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Stellwagen Banks Marine Sanctuary

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December 1, 1997 -- From its location at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary causes an upwelling of waters from the Gulf of Maine. These waters are nutrient-rich and enable the bank to support a number of species such as the Atlantic cod, sea scallop, white-sided dolphin, northern lobster, bluefin tuna, Northern Gannet, Storm Petrel, and northern right whale. Species diversity is enhanced by the existence of habitats such as a sand and gravel bank, muddy basins, boulder fields, and rocky ledges.

Located 25 miles east of Boston, three miles north of Cape Cod, and three miles south of Cape Ann, the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary has long been a site of North American interest in the sea. As such, the area’s history is dotted with the effects of human use and interaction.

Commerical fishing and whaling were among the earliest industries in the Massachusetts Bay area. Yet the means of exploiting these waters has undoubtedly impacted this area.

Early coastal whalers decimated the local population of northern right whales, leading further generations of whalers to seek other prey in distant locations. During those same years commercial fishermen used various methods to harvest the riches of these waters. Unlike Georges and the Grand Banks, the closer and more accessible Stellwagen Bank has been fished by mostly smaller boats. But even through the 19th century, and although they caught large amounts of fish, these boats did not significantly affect the ocean floor. It was the advent of the trawler in the 20th century that changed the nature of fishing and its environmental effects.

Trawling has allowed the fishing industry to reap a more bountiful catch from the waters of this area, yet many believe that such fishing methods are bad for the marine environment. Not only do fish populations suffer a serious decline by such mass harvesting, but the disturbing effects of this method may decrease the complexity of the marine habitats associated with the sea floor… leading to loss of cover for juvenile fish and destruction of prey. Not only are mass numbers of fish caught, but the health and safety of larvae and juveniles are jeopardized and habitats destroyed.

This sanctuary received its designation in November 1992.

The Radio Expeditions team went to Stellwagen Bank NMS where we went out to sea on the "Abel Jay". While on board, we caught a glimpse of the ocean floor with the help of the an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) named the "Phanton S-2".

Trivia: Did you know that northern right whales visit the sanctuary in late winter and early spring? This species is the most endangered of the great whales. Only 320 of these animals are left in the North Atlantic Ocean.

humpback whale Humpback Whales
Photo: David Wiley

Sand Lance Sand Lance
Photo: Don Flescher, AFS

Various Types of Zooplankton Various Types of Zooplankton
National Undersea research Center, UConn

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