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Dive into Learning: Swim With the Seals!


Put your students in touch with the real scientists at WhaleNet. Your students will be able to track online the movements of two just-released seals. (This site is sure to get your students' "seal" of approval!)

Last September, two seals beached themselves along the mid-Atlantic. One, a baby hooded seal, washed ashore at Chincoteague, Virginia. The other, a harbor seal, beached in Maryland. Members of the Marine Animal Rescue Program at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland, rescued the seals and veterinarians at the aquarium worked to stabilize the seals' health. In December, the seals were moved to Sea World of Ohio where their rehab continued. Finally---on July 9---the seals were pronounced healthy and released into the chilly waters of the Atlantic at Biddeford, Maine. But that isn't the end of the story. That's just the beginning!

The excitement is just beginning for millions of U.S. students who'll be tracking the travels of the two seals---Kiwi, a hooded seal, and Balti (short for "Baltimore"), a harbor seal---for months to come.

"Anyone can follow the seals," says Michael Williamson of Wheelock College in Boston. Williamson is the principal investigator for WhaleNet, the Web site that connects students to scientists who are monitoring the movements of Balti and Kiwi. "WhaleNet" is a bit of a misnomer, adds Williamson. "We're way beyond whales now, but it's too late to change the name. Now on WhaleNet students can track the travels of whales and seals. In a few weeks we'll start tracking three loggerhead sea turtles that will be released off the coast of Georgia. And we're even thinking about tracking basking sharks."


WhaleNet puts students in contact with scientists involved in a unique research project that monitors the actual movements of whales, seals, and other marine life using satellite tag technology. You'll find on the site actual data from this unique research and tons of additional information to support your classroom study of the ocean. On WhaleNet you can

  • Track Balti and Kiwi. The tags that Balti and Kiwi are "wearing" send off signals that enable scientists to track the seals' precise locations---even how deep they're diving! Regular updates are posted from this satellite data and from research vessel logs. You can follow the seals on simple maps too. See below for an easy-to-follow how-to lesson on Tracking Balti.
  • Learn about the movements of other sea animals. You can follow the movements of Stephanie, a hooded seal released in September 1996. Stephanie traveled 14,000 miles in the nine months that scientists were able to monitor her travels. This June, Stephanie's tag fell off when she molted. ("The tags are attached to a seal's fur with epoxy, so the tags fall off when the seals molt in summer," says Williamson. "Kiwi and Balti are much younger and smaller seals than Stephanie was when she was released. Their tags are much smaller too. The batteries in their tags will probably give out before next summer's molting, but the tags should send active signals through the end of the coming school year.") You can follow the movements of other completed WhaleNet tracking projects including Metompkin, a right whale (January to June 1996), and Kits, a blue whale (August to September 1996).
  • View fact sheets about harbor seals, hooded seals, and other sea animals.
  • E-mail a scientist with your questions about sea life or the tracking program.
  • See slide shows full of photos of the sea animals that you're tracking.
  • Find links to other sea animal sites and to weather information.
  • Access curriculum teaching units from WhaleNet including "WhaleNet Sample and Start-Up Activities" and "The World of Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises," an interdisciplinary curriculum unit for students PreK-12.
  • Meet Lucy---the whale that goes to school! You can send for directions on how to build your own inflatable 55-foot-long fin whale!
  • Join WhaleNet Pals and communicate with other classes around the world that are following the just-released seals.

And that's just a small sampling of what you'll find! Note: WhaleNet is available in English and in Spanish versions. For Spanish, just click on "Espanol" at the top of the WhaleNet home page.


For novice Web-surfers, following are a few easy steps to guide you and your students as you use WhaleNet to track Balti's travels in the North Atlantic. "It's easier for scientists to track Balti right now," says Williamson. "Harbor seals tend to stay closer to the surface of the ocean than hooded seals do." But, Williamson adds, scientists will receive plenty of data from Kiwi, just as they did from Stephanie, the hooded seal that WhaleNet tracked last year.

Ready to surf? Let's dive in!

  • Click here to go to the WhaleNet home page.
  • Scroll down to the second section of text and click on the highlighted "Satellite Tagging Observation Program.
  • Click on Harbor Seal, "Balti" to access Balti's Information Page.
  • On Balti's Information Page, click on Data Sheet. This page lists detailed longitude and latitude fixes so your students can plot for themselves Balti's movements.
  • At the bottom of Balti's Data Sheet, you can click on Current Whalenet Listserv for a listing of reports on the movements of Balti and other sea animals. On this list, click on titles that include Balti's name to access journals and reports about Balti's travels from actual research scientists.
  • Return to Balti's Information Page and click on Tracking Map, "Balti" to view a map showing Balti's movements.
  • On Balti's Information Page, click on "Balti" Satellite Tag # 27567 Chart B to view a "zoomed-in" map showing Balti's movements.
  • Return to Balti's Information Page and scroll down the page. Click on Fact Sheets to learn lots more about harbor seals and their habits.
  • Return to Balti's Information page and click on Slide Show to view photos taken on July 9, 1997--- the day Balti was released into the Atlantic.
  • Teachers: If you scroll farther down Balti's Information Page, you'll find useful tools including Additional Maps that you can print so your students can track for themselves Balti's daily movements and a link to All About Seals, Sea Lions, and Walruses, a K-3 Teacher's Guide created by the people at Sea World.
  • Click on the icon at the bottom of Balti's Information Page to return to the WhaleNet Home Page where you'll find lots more, including information from collaborating institutions such as The New England Aquarium, the National Aquarium in Baltimore, and Sea World of Ohio; hundreds of useful links to sites with information about marine mammals, maps, weather, and more; curriculum units; additional educational resources including bibliographies and information about workshops; and the WhaleNet Site Search Engine.

"Ocean life is an incredibly intriguing and mysterious field of study," says Michael Williamson. "WhaleNet can help educators provide a stimulating, creative, and hands-on marine science curriculum for their students. The activities are designed to spark the interest of students so that they will want to continue their study and pass on their knowledge to others."

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 1997 Education World