WhaleNet Article

mike williamson (williams@whale.wheelock.edu)

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 (http://whale.wheelock.edu) 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 EnviroNet's (http://earth.simmons.edu/)regional 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 (http://whale.wheelock.edu/archives/). 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 http://whale.wheelock.edu/archives/(Figure 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 mile?
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.


To: whalenet@whale.wheelock.edu
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/NEWWv 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 area?

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 (http://whale.wheelock.edu/archives/netpal), WhaleNet Educational Resources and teaching units (http://whale.wheelock.edu/archives/wncurriculum), and WhaleNet data and information (http://whale.wheelock.edu/archives/whalenet).

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 http://whale.wheelock.edu/archives.

* WhaleNet Pals (http://whale.wheelock.edu/archives/netpal)

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 (http://whale.wheelock.edu/archives/whalenet) 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 http://whale.wheelock.edu; email:

williams@whale.wheelock.edu; 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