whale feeding grounds, resulting in deadly collisions.

Taking cues from the great whales’ travel ways, their sounds and whale song, shipping executives, marine biologists, the Port of Boston and an energy company came together and found a solution that worked for both commerce and whales. In 2007, the collaborative work of these ‘unlikely allies’ resulted in the first port in the nation, the Port of Boston, to move the shipping lanes to protect marine mammals—reducing the risk of ship strikes to endangered right whales and other large whale species by more than 80%.

In their on-going efforts, the collaborators recently released an exciting, new iPhone/iPad application called WhaleALERT. WhaleALERT is designed to augment existing ship navigation tools informing mariners of the safest and most current information to reduce the risk of ship and right whale collisions along the Eastern seaboard.

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