Subject: WhaleNet Article

mike williamson (
Tue, 11 Feb 1997 14:38:39 -0500 (EST)

Using Research Data to Enhance Your Curriculum--
             WhaleNet, Whale Research, and Education

                             J. Michael Williamson
                           Associate Professor of Science
                          Principal Investigator-WhaleNet

     WhaleNet offers trans-disciplinary educational resources, access to 
the Satellite Tagging
Observation Program, the A.S.K. a Scientist Program, the WhaleNetPal 
Program, The "Link of the
Week", educational resources, and diverse professional development 
programs for educators.

     Students and teachers can access research data and information on 
actual whale research,
information from field researchers, related research, environmental 
links, and educational and
professional development activities (Ed 654: Field Studies in Marine 
Science) through WhaleNet
( on the internet.

     WhaleNet became an international educational resource accessed by as 
many as 120,000
transfers a day from participants in over 70 countries. It began an 
( monitoring project. 
WhaleNet's initial purpose was to
use data collected by students on whale watches in New England to monitor 
the populations and
movements of whales in the Gulf of Maine. 

WhaleNet Trans-disciplinary Activities and Use of Data

     Educational Resources section includes transdisciplinary start-up 
activities which can be down
loaded and used in K-12 classrooms. In addition to marine studies, these 
activities address important
skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and data analysis. 
WhaleNet activities are used in
geography, science, math, reading, writing and other subject areas.

     In Earth Science for example, bathymetric profiles can be 
constructed using whale watch
observation data downloaded from a WhaleNet listserv 
( In this
activity, students learn how to construct bathymetric (topographic) 
profiles and how whale
observations might be related to specific geologic features. 

     Some questions posed in this activity can initiate a wide range of 
learning activities. Examples of
study questions include:

  Why do specific prey species inhabit a particular location?
  In what depth of water are most whale observations made? Why? 
  What is the primary sediment composition (bottom material) in this 
area? Why? 
  How might the water depth influence the whale's feeding?

     Mathematically, students and teachers may use whale observation data 
downloaded from 1) collected on whale watch 
trips to generate questions and
study topics, such as:

  On a perticular trip, how many sightings are observed per hour? per 
  How does this data compare to other areas? to other days? to last year? 
  Is the data similar? different? Why? 
  Are the sightings related to water temperature? sea state? cloud cover?

     The following entry, submitted to the WhaleNet data base, gives you 
an idea of the scope of
information students and teachers can query.


Subject: Data/JL/Jul 31 95/MICS/Capt. Red/ED 654
Vessel-Capt.. Red
Location - Newburyport, MA. USA
Date-Jul 31 95
Sea State -1
Wave ht. - <1 ft.
Wind- <10 knots , Dir- S
Air temp.- 85' F 
Water temp- 66' F 
Cloud cover-0 %
Visibility-~20+ nm
Research-ED 654/MICS/NEWW
School-Wheelock College/Newburyport Middle School
Recorder-J. Halloran


922,42 51,70 37,350,s,n,g,b,n,68.5
954,42 51,70 21,d,Bp,1,1,b,n,66.
1000,42 51,70 20,d,Ba,1,1,b,n,67.9
1004,42 51,70 18,381,Ba,1,1,b,n,,67.7

Day Totals: Hrs-2.5 hr, La-12 , Bp-4, Mn-3, Ba-3, Cm-0
Figure 1: Sample WhaleNet Data Entry

     Creative writing, song writing, and environmental games are among 
the many and varied
activities that have been developed with WhaleNet data and information.


Satellite Tagging Observation Program

     The Satellite Tagging Observation Program gives students and 
educators access to actual and
unique research data. Satellite tags, in conjunction with established 
research groups and the New
England Aquarium's Pelagic Research Lab, will be placed on various 
species of marine organisms to
monitor their movements and to seek answers to questions never before solved.

  Where do he Atlantic blues whales go in the winter months? Do they 
calve there? 
  What route do the humpbacks follow on their migrations? 
  Where do the right whales go? 
  What is the habitat range for these animals? 
  Where do seals go when released from a stranding?

