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Sea lions and turtles and whales, oh my!

Mystic, one of WhaleNet's tagged seals

This season, Signals of Spring is sponsoring several of WhaleNet’s satellite tags, and students are gearing up to start tracking marine species. WhaleNet is an educational organization focusing on marine research. Founded in 1993 with support from Wheelock College in Boston, MA, and the National Science Foundation, WhaleNet’s website ( allows teachers, students and the public to access data for dozens of animals.

WhaleNet is very unique in that it tracks so many different animals, and much of the data is available on their website in real time. Current tagged animals include hooded, harp, gray, and harbor seals, right whales, blue whales, and loggerhead turtles. Like Signals of Spring students, scientists use the location data to learn about the behavior of these animals. And as students often find, scientific investigations often lead to more questions. As Dr. Mike Williamson, Principal Investigator of WhaleNet put it, “It seems like the more we do, the more we find out how much we DON’T know.”

Although a lot remains unknown, WhaleNet researchers have had some very interesting findings! For example, a tag on a sperm whale showed that it went for a 1400 meter dive, the deepest yet recorded. That is over 5000 feet below the surface of the ocean! The scientists have found that seals do not go south for the winter as previously thought, but “meander” around in the Gulf of Maine. Using various tracking techniques, researchers recorded a Northern Right Whale (the most endangered of all North American species) move from Florida, up to the Bay of Fundy in Maine, and back to Florida—where she was seen with a newborn calf! That’s quite a trip for a mother to be!

Dr. Williamson is excited to be working with Signals of Spring again this year. He says that partnerships like WhaleNet and Signals of Spring allow students to do “real science,” and develop skills in math, science, technology and geography, while learning about a variety of topics. Students can use all of the online data to develop almost any project they can imagine—from connections with water temperature, to sighting densities, to migration.

Signals of Spring students: keep your eye on those marine species—-there is still plenty to learn!

 Sponsored by:
NASA logoNational Aeronautics and
Space Administration

(NASA Award NCC5433)
NOAA logoNational Oceanic &
Atmospheric Administration

(NOAA Award NA06SEC4690006)

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