BOSTON — Coast Guard helicopter pilots scanning the waters of Stellwagen Bank for oil spills have taken on a new duty: whale watching.
The Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are teaming up to protect marine mammals in the wildlife-rich waters of the bank, a national marine sanctuary off the Massachusetts coast.
The pilots will look for whales in distress, whether they're stranded in shallows or harassed by overzealous whale watchers, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Amy Gaskill.
The pilots will be armed with rules governing whale watchers, and trained by sanctuary manager Brad Barr.
Stellwagen Bank covers 638 square nautical miles of ocean between Cape Cod and Cape Ann. It is teeming with plankton and fish that form part of the food chain that sustains the humpback, fin, sei and northern right whales.
Recreational and commercial fishing boats cruise its waters, along with whale-watching vessels from nearby Provincetown and elsewhere.
Designated a protected area by Congress in November, 1992, Stellwagen Bank is one of 13 national marine sanctuaries administered by the NOAA.