Friday, April 23, 2010

Floating Classroom Program for Captain John Whale Watching and Fishing Tours, April 24, 2010

Today was the first official floating classroom provided by Captain John Whale Watching and Fishing Tours out of Plymouth, MA. The group onboard were high school students attending the 16th Annual High School Environmental Symposium sponsored by Mass Maritime Academy. Students participating in this two-day symposium came from all over the state of Massachusetts.

Volunteering onboard the floating classroom was NECWA intern Nick Schomburg. This was Nick's first floating classroom as an instructor, but he had participated in a similar floating classroom program as a 7th grade student at Plymouth Public Schools. Nick jumped right into the Plankton Observation Station and co-taught the station with Dr. Sandy Williams.

Students were fascinated to get a closer look at the plankton net that had just been used to collect a sample for their observation. And what a fabulous sample it was for it was chock full of copepods and amphipods as well as an occasional marine worm and ctenophore.

Students examined magnified zooplankton samples using dissecting scopes as well as hand-held Discovery Scopes. Many could not believe what they were seeing as critters zoomed in and out of view.
Additional learning stations included Navigation and Safety in the wheelhouse with Capt. Sean Baker and Nautical Knot with Captain John crew members Robie and Nate. It was
fun to see who was better at knot tying and it wasn't always the male students!

Another station was dedicated to the American Lobster. This station was lead by Michael Pigo-Cronin who has been a naturalist with Captain John Boats for many years. Students learned about the biology and ecology of this very important invertebrate as well as the fishing industry surrounding it.
One last station was the touch tank station where students could closely examine and handle many different types of live marine animals. Belinda Rubinstein, a NECWA staff member, had fun showing the students just want critters live in Plymouth Harbor in the spring. There were a lot of oohs and ahhs as students picked up spider crabs, hermit crabs, lobsters and other slippery marine invertebrates.

Students spent 10 minutes at each station and then rotated to the next station in line. All stations included a number of hands-on activities that engaged the students and helped them connect to the marine environment around them.

At the end of the floating classroom program, the Tails of the Sea, the whale watching vessel owned and operated by Captain John Boats passed us as they were heading in from their afternoon whale watch. NECWA was proud to have Nick volunteer for this very first floating classroom of the season. Nick's assistance with the floating classroom program is one way that NECWA can thank Captain John Whale Watching and Fishing Tours for supporting their internship program for high school and college students. Without Captain John's support, this internship program would not be as comprehensive and exciting as it currently is.

So we ask you to support our collaborator and partner - Captain John Whale Watching and Fishing Tours. Check out the many programs and trips they offer by going to their website at

Earth Day Event at Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary, Barnstable, MA

Today NECWA joined Mass Audubon's Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary in Barnstable, MA for an Earth Day presentation on Salt, the humpback whale. The presentation was provided by Krill Carson with the help of NECWA intern Nick Schomburg.

Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary is a 110-acre sanctuary that is part of Mass Audubon Society. This beautiful sanctuary is nestled alongside Barnstable Harbor and comprises pastures, marshes, ponds and salt-water beaches. Inside the sanctuary building are wonderful eduactional displays as well as animal displays including a tank of juvenile diamondback terrapins.

Jodi Limon Montoya, Long Pasture's Education Coordinator, introduced Krill and Nick to an audience that included children of all ages as well as adults. During NECWA's presentation, Krill and Nick told the audience about Salt, the most loved and famous and well know humpback whale in the world. The PowerPoint presentation not only had color photos of Salt and the other unique coastal marine wildlife off New England, but also included short video clips.

At one point in the presentation kids (and even adults) were asked to stand up and sing the "Salt the Humpback Whale Song." Guests of the event were treated to a fascinating display table full of interesting marine wildlife artifacts such including humpback baleen, prey items like sandlance and krill, and all sorts of bones and jaws.

Among the other activities NECWA provided was a fun arts & crafts activity where kids (and adults alike) were able to make a "Salt" fluke of their own! Perhaps one of the most interesting displays NECWA offered was the viewing of an 25-ft inflatable humpback whale calf named Crystal. Crystal is the first known calf of Salt and the inflatable whale represented the size that Crystal would have reached on his first birthday!

Overall, everyone had a great time in this Earth Day event which was very successful and fun. We hope you had a wonderful and productive Earth Day as well. We invite all our members, staff and friends to make every day, Earth Day.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Right Whale Days at the New Bedford Whaling Museum

This Monday, NECWA staff member Val, her daughter Nicole and Nicole's friend Abby were part of Right Whale Day at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. To learn more about this exciting event, read Val's update below.

Hello from Val. Right Whale Day at the Whaling Museum in New Bedford was a huge success! My daughter Nicole and her friend Abby volunteered in helping with the two craft projects that NECWA provided for the event.

