Picture of a humpback whale breaching the surfaceWhaleNet Activities

WhaleNet Start-up Educational Activities

Expand Your Educational Horizons with Telecommunications

WhaleNet, in conjunction with research groups, educational organizations, and whale watch companies, provides programs to enhance the education of students.

WhaleNet uses telecommunications to offers curriculum resources, a source of data for interdisciplinary classroom activities, and interactive informational support.

WhaleNet programs include:

Class activities may be supplemented with information and materials made available through WhaleNet. Materials include:

WhaleNet is a teacher enhancement project funded by the National Science Foundation (RED-9454757) and sponsored by Wheelock College in Boston. The purpose of WhaleNet is to enhance science education and environmental awareness using interdisciplinary learning and telecommunications.

WhaleNet Sample & Start-up Activities

Note: You can use these activities without actually going on a whale watch trip. Most activities can be done using WhaleNet data from the archives.

Activities Goal:

The goal of this section is to give you ideas on how WhaleNet data and information can be used. This section is meant to stir your own educational creativity. Personalize these activities so that they will be suitable for you, your class, and your geographic location.

If you cannot go on your own whale watch trip, WhaleNet data can be accessed in "Whale Watch Data" or "Ask, Case Studies, and News Archives". Good luck and enjoy the experiences. If you have questions contact me.

Activity 1: Navigation

Simple navigation methods can be used to involve mathematics. Using latitude and longitude, or a system of navigation called LORAN (Long Range Aid to Navigation), a ship's position can be plotted very accurately on a navigation chart of the area.

With a plot of the ship's course a number of activities can be undertaken. For example, calculate the distance covered and the rate of the vessel's travel from point to point (D=R*T, " a minute's a mile the world around"). The depth of water at various points can be found by checking the depth on the chart at the point of the fix and thus the topography of the research track can be observed (see bathymetry below). Using the research track data, students can note locations, depths, topography, etc. where marine mammals are observed and correlate them with the behavior observed.

Navigation charts are available for ~$14.00 or a bathymetric (fishing) chart for ~$4.50 through boat yards or boating magazines. The bathymetric chart gives a better visualization of the bottom topography and may be more helpful if a study of bottom topography is planned. The bathymetric chart also has some LORAN lines on it, but not as many as the navigation chart. Prior to your "trip", laminate your chart or cover it with clear contact paper. The students can use water soluble fine tip markers to plot the fixes and courseon the map as the day progresses. NOTE: You only need the Lat/Long or two LORAN coordinates to plot a position. Different colors can be used to indicate different species sightings, etc. The chart can be reused when the fixes are washed off.

Activity 2: Data Collection

Data collection includes: the location of the observation, species observed, number of each species, grouping and behavior of the organism, and any other information that might be useful.

In advance of the activity or trip photocopy Sighting Data sheets from those included in this packet. Research groups can be assigned in a manner appropriate to the class. If you actually go on a whale watch, arrange to have data taken at least every 15 minutes, throughout the trip, by groups or individuals.

(To print data sheet, go to Page Setup, reduce print image to 90%, and
select landscape or horizontal image, then Print.)

It is suggested that only one person at a time be assigned to record the position coordinates (Lat/Long) if this is done in the pilot house. The captain should be contacted and asked about the best procedure prior to the trip. Some vessels have Lat/Long or LORAN receivers in the public cabin, inquire about this at the time you make your reservations.

For more class involvement, additional data can be collected on pollution (floating trash) and bird sightings. The Pollution Data sheet includes the time sighted, location, item of trash, composition of the trash (what's it made of?), amount of trash (number), condition, weather anything is growing on the trash and other notes. The times for sightings can be coordinated with the position recordings to approximate the location of the trash. Totals for each item sighted should be compiled.

Bird sightings can be recorded in a similar fashion. There is a bird sighting bulletin board in EnviroNet. See the EnviroNet booklet for procedures to input bird data. To obtain a booklet contact earth@sun.simmons.edu.

Activity 3: Photo-Identification of Whales

Whether you find your fluke images on WhaleNet, use the Voyage of the Mimi, adopt a humpback whale, or photograph a whale on a whale watch, you may want to photo-identify the individual. To identify images of Humpback Whale flukes look for the similarities and differences in the fluke pigmentation patterns. Type 1 is an all white fluke, Type 3 is 50% white and 50% black, and Type 5 is an all black fluke. If you have access to a Humpback Whale Fluke Catalogue or WhaleNet Guide CD-ROM match your photographs with those in the catalogue. Begin making your own fluke catalogue and use it each trip/year that students study whales and/or participate in a whale watch.

If you go on a whale watch and find a whale not in the Hump Whale Catalogue, pictures can be mailed to Allied Whale, College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, Maine 04609 to be entered into the Humpback Whale Catalogue data base. Record photo-identification photographs of whales taken on the cruise, as follows: date, location (lat/long), photographer's name, roll number (label each roll of film with the initials of the photographer & roll number such as: JMW/95-001), and picture number. Use the photographs to classify and identify likenesses and differences between individuals of the same species.





WhaleNet developed a CD-ROM of the Gulf of Maine Humpback Fluke Catalogue in conjunction with Allied Whale at the College of the Atlantic. This CD-ROM is available.

Activity 4: Mathematics

After you download a data set from the WhaleNet listserv or collect data on a whale watch, plot the complete research track on a navigation or bathymetric chart.
How many miles did the trip cover?
What was the average speed of the boat from fix to fix and for the entire trip?
What was the heading (compass direction) on each leg of the trip?
How many sightings were made for each hour of the trip? (This is the "catch effort" used by whalers to compare the efficiency of a trip. The "Catch Effort" method can also be used to compare different trips, on different days, locations, boats, etc.)

