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Education - The Gulf of Maine & its Inhabitants

We strive to share our love of marine life with the public in the hope of spreading greater awareness of the Gulf of Maine and inspiring environmental stewardship. We have a variety of programs that fulfill this mission, including distributing information via publications and this web site, presentations and field trips for schools and groups, regular newsletters, whale watches, beach cleanups and a variety of other programs!

Commonly Sighted Local Marine Species
The Gulf of Maine is home to a wide variety of marine life. This section provides information on the species that we most commonly see on our whale watch/research trips. Our trips focus on looking for cetaceans, which is the word for whales, dolphins and porpoises. Click here for a fact sheet in cetaceans and to learn about characteristics that are common to all whales, dolphins and porpoises!

Humpbacks Pinball and CalfIndividual Species Information

Humpback Whale  (Latin Name: Megaptera novaeangliae, meaning "long-winged New Englander")
Length: 40-50 feet Weight: 30 tons
Cool Whale Fact : Male humpback whales “sing” on their winter breeding grounds in the Caribbean. Every male sings the same song, and the song changes slightly from year to year.

Fin WhaleFinback Whale (Latin Name: Balaenoptera physalus, meaning “Bellows fin whale”)
Length: 60-80 feet
Weight: 50-70 tons
Cool Whale Fact: Finbacks are the fastest whales in the world, sometimes reaching speeds of 35 mph during short bursts of swimming.

Minke Whale (Latin Name: Balaenoptera acuturostrata, meaning “Sharp snouted whale")
Length: 20-30 feet
Weight: 6-8 tons
Cool Whale Fact: Nickname is “little piked whale” which was given to the minke whale by a British zoologist who claimed that the sharp, pointed snout “is like that of the Pike fish.”

Right Whale (Latin name: Eubalaena glacialis, meaning “True whale in icy water”)
Length: 58 feet
Weight: 100 tons
Cool Whale Fact: The head of a right whale is covered with large, white colored growths called callosities. These rough patches of skin correspond to where humans have hair on their face. The location of these callosities is different for each whale and allows scientists to identify individuals.

Atlantic White-sided Dolphin (Latin name: Lagenorhynchus acutus)
Length: 7-9 feet
Weight: 400-600 pounds
Cool Whale Fact: Qhite-sided dolphins often gather in groups, or pods, up to several hundred. When feeding, dolphins will work cooperatively within these pods to herd prey. Dolphins find their food by echolocation, or producing clicking sounds and interpreting the returning echo.

Harbor Seal (Latin name: Phoca vitulina concolor, meaning “Sea dog”)
Length: 4-5 feet
Weight: 150-200 pounds
Cool Seal Fact: From 1888 to 1962, the state of Massachusetts offered a bounty on harbor seals in order to reduce the population numbers. It was thought that with fewer seals, there would be an increase in the number of fish caught by the fishermen.

Basking Shark  (Latin name: Cetorhinus maximus)
Length: 12-30 feet
Weight: up to 4 tons
Cool Shark Fact: Even though a basking shark can reach lengths of 30 feet, it cannot harm humans. This is because the shark filters tiny zooplankton from the ocean with its huge gill rakers.

Ocean Sunfish (Latin name: Mola mola)
Length: 11 feet
Weight: 2000 pounds
Cool Fish Fact: Ocean sunfish are a solitary, slow moving fish. To seek protection from enemies, the skin of an ocean sunfish can be nearly six inches thick!

Harbor Porpoise  (Latin name: Phocoena phocoena, meaning “Pig fish)
Length: 4-6 feet
Weight: 150 pounds
Cool Porpoise Fact: The largest threat to the future survival of harbor porpoises is the accidental entanglement in gill nets set on the bottom of the ocean floor.

Giant Bluefin Tuna (Latin name: Thunnus thynnus)
Length: up to 10 feet
Weight: up to 1200 pounds
Cool Tuna Fact: Giant bluefin tuna can swim up to 55 mph, and they can live longer than 30 years!

How can you help the marine environment?
Little actions add up! There are many small things everyone can do at home - no matter where they live - to help the marine environment. Many of them involve just taking a moment to think about the impacts our actions will have "downstream". The ocean is the ultimate downstream! Through wind, streams, and rivers, things can end up at the ocean even if the ocean is far away!