     The answers to these questions are important to gaining a better 
understanding of the natural
historythese organisms. 

     Participants can access the same data and fixes that the scientists 
receive from the satellite tags to
plot and follow the movements of the organisms. The new data can be 
analyzed by the students, and
questions on the organism's rate of travel, migration route, feeding and 
calving areas can be addressed.

Map of "Metompkin's" Movements.

  Why would this organism inhabit a particular area? 
  What is available there to benefit the animal? 
  Why is the prey species abundant in that area? 
  What is the water temperature and current structure in that particular 

     The first satellite tag was placed on a Right Whale, "Metompkin", 
off of the Florida/Georgia
border on January 6, 1996 and the tag remained operational until the 
batteries ran out on July 4, 1996.
Students can correlate the right whale tag fixes with other information 
for research such as Gulf
Stream data or sea surface temperatures also available on the internet. 
Metompkin was observed in the
Bay of Funday in August healthy and clear of any fishing gear.

     Many NASA and oceanographic internet sites have information on 
oceanographic and current
data. Many of these sites are available on the WhaleNet 's Educational 
Resources page.

     Over the next two years, WhaleNet plans to collaborate on and share 
data on different satellite
tagging projects: blue whales, to monitor the use of their summer feeding 
areas and then to try to
discover where they travel during the winter months. This is part of an 
effort to eventually assess their
recruitment rate. Humpback whales and bowhead whales will be tagged in 
order to discover their route
of migration and habitat use. Arctic seals will be monitored to access 
their movements and habitat use.
And, the very rare right whales will be tracked to determine their range 
of movement in the western
North Atlantic Ocean. 

A.S.K. (Acquiring Scientific Knowledge) a Scientist

     The A.S.K. programs gives the students the opportunity to personally 
contact researchers for
information via email. WhaleNet has scheduled practicing scientists and 
naturalists from many
geographic locations who are active in whale research, manatee research, 
and oceanographic research,
etc. to be on-line to respond to student inquiries.

     WhaleNet also has researchers from the Western North Atlantic 
Humpback Whale Catalogue at
Allied Whale, College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine scheduled to 
assist and respond to research
queries on specific humpback whales.

WhaleNet Educational Listservs

     WhaleNet Listservs have been established for educational purposes 
and include WhaleNet Pals
(, WhaleNet Educational 
Resources and teaching units
(, and WhaleNet data and 

     These listservs offer two methods of access. One may subscribe to 
the listservs and receive all of
the contributed information automatically via email, or one can access 
the listservs on the WhaleNet
server at the URL's listed above to read and download the files as is 
convenient at

     * WhaleNet Pals (

     The WhaleNet Pals program establishes a directory of classes which 
wish to contact and
collaborate with other classes on common points of interest. This 
directory on the WhaleNet site
enables students to locate and collaborate with distant students via 
email on common research and
educational projects.

     * WhaleNet Curriculum Units 

     The wncurriculum listserv lists a variety of teaching activities 
that can be downloaded,
personalized and used. This listserv also affords educators an 
opportunity to upload and share
successful teaching units with other educators.

     * WhaleNet Listserv ( 
     The WhaleNet listserv distributes all of the data and information 
files that are contributed to the
listserv by the students, scientists, and other participants.

     The primary goals of WhaleNet are to provide high-interest resources 
to facilitate learning;
enhance interest in science; develop problem-solving and other critical 
thinking skills; and increase
understanding using telecommunications.

     WhaleNet is administered through by J. Michael Williamson through 
Wheelock College in
association with Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts, and the 
program is funded by a NIE grant
from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

     For more information log-on to WhaleNet at; email:; or write J. Michael Williamson, 
WhaleNet/Wheelock College, 200 The
Riverway, Boston, MA 02215-4176 or call 617/734-5200, ext. 256.

J. Michael Williamson
   Principal Investigator-WhaleNet <>
   Associate Professor-Science
   Wheelock College, 200 The Riverway, Boston, MA 02215
voice: 617.734.5200, ext. 256
fax:    617.734.8666, or 508.468.0073