Science Education Tool WhaleNet turns “20” in 2013

In 2013, WhaleNet will celebrate its twentieth anniversary at Wheelock College.  WhaleNet began as an element of the Simmons College online EnviroNet program, but when Wheelock’s Associate Professor J. Michael Williamson began directing the project in 1993, WhaleNet received a 1.2 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation and spun off to become a major innovative educational web site.

humpback whale breeching resized 600 WhaleNet was the first web site to use actual, real-time satellite tracking data on the movements and migrations of whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and turtles to enhance interest in science and environmental education.  Students of all ages are enamored with marine mammals; that provides the “hook” to getting them more seriously involved in Environmental Education.  Some doubted that scientists would collaborate and allow their research data to be posted on the Internet before the results were published, but it worked and it worked well.  In the words of Dr. Scott Kraus, the Research Director of the New England Aquarium, speaking to Michael Williamson, “I think that you are the only person in the world who could have pulled this off.”

In order to expand WhaleNet, Williamson needed computer technology so he allocated monies in his NSF grant to fund the purchase of Wheelock’s first server and three years of access and technological staffing.  With this Wheelock was provided Internet and email for the students and faculty.

Students at Wheelock and across the globe have used WhaleNet in a myriad of ways: teaching units, links, and projects. Students have won state science fairs using WhaleNet data.  Teachers and professors in education still use WhaleNet as an integral part of their programs.    Scientists, students, teachers, and the  public visit WhaleNet for general information and data.  WhaleNet not only presents research data, but it also includes various resources and links to other related marine science sites around the world. Student projects and units, whale watch information, weather and hurricane links, educational units, pictures, movies, and more are part of the WhaleNet online resources.

Williamson’s innovative website has been recognized for its creative educational and scientific opportunities by associations around the world.  WhaleNet was selected to exhibit at Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC during its Oceans Exhibit.   WhaleNet was an integral part of the US Pavilion at the World Expo ‘98 in Lisbon, Portugal.  WhaleNet has also received over 60 awards for its unique programs.  Scientific American, the US Department of Education, Renew America, National Academy Press, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to name a few, awarded WhaleNet for its contribution to education and research.  Other awards can be seen at http://whale.wheelock.edu/whalenet-stuff/awards/ .

Since its inception, WhaleNet has satellite tagged over 170 marine animals in collaboration with research institutions such as the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Duke University Marine Lab, Mystic Aquarium, the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, the Mingan Island Cetacean Study, the University of the Azores, the University of New England, Univ. de Guadalajara, the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research, the Caribbean Marine Mammal Laboratory, the National Irish Seal Sanctuary, the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary, and Mote Marine Laboratory. All data is archived on WhaleNet for education and research use ( http://whale.wheelock.edu/whalenet-stuff/stop_cover.html ),

WhaleNet also worked in conjunction with the New England Aquarium, the National Marine Fisheries Service in Woods Hole, and the Massachusetts Environmental Trust to help protect and disseminate important sighting data on the rare and endangered Right Whales.  The Right Whales feed in Massachusetts Bay each spring and migrate along the east coast between the New England feeding areas and the southeast United States calving grounds in the Florida/Georgia area each year.  Knowing their migration patterns can help shipping fleets avoid fatal encounters with these endangered animals.

WhaleNet also used satellite tracking technology to follow Erden Eruc on his five-year quest to circumnavigate the globe using only human powered vehicles.  Erden rowed a 24-foot rowboat across the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and the Atlantic Ocean, and a bicycled across Australia, Africa, and the United States “ To accomplish, to inspire and to teach…” the youth of the world.  And WhaleNet tracked his every move.  ( http://whale.wheelock.edu/whalenet-stuff/Erden/ ).

Thanks to the support of Wheelock College, and the Wheelock Information Technology Department, throughout these past 20 years, WhaleNet has been a resounding international success as a landmark web site for countless students and teachers across the country and around the world.  During its peak, WhaleNet received over 1,000,000 hits each month from users in over 140 countries.   Visit WhaleNet at http://whale.wheelock.edu .

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