Bigelow Labs hosts research vessel Gulf Challenger

Wed, 07/22/2015 - 8:45am

The 50-foot research vessel Gulf Challenger pulled into the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences dock in East Boothbay on July 7 for a layover during its two-week trip to map the distribution and abundance of key marine birds, mammals, fish and plankton communities along the coastline from Massachusetts to Maine.

The Gulf Challenger headed out for the 2015 Summer Gulf of Maine Coastal Ecosystem Survey (GOMCES) around July 1. This is the third such trip so far; the other two taking place in July 2014 and February 2015. A fourth is scheduled for February 2016.

The voyages were made possible through the State Wildlife Competitive Grant program, which provided funding to carry out these surveys.

During the voyages, according to Gulf of Maine Research Institute scientist Julek Chawaski, the crew maps biological hotspots throughout the Gulf of Maine to find where large groups of zooplankton and other species are located — and why.

Through this data the scientists can create models showing the movement of marine species that also predict their future patterns.

The Gulf Challenger docks at a new port every night, spending the vast majority of time performing research along the coast. According to Aly McKnight of the University of Maine, the boat typically stays in coastal zone waters, which are a max of 15 miles from shoreline and depths of between two and 200 feet.

“It's very important to study the marine species because of the warming oceans,” McKnight said. “It helps us understand which species are likely to survive. It also assists with fish and wildlife permits for offshore building, as we can determine which areas should be left alone as wildlife habitats.”

The scientists collect water samples, observe migration patterns, and use echogram sonar to study what's underneath the water without disturbing it.

“Although coastal waters, especially those in the Gulf of Maine, are important both ecologically and economically, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about them,” Andrew Allyn of the University of Massachusetts Amherst said. “With time and careful research, we hope to answer some of those questions.”

The Gulf of Maine Coastal Ecosystem Survey blog can be found at, and includes many photos from this voyage and previous ones.