See the Educational Resources page for the Map Generator and Distance Generator which give you the ability to make maps and determine distances and bearings between any two points using the latitude and longitude.

Activity 5: Analysis of Whale Watch Data (Mathematics/Elementary Stat)

Suggestions for analysis: (1) compare "catch efforts" (number of sightings of a species for each hour on the whale watch) for different days, different species, etc.; (2) compare the range of behaviors of species on a given day; (3) compare data for specific areas on a given day or week i.e., Jeffrey's Ledge and Stellwagen Bank; (4) compare numbers of cow/calf pairs on given days; (5) compare the depths where the different species were observed; (6) compare where most of the sightings were, on the bank or ledge, over the deep water, etc. or (7) compare numbers of sightings vs. sea state, cloud cover, wind velocity, etc.

Activity 6: Bathymetry (Math/Graphing, Earth Science)

The ocean's bottom topography, bathymetry, can be plotted and displayed using graph paper placed along each leg of the research track.

Look at the range of depths over the track and determine an appropriate scale for the depths to be graphed. Fold a piece of graph paper along a line about one inch from the edge of the paper. Place the graph paper on the track line, and using your predetermined scale for depth, plot the depth of the bottom on the (vertical) Y-axis vs. appropriate/convenient points, along the research track, on the (horizontal) X-axis. Connect the profile strips for each leg of the cruise to show the bottom topography of the entire trip.

Return to the bottom topography profile and note the locations of surface sightings, species and behavior observed i.e., feeding, logging, traveling, etc. Analyze the data from your trip. Is there a relationship between whale behavior or location and bottom topography? Are sightings usually made over a specific bottom type?

Activity 7: Topographic Model of the Bottom (Earth Science)

Construct a model of an area of ocean bottom i.e., Stellwagen Bank. Using a bathymetric chart, draw lines perpendicular to the ridge line of the bank about one inch apart.

Use graph paper to make a profile of the bottom along each line. Glue the graph paper to pieces of cardboard and cut out the profiles. Line the cardboard profiles up one inch apart in clay or similar substance to hold up the cardboard, and cover with damp cloth or paper. Press the cloth or paper down gently to the contour of the cardboard, allow to dry, spray with paint and allow the paint to dry. Use your imagination!

Activity 8: Water Testing (Whale Watch Activity)

Water testing is an important part of oceanography and whale research. Temperature, density and salinity are commonly tested qualities of sea water. To collect a water sample notify crew members, wait until the boat STOPS COMPLETELY, drop a bucket with a line attached to the handle overboard and bring up a water sample. Use a thermometer to measure the temperature and a hydrometer to measure the density. With the density and temperature, the salinity can be determined using temp/density/salinity chart or graph.

The color of the water, sea state (wave height), wind velocity and direction, and air temperature are also important to researchers. Record this information on the Sighting Data sheet.

Activity 9: Plankton Tow and Analysis (Whale Watch Activity)

A plankton tow and analysis explains a great deal about why whales are where they are. Phytoplankton (plants) and zoo-plankton (animals) can be collected and observed under normal conditions. If only one plankton net can be purchased choose a phytoplankton net, since it collects both plant and animal plankton. The plankton can be examined with hand lenses or microscopes and, depending on the class age, various degrees of plankton analysis can be conducted. Data on the density of plankton, identification of plankton types, etc. can be gathered.

Links to plankton productivity can be found in the "Weather Information Links" and "Educational Resources" pages of the WhaleNet student home page. A discussion and development of food chains and food webs would be a natural follow-up to the plankton analysis.

Activity 10: Analysis of Marine Pollution (Whale Watch Activity)

Collect data on pollution and floating debris by using the Pollution Data Sheet. Up-load the data using the same procedure as for marine mammals but use Pollution Data in place of Data in the subject header. WhaleNet will also be collecting Coast Sweep data in the future.

Activity 11: Analysis of Pelagic Birds (Whale Watch Activity)

Collect data on pelagic birds by using a data sheet similar to the marine mammal Sighting Data sheet, substituting bird species for whale species. Up-load the information using the instructions for Environet's Bird Watch. To obtain a booklet contact earth@sun.simmons.edu.


If your classroom is not going on a whale watch trip but is instead using whale watch data from WhaleNet's data base, use the data sheets to copy data out of the WhaleNet archives. You can then use the data in the same way as those that went on a whale watch.

WhaleNet Supplementary Materials

The following listed materials may be purchased to supplement your classroom curriculum.

Marine Science Activities on a Budget (booklet) - Contains a cross-section of oceanographic activities that can be altered to accommodate many grade levels. $13.00

The World of Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises - Interdisciplinary Curriculum Units for Pre-K through High School (book) - This contains 200+ pages of interdisciplinary activities, bibliographies, etc. suitable for a wide range of interests, abilities, and grade levels. $20.00

How to Build an Inflatable (55 ft.) Fin Whale (booklet) - Instructions on how to build a 55 foot long model of a whale that can be carried in a duffel bag by one person Students and teachers can walk inside. Estimated cost for materials is between $40.00 and $50.00. $10.00

Marine Science Bibliography (pamphlet) - Extensive bibliography for a wide range of grade levels and interests from general knowledge, children's books, to scientific information for the marine mammal biologist. $3.00

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We hope you enjoy our network. Please email your comments or complete our teacher survey. If you are interested in receiving more information or learning more you can contact:

J. Michael Williamson
Email: mwilliamson@wheelock.edu

WhaleNet Principal Investigator
Wheelock College
20 Moynihan Road
South Hamilton, MA 01982
Voice 978.468.4699

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