  • Stash your trash – don’t pollute! Bring a bag to the beach or when you're picnicking or hiking and make sure your trash goes with you at the end of the day and gets put in a safe place (i.e. a trash bin) at home.
  • Recycle and reuse whenever you can. Do you have to throw out that plastic bag or can you reuse it again, such as by carrying your lunch back and forth to work or using it to clean up when walking your dog? Any amount of trash we can keep out of landfills will help.
  • Buy items with less packaging
  • If you know someone who smokes, ask them to put their butts in ashtrays. Many smokers don't think of cigarette butts as litter, but they take several years to decompose! Think about it - just about every where you go these days, you can find cigarette butts on the ground. Wouldn't it be nice to see just clean ground instead?
  • Go on a beach cleanup or start your own. Find more information on our monthly cleanups and Adopt-a-Beach Program here.
  • Adopt a marine creature or go on a whale watch to learn more about marine life
  • Realize what you eat can make an impact. Buying local foods that are grown without chemicals and not transported long distances, can help the marine environment by reducing pollution. Learn where your seafood comes from and choose seafood that is managed and harvested sustainably.


How Long Does it Take to Break Down in the Marine Environment?
Newspaper ...............6 weeks
Apple Core ...............2 months
Cotton Rope..............1 year
Cigarette butt...........1-15 years*
Plastic bag................10-20 years*
Fishing nets..............30-40 years
Tin can/ Batteries.......100 years*
Aluminum Soda Can ....80-200 years*
Plastic bottle .............450 years*
Fishing line ...............600 years*
Glass bottle................1 million years*
* = Item often found at beach cleanups
Sources: Mote Marine Lab, National Park Service


Two Big Impacts On Wildlife

  • Animals may become entangled in such objects as lost nets, strapping bands, 6-ring holders on soda cans. Injuries that can occur from these objects include flesh wounds which may become infected, strangulation and drowning.
  • Animals may also mistake plastics for food which can cause starvation and poisoning.


Nonpoint Source Pollution
Nonpoint source pollution occurs when water runs over the land or through the ground, picks up pollutants (such as from fields, streets and lawns) and deposits them into the surface water or introduces them into the groundwater.

Pollutants may include: motor oils, antifreeze, gasoline, fertilizers, pesticides, household chemicals, septic systems and animal wastes. They may come from many sources, including agriculture, forestry, grazing, recreational boating, urban runoff, construction, physical changes to stream channels and habitat degradation

As these pollutants run over the land, they can result in soil erosion, a decrease in the productivity of water sources, accumulation of toxins in soils, impaired development of marine life and adverse health effects for humans.

Volunteers can help by working on projects such as beach clean-ups, stream walks and ecological restoration activities, such as tree planting.

You can help in your household in many ways:

  • Water your lawn and garden
  • Limit fertilizer applications, and try to use organic fertilizer whenever possible.
  • Make sure car and household chemicals are properly stored to reduce runoff and keep runoff clean.
  • Dispose of pet wastes properly.
  • Use trees and shrubs in your yard to filter runoff and help prevent soil erosion.
  • Keep your lawn small, since lawns shed more water than forested areas.
  • If you have a septic system, maintain it properly. This will limit the amount of pollutants that run off.

Nonpoint source pollution is the U.S.'s largest source of water quality problems: 40% of the nation's rivers, lakes or estuaries are not clean enough to meet basic uses for swimming or fishing.

Federal regulations include the Nonpoint Source Management Program established by the 1987 Clean Water Act Amendments and the Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Program established by the 1990 Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments

The sources of pollution from boats and marinas includes poorly flushed waterways, boat maintenance, discharge of sewage from boats, storm water runoff from marina parking lots and the physical alteration of shoreline, wetlands and aquatic habitat during the construction of marinas.

Ways that boaters can eliminate or reduce pollution:

  • Use nontoxic cleaning products
  • Use a drop cloth when painting or cleaning
  • Vacuum up loose paint chips and paint dust
  • Recycle used oil
  • Discard worn motor parts into proper receptacles that prevent petroleum spills
  • Drain water from all waterlines and tanks during winter to prevent bursting pipes
  • Keep boats well-tuned in order to prevent fuel and lubricant leaks

For more information, visit these websites:
Environmental Protection Agency
My Watershed.com

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