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Sensory Biology and the

Plight of the Right Whales

Created by Drs. Jill C. Fegley and Sara M. Lindsay, University of Maine

Introduction Task Process Evaluation Conclusion Teacher Page Credits

Teacher's Page

This lesson was developed to introduce high school students (grades 9-12) to the topic of sensory perception in the marine environment. The WebQuest introduces the role of acoustic cues in ocean ecology and challenges students to determine if acoustic warning devices are useful tools to prevent right whale fishing gear entanglements and ship strikes in the Gulf of Maine.

This WebQuest is designed to be used after an initial introduction by the teacher to the issues associated with right whale mortalities in the Gulf of Maine. Teachers should also discuss the broad topic of sensory biology and how animals in the marine environment perceive their surroundings. After this brief introduction, the teacher should only act as a facilitator during the rest of the process. This WebQuest will take about 3 classes to complete the research aspect and another 2-3 classes to produce the written proposal and the PowerPoint presentation. In the student section of the WebQuest, teachers can find a detailed description of what is required by all students (Process). Groups of 4 students can be chosen by the students or by the teacher. All students are required to produce written notes and to participate in the group activities.

Teachers may have to adapt the process depending on the types and quantity of technology at their school. We have provided a number of useful websites but students may wish to search for more. Thus, both teachers and students should be familiar with Internet searches. Each individual (if possible) or group should have access to a computer for both their initial information gathering as well as for the development of their proposal and presentation. If computer access is limited, the WebQuest can be completed using traditional library book searches. Presentations do not have to be done in PowerPoint but can be in the form of overheads or posters.

We believe that this WebQuest provides an alternative to the more traditional method of classroom instruction - lecturing and note taking. This inquiry-based activity allows students to take an active role in problem solving and development of a feasible solution. By performing this task, students will be working together in groups, thus developing group participation skills. In addition, the students will be dealing with a real life, current environmental issue. This activity will allow them to learn about the plight of the right whales as well as create real solutions to real problems.


Clip Art of stacked books

Additional Resources


Au, W.W.L., A.N. Popper, and R.R. Fay (Eds). 2000. Hearing by Whales and Dolphins. Springer-Verlag, New York, NY. 485p.

Beatty, T. 1989. Whales of the Bay of Fundy. Sunbury Shores Arts and Nature Center Inc., St. Andrews, Canada. 47p.

Bonner, N. 1989. Whales of the World. Facts on File, Inc., New York, NY. 191p.

Burns, J.J., J.J. Montague, and C.J. Cowles (Eds). 1993. The Bowhead Whale. Society for Marine Mammalogy. Lawrence, KS. 787p.

Dando, M., M. Burchett and G. Waller. 1996. SeaLife: A Complete Guide to the Marine Environment. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. 504p.

Evans, P.G.H. 1987. The Natural History of Whales and Dolphins. Facts on File, Inc., New York, NY. 343p.

Heintzelman, D. 1981. A World Guide to Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises. Winchester Press, Tulsa, OK. 156p.

Mead, J.G. and J.P. Gold. 2002. Whales and Dolphins in Question: the Smithsonian Answer Book. Smithsonian Institution, Washingston, D.C. 200p.

Journal Articles

Constantine, R., D.H. Brunton, and T. Dennis. 2003. Dolphin-watching tour boats change bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) behavior. Biol. Conserv. 117: 299-307.

Cox, T.M. and A.J. Read. 2004. Echolocation behavior of harbor porpoises Phocoena phocoena around chemically enhanced gill nets. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 279: 275-282.

Cox, T.M., A.J. Read, D. Swanner, K. Urian, and D. Waples. 2003. Behavioral responses of bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus, to gillnets and acoustic alarms. Biol. Conserv. 115: 203-212.

Culik, B.M., S. Koschinski, N. Tregenza, G.M. Ellis. 2001. Reactions of harbor porpoises Phocoena phocoena and herring Clupea harengus to acoustic alarms. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 211: 255-260.

Foote, A.D., r.W. Osborne, and A.R. Hoelzel. 2004. Whale-call response to masking boat noise. Nature 428: 910.

Fujiwara, M. and H. Caswell. 2001. Demography of the endangered North Atlantic right whale. Nature 414: 537-541.

Gerstein, E.R. 2002. Manatees, Bioacoustics and Boats. Amer. Sci. 90: 154-163.

Harley, H.E., E.A. Putman, H.L. Roitblat. 2003. Bottlenose dolphins perceive object features through echolocation. Nature 424: 667-669.

Laist, L. A.R. Knowlton, J.G. Mead, A.S. Collet, and M. Podesta. 2001. Collisions between ships and whales. Mar. Mammal Sci. 17: 35-75.

Laurinolli, M.H., A.E. Hay, F. Desharnais, C.T. Taggart. 2003. Localizations of North Atlantic right whale sounds in the Bay of Fundy using a sonobuoy array. Mar. Mammal Sci. 19: 708-723.

Nowacek, D.P., M.P. Johnson, and P.L. Tyack. 2003. North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) ignore ships but respond to alerting stimuli. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. 271: 227-231.

Popper, A.N. 2003. Effects of anthropogenic sounds on fishes. Fisheries 28: 24-31.

Vanderlaan, A.S.M., A.E. Hay, and C.T. Taggart. 2003. Characterization of North Atlantic Right-Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) sounds in the Bay of Fundy. IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering 28: 164-172.

Williams, R., A.W. Trites, D.E. Bain. 2002. Behavioural responses of killer whales (Orcinus orca) to whale-watching boats: opportunistic observations and experimental approaches. J. Zool., Lond. 256: 255-270.

Maine State Learning Results

Secondary Grades

This WebQuest was written to meet the following Maine State Learning Standards for grades 9 thru 12. Completing this WebQuest will help students develop content area knowledge in ecology and essential skills in inquiry and problem solving, scientific reasoning and scientific communication.

Content Standard

B. Ecology - Students will understand how living things depend on one another and on non-living aspects of the environment.
4. Analyze the impact of human and other activities on the type and pace of change in ecosystems.

Essential Skills

J. Inquiry and Problem Solving - Students will apply inquiry and problem-solving approaches in science and technology.
3. Demonstrate the ability to use scientific inquiry and technological method with short term and long-term investigations, recognizing that there is more than one way to solve a problem. Demonstrate knowledge of when to try different strategies.

K. Scientific Reasoning - Students will learn to formulate and justify ideas and to make informed decisions.
6. Analyze situations where more than one logical conclusion can be drawn.

L. Communication - Students will communicate effectively in the application of science and technology.
2. Use journals and self-assessment to describe and analyze scientific and technological experiences and to reflect on problem-solving processes.
3. Make and use appropriate symbols, pictures, diagrams, scale drawings, and models to represent and simplify real-life situations and to solve problems.
7. Use computers to organize data, generate models, and do research for problem solving.

M. Implications of Science and Technology - Students will understand the historical, social, economic, environmental, and ethical implications of science and technology.
2. Demonstrate the importance of resource management, controlling environmental impacts, and maintaining natural ecosystems.
4. Analyze the impacts of various scientific and technological developments.


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Fegley & Lindsay - Last Updated September 2008