Gulf Facts

· "The Gulf is 416 kilometers (225 nautical miles) wide from Cape Ann to Cape Sable Island, and 235 kilometers (130 nautical miles) from Mount Desert Island to the 90-meter (50 fathom) line at the northern edge of Georges Bank. The landward edge of the Gulf, from Cape Cod to Cape Sable, is about 1,100 kilometers (600 miles) if the enormous irregularities, particularly those of the Maine coast, are smoothed and the Bay of Fundy shores are excluded." (3)

· A watershed is as an area of land that drains all the water that falls on it (rain, fog, snow) and flows within it (rivers, streams) into one bigger body of water. From its freshwater sources to the coast, the Gulf of Maine watershed encompasses land within Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, an area of 69,115 square miles (or 165,185 square kilometers). Quebec is the only province within the watershed that does not border its saltwater boundary. (2)

· A seiche (pronounced Saysh) is a natural oscillation that occurs in a semi-enclosed body of water, such as the Bay of Fundy. It works like a bowl of soup you carry from kitchen to table: the liquid sloshes back and forth in a rhythm that depends on the size and shape of the bowl and how you carry it. As the period of the seiche approaches that of the tide, the Bay of Fundy produces tide ranges exceeding 15 meters (50 feet), some of the highest tides in the world (4). In contrast, the tides in Boston Harbor are only 9½ feet.

· Stellwagon Bank covers 842 square miles. At its southern end, it is three miles northeast of Race Point, near Provincetown, Massachusetts. At its northern end, it is three miles southeast of Cape Ann, near Gloucester, Massachusetts. On average, Stewllwagon Bank is 100 feet below the surface. It is 19 miles long and 6¼ miles at its widest. The bank drops 300 feet down on the west flank and gradually drops to 600 feet on the east (5). "Probably nowhere in the Gulf are so many different habitats in such proximity as the Stellwagon Bank National Marine Sanctuary" (6).

· Worldwide, approximately 80% of the pollution load in the oceans originate from land-based activities.

· The surface currents that run counter-clockwise into the Bay of Fundy at Cape Sable Island take approximately three months to navigate the whole of the Gulf of Maine (2). This is equivalent to the current running seven nautical miles a day (1).

· The counter-clockwise current, or gyre, enters the Gulf near Cape Sable Island over Browns Bank and through the Northeast Channel. The gyre's momentum is increased by the tide surges of the Bay of Fundy and by the water currents flowing out of the Gulf's great river drainages (1).

· Gulf waters are well-mixed in many areas. The larger bays, such as Passamaquoddy Bay and Penobscott Bay, both flush large volumes of water twice each day. The Bay of Fundy also flushes tons of water in and out twice each day. The result of such well-mixed water is increased productivity. More nutrients and more phytoplankton draw in species of whales who find ample sources of feed.

· Bay of Fundy tides are fed by 100 billion tons of water, "a flow equal in volume to that of the Gulf Stream, or 2,000 times the discharge of the St. Lawrence River" (8).

· The Right Whale is a large baleen whale with an important summer habitat in the Gulf of Maine and Bay of Fundy region. It was given its name by whalers who thought it was the "right" whale to fish because it is relatively easy to hunt: it feeds at the surface of the water and once harpooned, floats rather than sinks. Today, there are only approximately 300 to 350 North Atlantic Right Whales and great strides are being made by the fishing industry and law-makers to prevent them from becoming entangled in fishing gear. Right Whales are susceptible to collision with large ships.

· Over five million people live around the Gulf of Maine (9). The entire population of Maine, 1.2 million people, live within the Gulf of Maine watershed (7). Millions of tourists visit the Gulf of Maine every year.

· Over 4,000 species depend of the Gulf of Maine (9).

· "Fishermen have been harvesting the Gulf of Maine since before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock" (6).

· The banks are underwater mountains, in some places covered by a mere few meters of water. Georges Bank and Browns Bank mark the southern edge of the glacier's journey over 10,000 years ago. These banks essentially form walls that isolate the Gulf of Maine from the rest of the Atlantic Ocean. That is why many people call the Gulf of Maine "a sea beside the sea" (9).

· The Gulf of Maine's sole connection to the North Atlantic is Northeast Channel, a deep submerged valley lying between Georges and Browns Bank. The Northeast Channel allows dense, high-salinity and nutrient rich waters to enter the Gulf from the North Atlantic (1).

· The Gulf of Maine's undersea landscape is a combination of sand, rock, gravel, sea weed, and mud. This diversity of habitat leads to a rich array of species, all needing various habitats within which they can survive. The coastal zone, the area that forms a three-mile-wide skirt around the edge of the land, is the most productive region of the Gulf. Here lobsters, urchins, mussels, clams, scallops, shrimp, and numerous other sub-tidal species thrive (1).

· In the spring, melting snow throughout the Gulf of Maine watershed drains into rivers and streams, then pours into the saltier seawater of the Gulf itself. This fresh, cold, melt-water decreases the temperature and salinity of the Gulf and also carries with it sediments, runoff, and various organisms and nutrients from the land (6). Pollution finds its way into the Gulf via runoff and melt-water.

· Early Native Americans called estuaries the "between land" or the area that is not quite water but not quite land either (6). Along Maine's estuaries and islands, Native Americans gathered in large groups during the summer to escape mosquitoes and black flies. These areas were rich fishing and shellfish harvesting areas. Today, archaeological sites are still being found where these early Gulf inhabitants disposed of their waste. Shell middens are mounds of shellfish remains which accumulated from generations of feasting and dumping. These trash pits of the past are protected by law because they offer a unique glimpse into the diet of our predecessors.

· Native Americans inhabited the shores of Massachusetts Bay 12,000 years ago. White people started fishing the bay 350 years ago (6).

· A success story: By the 1970s, Boston harbor was a foul, smelly place with the reputation of being the dirtiest harbor in the United States. The whole area was closed to fishing, shellfish harvesting, and swimming. Now, the Harbor's reputation is changing. In the 1980s, a huge sewage treatment project, coupled with the clean-up of toxic waste areas, successfully resulted in many clean beaches now fit for swimming. Many shellfish beds are open once again to harvesting and marine mammals are returning to the areas they once called home. In 1996, the Boston Harbor Island National Park area was created to oversea the management of the islands in the harbor and to promote their recreational use, something that was practically unthinkable 30 years ago.

All photos on this page by Natalie Springuel.

1. Undersea Landscapes of the Gulf of Maine. A poster produced by the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment, Maine Coastal Program, and numerous other partners.
2. Undersea Landscapes of the Gulf of Maine. A website produced by the Gulf of Maine Aquarium and Maine Coastal Program.
3. The Gulf of Maine, by Spencer Apollonio. Courier of Maine Books, Rockland, Maine, 1979.
4. Understanding Tides, Oregon Sea Grant ORESU-G-00-001. 5. State of the Gulf of Maine Summit. Global Programme of Action Coalition for the Gulf of Maine, December 2001.
6. Aquatic Environments in Maine, From Katahdin to the Sea. A poster produced by Gulf of Maine Aquarium and Poland Springs, text by Mary Cerullo.
7. Stellwagon Bank National Marine Sanctuary. A brochure produced by NOAA, Silver Spring, Maryland.
8. Tidal Life, A History of the Bay of Fundy, by Harry Thurston. Camden House Publishing, Ontario, 1990.
9. 50 Ways to Save the Gulf of Maine, by Jon Percy, Sea Pen Communications, Granville Ferry, Nova Scotia.