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The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, located 25 miles east of Boston, stretches between Cape Ann and Cape Cod at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay. The sanctuary today protects 842-square miles in an area geologists calculate was created some 14,000 years ago during the retreat of the last Ice Age glaciers.

Sand and gravel banks, muddy basins, rocky ledges, and vast boulder fields provide a variety of productive habitats within the Sanctuary. These productive reef environments are analogous to the tropical coral reefs -- just deeper, darker and colder. Stellwagen Bank reaches up from depths leveling off at an average of 100 feet below the waters' surface. The bank's shallow southwest corner has a depth of only 65 feet. Winter storms, the infamous "nor'easters", advance across the Gulf of Maine with enough energy to reach down and sweep sand grains along the top of the bank. Gravel and coarser sand have been left behind on the eastern side of the bank, while fine sand collects on the west and mud fills Stellwagen Basin. Ancient gouges in the seafloor of the northeastern corner of the sanctuary were caused by icebergs that grounded in the muddy sand at the close of the last period of glaciation.

Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary provides habitat for variety of marine creatures including the endangered northern right whale, humpback whale, finback whale and Atlantic white-sided dolphin. Atlantic bluefin tuna, Atlantic cod, winter flounder, sea scallops and northern lobsters travel through Stellwagen. Forty species of sea birds wheel their way above Stellwagen Bank's wild ocean including Wilson's storm petrel, shearwaters, northern fulmar, and northern gannet, terns, gulls and in the winter, a rich assortment of alcids and large numbers of black-legged kittiwakes.

Mature sea turtles such as the impressive leatherback and loggerhead, and pinnipeds--harbor and gray seals--are also spotted in the sanctuary. And one won't soon forget the ungainly appearance of a drifting ocean sunfish, the blue flash of the sleek bluefin tuna, or the cavernous maw of the (relatively) toothless basking shark.

The sanctuary is fueled by a rich abundance of phytoplankton and zooplankton. Golden-brown diatoms cause the waters to appear murky green. Healthy phytoplankton blooms lead to hearty zooplankton blooms, which in turn bring many larger animal species. Areas within the sanctuary are believed to be nurseries, supporting young fish and shellfish such as cod, flounder, sea clams and lobster. The Bank is also home to a vast array of invertebrates: sponges, soft corals, anemones, sea stars, sand dollars and sea urchins, marine worms, mollusks and squid.

Since colonial times, countless vessels have traversed the waters that today encompass the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary. Whether through hurricanes and other storms or human error, ships have foundered and sunk in the area.

It is not believed that there was any human habitation of the Stellwagen Bank area before it sank beneath the waves as sea level rose. However, the area had at one time supported vegetation and terrestrial animals, including mastodon and mammoth. Bones and teeth from these beasts have been recovered by fishing gear from the area.

The photo gallery contains images which portray only a small portion of the living and physical resources of the sanctuary. In addition, it portrays some of the major uses of the sanctuary. For a more detailed description of the marvels of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary visit the
Stellwagen Bank description on the Marine Sanctuaries section of this site.


The Collection


The Living Sanctuary presents 30 photos depicting marine mammals, fish, birds, and invertebrates. Among these images are right whales, sharks,giant sunfish, jellyfish, dolphin, starfish, anemone, shearwaters, diatoms, sea cucumbers and sponges to name just a few.

Habitats presents 18 photos depicting the various marine habitats making up the sanctuary. Included in this section you will find rocky, sandy, and muddy substrait which form the canvas on which life in the sanctuary creates the amazingly diverse habitats found within Stellwagen Bank.

People and the Sanctuary presents 20 images depicting the many ways that human beings use the sanctuary and its adjacent areas. You will see people recreating, researching, harvesting resources, and learning the important lessons that the sanctuary has to offer.

The Sustainable Seas Expeditions photos from the July 1999 expedition are unavailable.

The Kids Gallery for Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary contains 20 images. These images were created by children in the Boston, Massachussetts area in grades 1-8.


NOAA logo Revised July 31, 2017 by Sanctuaries Web Group
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