Tracking Whales in the Gulf of Maine

Friday, February 15, 2013 by Rachelle Pinault

The Gulf of Maine is an incredibly rich ecosystem that is home to over 5,000 different species! Some species, such as the American Lobster and the Atlantic Cod, stay in the Gulf of Maine all year long while some species only stay during specific seasons or pass through while migrating.

There are several species of whales that come to the cold waters of the Gulf of Maine to eat during warmer months or to mate. One of those species is the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale, Eubalaena glacialis.

Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts have created a new way to track and identify whales that are passing through the Gulf of Maine. They have designed a robot that can recognize the sounds of 15 whale species, including the North Atlantic Right and Humpback Whales! This robot can glide under water and track whales even in the toughest conditions, during storms and in high seas, when it would be too dangerous for scientists to go out in boats.

To read more about these robots, click on this link to the Portland Press Herald:

These robots are just one of the many devices scientists around the world are using to locate and protect whales. Off the coast of Boston, Massachusetts there are buoys equipped with microphones that detect calling whales 24 hours a day. These buoys are set up along shipping lanes, routes that are regularly used by ships, to help reduce the risk of a whale being hit by one of these passing ships. If the Buoys detect the presence of a whale, they send out information so that a warning can then be sent out to the captains of ships in the area.

Click on this link to see what the buoys have detected today!

(Before you check it out, think about what time of year it is…. Will you see lots of whales, or none at all?)

Another way that scientists identify and track certain species of whales, such as the Humpback Whale, is to photograph their tails, referred to as flukes. Each Humpback Whale has a unique pattern of black and white on their flukes, just like humans have unique fingerprints!


Whales are incredible and beautiful creatures, and scientists are still working hard to learn more about them. Much of what we have learned about whales has come from human observation, and you can be part of the action too! There are many whale watches that explore the Gulf of Maine during the spring, summer, and fall months. Hop onboard and make your own observations of these amazing creatures!

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