Originally created 08/30/98

New sites: Humpbacks of Madagascar



THE SITE: Discovery.com -- Humpbacks of Madagascar
THE ADDRESS: www.discovery.com
THE REASON: "Thar she blows"

At this time last year, I had the glorious experience of being surrounded by whales.

It was my family's good fortune to be in Bar Harbor, Maine, at the peak of the summer feeding season when humpbacks make their annual migration to the coast of Maine to gorge on the abundant krill there. A short boat ride took us from port right into the middle of their offshore dining room.

Nothing can quite describe the sensation -- an odd mixture of excitement and serenity -- one feels in the presence of these huge yet graceful creatures as they slowly glide by, making occasional spouting noises reminding us that they breathe the same air and are indeed our biological cousins.

Getting to the coast of Maine may not be an option for everyone, but thanks to Discovery Channel Online, a few keystrokes and mouse clicks will take you across the world to Antongil Bay on the northeast coast of Madagascar, where a research team from the American Museum of Natural History has been monitoring a major humpback breeding site.

Since 1996, Howard Rosenbaum, a molecular biologist at the museum who studies whales and dolphins, and the members of his team have identified some 250 individual whales. With only about 25,000 to 35,000 humpbacks in the world today -- less than a third of their 19th-century population -- the work of Rosenbaum's group is important in learning what can be done to preserve their numbers.

The channel's correspondent Mary-alice Yakutchik has been filing regular dispatches from Antongil Bay since Aug. 17. Along with digital images, those dispatches detail not only the work of the research team but also the reception the group has received from the local Malagasy people.

You'll also find features to better acquaint you with the humpbacks' physical attributes, migration patterns and unique behavioral characteristics. These include a video clip of the humpbacks' clever bubble feeding technique used to create a "net" as much as 100 feet across to trap schools of small fish.

Among whales, humpbacks are considered some of the most complex singers. You'll get a real visceral thrill listening via RealAudio to recorded examples of their very different songs ranging from deep, gutteral clicks to haunting wails.

A live Webcast from Antongil Bay is planned in conjunction with the museum and National Public Radio. Questions and comments can be submitted for possible inclusion via a form on the Web site. You can also monitor the radio broadcast via Real-Audio. (E-mailing is also possible.)

If you find sea-related subjects appealing, you may want to check out some of the site's other current offerings, including a feature on the Discovery Channel's recent excursion deep into the Titanic. There are also regular progress reports on Tori Murden, making her own transoceanic migration in hopes of becoming the first woman and the first American to row solo across the Atlantic.