One activity was making and decorating an origami right whale. It was fun to see how each child decorated their origami whale with stickers, glitter glue and markers. The creativity was just amazing and wonderful to see.

The second arts & craft activity was decorating a right whale fluke and giving it a name based on one of the the right whale names that are currently in use for live animals.

I was so glad to have Nicole and Abby helping out for we were quite busy and having lots of fun doing the crafts with happy children of all ages.

And while doing the crafts, we also talked about biology facts involving endangered Right whales that applied to our crafts. For example, we asked the children to pick out an actual right whale name for their fluke. And we had them use glue dots to simulate right whale callosities. We also talked about how right whales typically produce a v-shaped blow when they return to the surface and exhale. And we discussed how right whales are one of the most endangered whales in the world!

All in all, a wonderful time was had by one and all.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

NECWA Presents at the Cape Cod Natural History Conference

On Saturday, April 3, NECWA staff members Krill Carson and Ann Cook along with intern Nick Schomburg participated in the 15th annual Cape Cod Natural History conference sponsored by MA Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. This annual gathering is a community-oriented conference that focuses on the unique flora and fauna of Cape Cod and the islands.

At today's conference, Krill and Nick presented their research on the ocean sunfish that stranded on Cape Cod beaches in 2008 and 2009. Ann also participated in a number of these examinations so was well versed when updating interested participants. The work being conducted by NECWA focuses on better understanding the stranding patterns of ocean sunfish in our area as well as their biology and internal anatomy.

Also at the NECWA table was material on NEBShark (the New England Basking Shark Project), NECWA's community sighting network for both ocean sunfish and basking sharks. And NECWA provided a number of educational displays that included ocean sunfish bones and prey items including copepods, a favorite food of the basking shark.

Many conference participants stopped by the table to read the ocean sunfish poster, learn how they can report sightings to NEBShark and to chat with Krill, Ann and Nick. But by and large, folks were most interested in the ocean sunfish bones on display. Although ocean sunfish are classified as the heaviest bony fish in the world, their bones are more similar to the cartilaginous bones of sharks, skates and rays.

But if anything rings true about the ocean sunfish, it is that this pelagic fish is odd from many perspectives. The research that NECWA is conducting on this species is helping biologists better understand this odd marine animal that is an ocean wanderer as it seeks out its favorite prey, jellyfish!

Below is the abstract for NECWA's poster on Stranded Ocean Sunfish along the shores of Cape Cod Bay for 2008 and 2009.

Title: Ocean Sunfish, Mola mola, Stranding and Necropsy Information, 2008 and 2009.

The ocean sunfish, Mola mola, is the heaviest bony fish in the world and has a very odd appearance as it lacks a true caudal (tail) fin. Sunfish observed off Cape Cod are typically 6 to 10 feet in length and weigh between 200 – 1000 pounds. Sunfish migrate to the waters of Cape Cod Bay and Massachusetts Bay to feed on jellyfish, ctenophores and other gelationous animals abundant in cold waters. In the fall of 2008 and 2009, staff from the New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance (NECWA), Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, Cape Cod Consultants, NEBShark volunteers and others responded to reports of over 25 ocean sunfish that stranded alive or dead on the shores of Cape Cod Bay.

The majority of stranding reports of ocean sunfish were sent to the New England Basking Shark Project (NEBShark), a community network maintained by NECWA. In the fall of 2008, 5 ocean sunfish were reported stranded with only 1 individual stranding alive. This individual died shortly after stranding. In 2009, over 16 ocean sunfish were reported stranded with only 1 indivudual stranding alive. A rescue attempt was made for this individual, but the fish died during the rescue attempt.

In 2008 and 2009, NECWA staff and collaborators were able to collect external body measurements and photographs on many of the carcasses reported during both years. For carcasses that were fresh or recently exposed, NECWA staff were able to conduct necropsies or animal autopsies in an attempt to better understand the internal anatomy of this species. In 2008, 3 carcasses were necropsied and in 2009, 4 carcasses were necropsied. The poster that NECWA presented reviewed the data collected from these external and internal examinations.

In 2009 a focus was placed on determining the age of ocean sunfish that strand on Cape Cod beaches. Fisheries biologists typicaly examine the otoliths of bony fish in order to determine the age of the individual. Otoliths are calcified structures in the inner ear channels of bony fish that help the fish maintain balance and position in the water column. Given the large size of the ocean sunfish, it was hoped that the otoliths of this species could be used for this analysis.

NECWA staff and collaborators collected otoliths from a number of stranded individuals. With the help of scientists from Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, it was discovered that the otoliths of ocean sunfish are not appropriate for age determination studies due to their small size and grainy composition. Focus is now shifted to the vertebrae of the sunfish in the hope that this species can be aged using similar techniques that is successful for cartilaginous fish, like sharks and skates.