Home Store Project Ideas Project Guide Ask An Expert Blog Careers Teachers Parents Students

Track the Journey of Harbor Porpoises

Difficulty
Time Required Average (6-10 days)
Prerequisites Understanding of latitude and longitude, reading maps; Longer project times if monitoring currently tagged animals.
Material Availability Readily available
Cost Very Low (under $20)
Safety No issues

Abstract

Have you ever wondered what life is like for different animals, and where it is that they roam? For example, how large is the area they live in, and why do they go to different locations? While we can set up cameras to watch animals that live on land, it can more challenging to see the lives of animals that live underwater, especially in the vast oceans. In this ocean science project, you will use satellite tracking data to learn about the activity patterns of harbor porpoises. How far do they travel? Can you find patterns in the routes individual animals take? Can you correlate their route with environmental factors such as currents or ocean temperatures? You can do this science project to answer these questions and find out more about the lives of these fascinating marine mammals.

Objective

Determine whether there is a pattern to the movement of harbor porpoises and, if so, find out if the pattern correlates with certain currents, ocean temperatures, or other environmental factors.

Credits

By Beth Jewell, Einstein Distinguished Fellow, Office of Education, NOAA

Edited by Andrew Olson, Ph.D., and Teisha Rowland, Ph.D., Science Buddies

Cite This Page

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "Track the Journey of Harbor Porpoises" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 11 Oct. 2014. Web. 21 Dec. 2014 <http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/OceanSci_p004.shtml>

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2014, October 11). Track the Journey of Harbor Porpoises. Retrieved December 21, 2014 from http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/OceanSci_p004.shtml

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.


Last edit date: 2014-10-11

Introduction

Whales, dolphins, and porpoises are all cetaceans (which are marine mammals that belong to the order Cetacea). Many members of this group have been classified as endangered or threatened because of human activities. Harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena), like the one shown in Figure 1, below, are listed as threatened due to gillnet fishing methods in eastern Canada. It is estimated that nearly 1,000 harbor porpoises are killed each year due to the fishing methods used in the Gulf of Maine and Bay of Fundy (NOAA, November 2010). To better understand the harbor porpoises, and develop better conservation methods to help restore harbor porpoise populations, satellite telemetry is used to study the movements of harbor porpoises.

A harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) swimming.
Figure 1. This is a picture of a harbor porpoise (Phocoeana phocoena). (Image credits: Erik Christensen, 2009)

The movements of harbor porpoises are studied by attaching small satellite transmitters to animals. Movement data emitted by the transmitters are downloaded from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather satellites to the ARGOS Global Processing Centre in Landover, Maryland. The data can then be accessed online. Researchers are able to collect more or less continuous information on the distribution and movement of the tagged porpoises.

In this ocean science project, you will use these online data to determine whether there is a pattern to the movement of harbor porpoises and, if so, find out if the pattern correlates with certain environmental factors. What triggers the movements of the harbor porpoises? Are they following food sources? Does the bottom topography or the motion of the currents guide them? Does temperature play a role? Or are they out there simply exploring the ocean? Get ready to check out some data to find out!

Terms and Concepts

  • Cetaceans and the order Cetacea
  • Harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena)
  • Satellite telemetry
  • Satellite transmitters
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • ARGOS
  • Bathymetric maps

Bibliography

The WhaleNet website has data from archived satellite tagging projects, tracking maps, and information on how to interpret tagging data:

The National Buoy Center has oceanographic data in real time:

  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). (December 11, 2013). National Data Buoy Center.. Retrieved June 6, 2014, from http://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/

Here is a resource on satellite tracking:

This webpage has links to information on marine mammals:

To do this science project, you will need to download bathymetric maps from the following webpage:

This publication includes statistics for how many harbor porpoises are seriously injured or killed due to fisheries:

News Feed on This Topic

 
, ,
Reading level:
Note: A computerized matching algorithm suggests the above articles. It's not as smart as you are, and it may occasionally give humorous, ridiculous, or even annoying results! Learn more about the News Feed

Materials and Equipment

  • Computer to download data from the internet
  • Lab notebook

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.

Experimental Procedure

The examples below take you through the process of making various tracking measurements for a single harbor porpoise. In order to test a hypothesis about porpoise movements, you will need to repeat the measurements for as many porpoises as possible.

Calculating Distances between Satellite Fixes

  1. From the WhaleNet Archive of STOP Data, Maps, and Information, scroll down to the "Archived Satellite Tagging Projects" section and click on one of the animals in the "Harbor Porpoise" section. "Gus" has been chosen for this example.
    1. Track Map: you will need to print this map out to use later. It shows the locations of "Gus" where satellite fixes were made.
    2. Data Sheet - Satellite Fixes: this is a data table with the latitude and longitude of each satellite fix on "Gus". You will need to use this information with the Distance Generator.
  2. Open the Distance Generator by clicking on the link at the bottom of the "Gus" page. The Distance Generator page has a form where you can enter latitude and longitude data. The form will calculate the distance between the two points.
    1. From the Satellite Data Sheet, copy and paste the latitude and longitude from the first sighting of "Gus" into the "From" box on the Distance Generator form. (You will need to remove "Lon1 :" from this entry.)
    2. Repeat your steps for the "To" location.
    3. To calculate how far "Gus" has traveled during this study, copy the latitude and longitude from the last entry (23.03.04) and paste this information in the To box. (Again, you will need to remove "Lon1 :" from this entry.)
    4. Click on the "Look it up!" button. You should come up with 632 miles. The problem with this calculation is that it is as the crow flies and any side trips "Gus" takes aren't taken into account. To be more accurate you will need to do the calculations between each sighting and add your results.

