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Migration of Great Shearwaters on Stellwagen Bank and Beyond

March 12, 2018

7:15 pm - 9:15 pm

with Dave Wiley

David Wiley, research director for the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, will discuss satellite tracking and other research on Great Shearwaters.

Wiley and other researchers used tiny transmitters, along with analysis of feathers and exhaled gasses, to track the seabirds’ movements and to learn more about the relationship between great shearwaters and sand lance, the main food source for the birds as well as the humpback whales that frequent the sanctuary.

Shearwaters, named for their habit of gracefully trailing a wind tip through the waves, spend their lives at sea, coming to land only when they nest in giant colonies in the tiny Tristan Da Cunha Islands almost exactly midway between southernmost Argentina and South Africa. When winter comes to the southern hemisphere, they migrate north more than 6,000 miles to the rich waters of Stellwagen Bank five miles off Gloucester. Some of the long-lived birds that we see only during our summer have made the round trip between hemispheres for more than 60 years.

The researchers found great shearwaters are capable of remarkably precise long-distance navigation, including the ability to repeatedly retrace migratory paths less than 30 miles wide and more than 1,800 miles long during their seasonal trek. And their current work now includes trying to better understand the shearwaters’ navigation, including how they compensate for wind drift while beating their way across the seas.


Dr. Wiley’s research has appeared in many scientific journals such as Animal Behavior, Behaviour, Biological Conservation and Conservation Biology. He is the recipient of numerous awards and honors including the Department of Commerce’s Gold Medal for scientific leadership, an Ian Axford (Fulbright) Fellowship in Public Policy, a NextGov Bold Award for scientific innovation and the Society for Marine Mammalogy’s award for Excellence in Scientific Communication.

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