News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, April 24, 2014
Adams School Calvineers share right whale studies with peninsula students

Calvineers research the right whale

The Calvineers present to students at the Maine Student Book Award presentation. The students work on right whale research after school.

Photo by Ruby Nash Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Ruby Nash

On Wednesday, April 16, students in grades 5-8 from Blue Hill, Brooksville, Castine, Penobscot, and Surry gathered at Maine Maritime Academy for the Maine Student Book Award celebration.

The day’s event featured a host of activities, including hearing guest speaker Mary Cerullo, author of the MSBA title Giant Squid: Searching for a Sea Monster; visiting MMA’s touch-tanks in the Oceanography department; experiencing the Navigation Simulators on campus first-hand; going on a harbor tour on the RV Friendship, and taking a tour of the State of Maine.

Also included was a presentation by the Adams School Calvineers, a club composed of seventh- and eighth-grade students. The students dedicate an hour after school every week and work on a research project over the course of the school year.

The mission of the group is endangered species recovery through education, with a focus on the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

The club is named after “Calvin,” a female right whale born in 1992. Calvin has endured the hardships of right whales everywhere. While still very young, Calvin’s mother, Delilah, was killed by a ship strike. Since right whales migrate from New Brunswick to Florida and back again, they travel through some of the most highly used shipping lanes in the world. Research the Calvineers presented Wednesday shows that a ship strike of more than 10 knots will injure right whales and any strike over 18 knots will kill them.

Calvin has also endured two major entanglements in plastic ropes commonly used in fishing and trapping. The rope does not biodegrade, making disentanglement a complicated process. Many right whales do not survive. Calvin still bears the scars of those experiences, but has so far survived and has gone on to produce two of her own offspring.

Bill McWeeny, Science teacher at the Adams School for grades 5 through 8, has been running the Calvineer program for 10 years. “The idea is to get the word out,” he said. “I’m going to keep it going as long as I can keep going.”

The first students to belong to the club are now graduating from college. Club activities include attending events, such as the Right Whale Consortium in Massachusetts, going whale watching, and pairing up with mentors in the sciences.

Student research projects vary. Drake Janes has orchestrated the Southern New England Right Whale Festival at the New England Aquarium on May 4 (11 a.m.-3 p.m.), and Tambre Hope will be helping attendees of the festival make clay, painted models of the whales.

“I might not become a marine biologist,” said Hope. “But I definitely have enjoyed this experience.”

The Calvineers presented hopeful advances in the lives of right whales to the students from schools throughout the Peninsula. For example, recent research influenced a slight shift in the shipping lanes in the Bay of Fundy, which once traveled through a corner of prime right whale migration patterns. Since the shift, not a single ship strike has occurred in that area.

Savanna Colson, who will be demonstrating right whale feeding patterns and how baleen plates operate at the festival, spoke about enjoying contact with scientists doing research in the field. “They’re doing what we’re doing, but we’re doing it at a younger age,” she said.