Productivity and the Movement of "Gus"

  1. From the WhaleNet Archive of STOP Data, Maps, and Information, click on a harbor porpoise. "Gus" has been chosen for this example.
  2. On this page you will need to obtain data about "Gus" in two places: "Gus" Track Map and Productivity Map. Print both of these maps. Note that the redder colors on the Productivity Map indicate areas of higher concentrations of chlorophyll.
  3. Compare the two maps. Do you see any correlations between chlorophyll productivity and the location of "Gus"?

Bathymetry and the Movement of "Gus"

  1. From the WhaleNet Archive of STOP Data, Maps, and Information, click on a harbor porpoise. "Gus" has been chosen for this example.
  2. On this page you will need to obtain data about "Gus" from the Track Map. Print this map.
  3. Download and print bathymetric maps from the National Ocean Service Bathymetric & Fishing Maps webpage for the same areas that the harbor porpoise moves in.
  4. When comparing the movement of "Gus" with bathymetry (the depth of the ocean floor), do you see any correlations?
  5. What do your results tell you about how environmental factors might influence the movement of harbor porpoises?

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.


Variations

  • Use the map scale to estimate the total distance the harbor porpoise has traveled. What is the average daily distance it has traveled? What has its average daily speed (mph) been?
  • Do you see points on your tracking map which seem suspicious? Which ones, and how do you explain them?
  • Why is the harbor porpoise traveling along its current path? What environmental factors might influence the track? To answer this, you will need additional data. For example, you can look at buoy data for wind direction, speed, gust, significant wave height, swell and wind-wave heights and periods, air temperature, water temperature, and sea level pressure. Some buoys also report wave directions. You may also want to look at bathymetric maps to get an idea of the topography looks like below the surface.
  • Describe the movements of the harbor porpoise. By looking at its movements, can you tell if it is migrating, nesting, or feeding?

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.

Ask an Expert

The Ask an Expert Forum is intended to be a place where students can go to find answers to science questions that they have been unable to find using other resources. If you have specific questions about your science fair project or science fair, our team of volunteer scientists can help. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions, offer guidance, and help you troubleshoot.

Ask an Expert

Related Links

If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers:

Marine biologist collect marine water sample

Marine Biologist

Do you enjoy going to the ocean? Do you like examining all of the marine creatures in tide pools? Do you read up on the different kinds of ocean mammals and fish for fun? If this is the case, then you may be the right fit for a career as a marine biologist. Marine biology is the study of ocean aquatic organisms, their behaviors, and their interactions with the environment. Because this field of study is an intersection of zoology, biology, and technology, marine biologists can apply their knowledge in many different ways. Read more
Environmental Scientist evaluating toxin effects on frogs

Environmental Scientist

Have you ever noticed that for people with asthma it can sometimes be especially hard to breathe in the middle of a busy city? One reason for this is the exhaust from vehicles. Cars, buses, and motorcycles add pollution to our air, which affects our health. But can pollution impact more than our health? Cutting down trees, or deforestation, can contribute to erosion, which carries off valuable topsoil. But can erosion alter more than the condition of the soil? How does an oil spill harm fish and aquatic plants? How does a population of animals interact with its environment? These are questions that environmental scientists study and try to find answers to. They conduct research or perform investigations to identify and eliminate the sources of pollution or hazards that damage either the environment or human and animal health. Environmental scientists are the stewards of our environment and are committed to keeping it safe for future generations. Read more
remote sensing scientist analyzing data on computer

Remote Sensing Scientist or Technologist

Have you ever climbed up high in a tree and then looked at your surroundings? You can learn a lot about your neighborhood by looking down on it. You can see who has a garden, who has a pool, who needs to water their plants, and how your neighbors live. Remote sensing scientists or technologists do a similar thing, except on a larger scale. These professionals apply the principles and methods of remote sensing (using sensors) to analyze data and solve regional, national, and global problems in areas such as natural resource management, urban planning, and climate and weather prediction. Because remote sensing scientists or technologists use a variety of tools, including radio detection and ranging (radar) and light detection and ranging (lidar), to collect data and then store the data in databases, they must be familiar with several different kinds of technologies. Read more

News Feed on This Topic

 
, ,
Reading level:
Note: A computerized matching algorithm suggests the above articles. It's not as smart as you are, and it may occasionally give humorous, ridiculous, or even annoying results! Learn more about the News Feed

Looking for more science fun?

Try one of our science activities for quick, anytime science explorations. The perfect thing to liven up a rainy day, school vacation, or moment of boredom.

Find an Activity