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April 6, 2015
Contact: Shelley Dawicki

whale table
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Protected Species Branch Chief Mike Simpkins (left) had lots of questions at the table featuring teeth, ribs and vertebra and their sizes in whales relative to harbor porpoise and humans. Photo by Shelley Dawicki, NEFSC/NOAA

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Whales in Your Backyard Event Attracts Hundreds

A line formed at the door waiting for the opening of the Whales in Your Backyard! program March 28 at Falmouth’s Gus Canty Community Center. More than 350 people stopped by the Community Center’s gym between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. for the free family program, which featured hands-on activities, exhibits, and displays offered by the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s NOAA Outreach and Education on Protected Species (NOEPS) Program and the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

Visitors had a chance to tour an inflatable 50-foot right whale, hear and identify whale sounds, learn how to identify whales from their markings, learn about the diets of baleen and toothed whales, and try on survival suits. The younger set gravitated toward decorating whale headbands and drawing pictures, while the older set took advantage of exhibits on the 2014 voyage of the last remaining whaling ship Charles Morgan in local waters (an event sponsored in part by NOAA.) Visitors also learned how to protect whales in the environment. Samples of baleen, whale teeth, vertebra, and ribs were among the artifacts displayed to demonstrate the relative sizes of whales in comparison to harbor porpoise and humans.

The event featured NOAA programs geared to students ages 4-12 but was open to all. Many of the activities are part of the Protected Species Branch’s NOEPS program, which works with kindergarten through grade five children and provides classroom lessons and activities.The PSB staff and volunteers were busy all afternoon answering questions from both students and adults at activity tables spread around the gym, and used the gym floor to show the size of several marine mammals.

The food web activity was an especially busy place, as children used combs and grabber puppets to learn about different feeding strategies in toothed and baleen whales. Containers on the table were filled with sand representing the “ocean,” small plastic ocean creatures and also dried peas and corn representing phytoplankton and zooplankton. Baleen whales, such as humpbacks and right whales, are filter feeders that sift out plankton. Toothed whales like orcas and dolphins use their teeth to catch prey. The students had to select either a comb or pick representing a baleen whale or a grabber puppet representing toothed whales to try to find good things to eat in their “ocean” without accidentally capturing other items.

Staff and volunteers from NOAA’s Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary introduced students to their walk-in, 50-foot inflatable North Atlantic right whale, and provided related exhibits about the Sanctuary.

The event was a 30th anniversary program of The 300 Committee Land Trust in Falmouth. The Trust provided information about its programs and sign-up sheets for volunteers.

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