Following the Whales with
Mike Williamson

Featured Customer- Harbor Master News, Summer 1999

 HM News Page 1

 Zihua Home Page

Tech Notes

J. Michael Williamson ends each of his emails with the following lyrics from Jimmy Buffett's Pirate Looks at Forty:

Mother, Mother Ocean, I have heard your call
Wanted to sail upon your waters, since I was three feet tall.

Mike was a bit taller than three feet when his love of the ocean began. "I really only saw the ocean about three times before I was a junior in college. A friend's parent bought a B&B on Nantucket. We went there to work for the summer and that was the beginning." It was a beginning that led to undergraduate work at Michigan State, an advanced degree at Vermont College, and to his current position as Associate Professor of Science at Wheelock College in Boston, where he has taught marine biology, oceanography, physical science, ecology, and mathematics courses since 1988.

After college, Mike taught at Shore Country Day School in Beverly, Massachusetts, where he developed curricula using the resources of the marine environment. "I taught beach, fish, shark, whale units and the like, and the oceanography and marine mammal interest stuck. I became interested in whales by accident by including a whale unit in the curriculum that I developed for grades 1-6. It self-perpetuated from there. My research experience began aboard the Regina Maris in1976 in Newfoundland and Labrador and then in Massachusetts Bay leading whale watching trips. Marrying education and research with technology seemed like an obvious choice and WhaleNet was born!" Michael founded WhaleNet in 1993 to excite students about math, science, the environment and technology.

"WhaleNet is meant to enhance interest in math, science, and learning using actual research data and resources. This is real science, for better or worse, but it seems to keep the interest of the users (from pre-K through life-long learners)."

WhaleNet uses the Internet to allow students, researchers, and educators from around the world to share information and use actual research data and field experiences for learning. WhaleNet offers students and educators a source of data and information for interdisciplinary classroom lessons, curriculum resources, and interactive support. The WhaleNet website has received numerous awards for excellence, including recognition from the The Discovery Channel, Scientific American, the BBC, and the National Academy Press.

Projects and programs sponsored by WhaleNet include the Satellite Tagging Observation Program in cooperation with the New England Aquarium to follow tagged marine mammals, an online "ASK a Scientist" program and a humpback whale catalog, research voyages with student crews, and professional development workshops at collaborative sites throughout the country.

In addition to his work with WhaleNet, research projects, and teaching atWheelock College, Mike serves as an advisor to a number of marine organizations, including the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the Sustainable Seas Expedition of the National Geographic Society. When asked how he manages his many interests and commitments, Mike responded, "I burn the candle at both ends and at a few places in the middle too. Since WhaleNet began I haven't had a 'day off' since 1993. I travel with a computer to keep up. I just go and try to do what is needed and what will make the program more interesting and real."

Harbor Master is among the programs Mike keeps on his computer when he travels. "I feel that natural rhythms play a major role in the lives of marine organisms. I have yet to see a whale with a watch or a calendar. One of the major variables could very well be the tidal rhythm and this is worth taking note of when collecting and analyzing data." He also uses Harbor Master to teach about moon and tide relationships, types of tides in different locations, whale movement in relation to tides, and moon phases.

Jimmy Buffet's ode to "mother ocean" continues:

In your belly you can hold the treasures few have ever seen,
Most of 'em dreams, most of 'em dreams.

Unlike the aimless drifter in Pirate Looks at Forty, Mike has seen the treasures of the ocean, realized his dreams, and shared them with the rest of us.

Thanks, Mike.

Copyright 1999 Zihua Software, LLC