Humpback Humpback
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Humpback Whale Migration Update: March 1, 2000

Today's Report Includes:

Greetings from the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
I'm Anne Smrcina, the education coordinator of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the humpback whale correspondent. This report is a short one as sightings are still sporadic.

Interested in a Caribbean Cruise? Research Cruise, That Is!
We should have some interesting information coming in soon as a research cruise is now underway in the Caribbean Sea down to the waters off Venezuela. The sponsoring organization of the cruise is the National Marine Fisheries Service, Office of Protected Resources, which is charged with developing conservation measures for endangered marine species, including the humpback whale. This cruise is geared towards developing a better estimate of species numbers.

Why Keep Track?

Photo courtesy of
Thomas L. Conlin

Why are we interested in keeping track of the whales in the waters off of Venezuela? Here's a challenge question for you.

Challenge Question #4:
"Why would a US federal agency charged with the endangered species conservation and protection, want to know about numbers of humpback whales in waters outside the U.S.?"

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

Breeding Whales Do Funny Things!

Photo courtesy of
Thomas L. Conlin

Humpback whales in the breeding grounds often engage in active behaviors, including breaching, lobtailing (slapping the tail on the water), and pectoral fin slapping. The males (and only the males) in these waters are famous for their songs - long series of vocalizations that can last for up to 30 minutes. Although a few songs have been heard in the northern feeding grounds late in the season, most of the singing happens in the southern breeding grounds. The songs have been compared to bird songs, but their purpose is still unknown.

Challenge Question #5
"Why do you think the male Humpback Whales sing? What are they trying to communicate?"

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

Social Time in the Breeding Grounds! Discussion of CQ #2
We got lots of very creative answers to our CQ #2: "Why would it be good to have groups of whales from various feeding grounds mix in the breeding grounds?" Most of you were right on!
"We think it is good to have a mix of whales in the breeding ground because if you breed two different whales from two different places you could have a stronger whale. If you just breed with your relatives you basically get the same blood and there wouldn't be as much variety. Also there would be more whales to pick from. If the female didn't like the males she could also pick from the other whales from the world." Ideas from Mrs. Howley's Fifth Grade class in Southwest Harbor, Maine (especially Karli, Fox, and Mikey!)

Here is what Anne says: "If the relatively small population in each of the feeding grounds (several hundred to several thousand) were to remain isolated, inbreeding may lead to a weakened gene pool. By bringing many different whales together in the breeding grounds, nature has provided the humpback whales with a means of assuring genetically mixed stocks. Mothers take their calves back to their specific feeding grounds, so family groups can retain some stronger linkages during the rest of the year."

Thanks also to the Iselin Middle School (, for so many ideas.

Must Have Been a Juvenile: Responses to CQ #3
It is great to learn how many mathematicians are out there! We had many classes respond to CQ #3. about the dead whale found off the Georgia coast. Here is the question again: "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?"

All of the calculations went into the hundredths of a foot! And, all were between 29 and 30 feet. Here is Anne Smrcina's answer: Calves can be about 15 feet in length. Adults are about 45-50 feet. This whale is about 30 feet in length, which probably makes it a juvenile.

That's all for this report. This is Anne Smrcina of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary signing off. I'll be filing my next report March 15. See you then!

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 #4 or Challenge Question #5.
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 15, 2000.

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