Hōkūleʻa passes by Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

As Hōkūleʻa and her crew sailed through the waters off Massachusetts on their way up and down the New England coastline, they touched waters home to New England’s only National Marine Sanctuary and famed home of the North Atlantic Humpback Whale, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

Stellwagen map

Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

The Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (http://stellwagen.noaa.gov/) is one of 13 sites managed under the National Marine Sanctuary Program, and is the only Sanctuary of New England. The Sanctuary program is run by the National Ocean Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Other widely recognized NOAA services are the National Weather Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS) sits at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay, between Cape Ann and Cape Cod. It is the only Sanctuary of New England, and home of NOAA’s “Get in Your Sanctuary Day” national campaign this summer (http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/visit/giys.html).

The sanctuary is an 842-square-mile (638-square-nautical-mile) marine protected area at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay. It encompasses all of Stellwagen and Tillies Banks, and the southern portion of Jeffreys Ledge. Stellwagen Bank is an important feature in the area. It is an underwater plateau at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay, formed by the sand, gravel and rock left behind as the ice sheets of the last Great Ice Age retreated. It is thought that 12,000 years ago Stellwagen Bank was actually above sea level, but as sea level rose and the glaciers continued to melt, the bank gradually submerged beneath the sea.

The mission of the Sanctuary is to conserve, protect and enhance the biological diversity, ecological integrity and cultural legacy of the sanctuary while facilitating compatible use. For centuries, Stellwagen Bank has served as a rich and productive fishing ground for groundfish species like cod, haddock and flounder, as well as giant Atlantic bluefin tuna and large schools of herring. During the past 50 years, the area gained fame as a whale watching destination – there are consistent sightings of the active behaviors of some of the largest animals on the planet here. Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary was recently voted Best Place to See Aquatic Life in USA Today, but has long served as a research and study area to protect the endangered humpback whale. In certain cases, four generations of whales have been documented in SBNMS!

After reading all about the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, test your memory with this quiz! http://stellwagen.noaa.gov/about/quiz.html

Humpback whales are long-distance migrants but return over and over again to the same feeding and birthing waters. Long–term research shows that individuals spend the summer and fall in the rich feeding grounds of Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS), and then in late fall migrate some 1,500 miles south to the warmer waters of the Caribbean to mate and give birth to their young. This pattern of migration from north to south and back again is followed by humpback families across Island Earth.

humpback whales

Image accessed from: http://www.oneworldoneocean.com/blog/entry/infographic_humpback_whales_around_the_world)

The North Atlantic and other humpback whales are cousins to the humpbacks we see annually in Hawaiʻi. Learn more about our own Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary by visiting their site (http://hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa.gov/) and downloading resources such as this great activity book for students (http://hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa.gov/documents/pdfs_activity_books/activity_book_2010.pdf), or visit other exciting organization sites to learn more about Humpback whales such as http://www.oneworldoneocean.com/. For more information about visiting a National Marine Sanctuary near you, or to explore the Sanctuaries virtually, click here: http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/visit/

Did you know that visiting sites like NOAA.gov can yield a wealth of classroom resources and ideas for lessons? We tried it using the search terms “humpback”, “whale”, “activity”, and “book” – and look what we found! https://search.usa.gov/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&affiliate=noaa.gov&query=humpback+whale+activity+book

Ready to try out any of these lessons or resources? Email us at education@pvshawaii.org to share with us what you do with this content – we would love to see pictures and student reflections that we can share on social media and our website!

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Are your students still in the beginning stages of identifying a problem they would like to try and solve? Don’t forget to check out the Mālama Honua Challenge and share your ideas about work that can be done in the future!

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