Saturday, January 28, 2006

Atlantic Herring Stirring up Bay Life

This week, staff and visitors to the Save The Bay Center at Field's Point in Providence have been treated to great winter wildlife watching. Massive flocks of common mergansers have been surrounding and herding fish near the surface where gulls and other birds are picking them off. Harbor seals have been in close as well, presumably chasing the same fish.

I haven't laid my hands on one yet, but watching through the spotting scope, I am fairly confident that these small silver fish are Atlantic herring, (clupea harengus). Unlike the blueback herring and alewives that migrate into the Bay's rivers in April and May, Atlantic herring are not anadromous- they spend their whole lives in the sea. Narragansett Bay is near the southern range of these fish, and they tend to appear during our coldest months. A great resource website on Atlantic herring is the
Gulf of Maine Research Institute

A friend reported seeing numerous whales yesterday from the Block Island ferry, probably feeding on the same herring. Their arrival in the Bay has brought may more seals, as well as a wide variety of seabirds and waterfowl. If you haven't done it yet, take your family seal watching on Save The Bay's Aletta Morris out of Newport. See the schedule at
Seal Watching

I have been wondering what the resident stripers in the Providence River are eating. My minnow trap at Save The Bay was crushed during a storm last week, but in recent weeks I have been catching lots of sevenspine shrimp (a sand shrimp), and a few mummichogs, juvenile tautog, cunner, and stickleback. It's nothing like the massive schools of menhaden, silversides, and anchovies we see in summer, but there seems to be enough around to support thriving life through the winter. Perhaps the river populations range out into the Bay to forage on the Atlantic herring? Or do the sea herring make it all the way into Providence? I'll see what I can find out.

More to come on this... JT

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