A Natural Connection to the Azores

Overview and Objectives

Overview and Objectives

This Learning Center focuses on using entries from the logbook of a whaling ship, the brig Sullivan, to teach latitude and longitude, while getting a sense of the marine species seen on whaling voyages between New Bedford, Massachusetts and the Azores island chain.

This Learning Center provides an opportunity for students to learn geography, currents, taxonomy, and a snippet of Yankee whaling history. It also reinforces the fact that connections between New Bedford and the Azores remain strong.

Enduring Understandings and Big Ideas

  • By using primary sources we can recreate historical whaling voyages, plot latitude and longitude and learn about the animals the whalers saw on their trips.
  • Along with the human, cultural, and historical trading and whaling connections shared by the U.S. and the Azores, there are species that are common to both regions.
  • The common names used for animals seen in previous centuries may be different from the names used currently.

Time required

This program is designed to be completed in 90 minutes.

Extension activities could include investigating sperm whale skeletal and general anatomy, and products made from sperm whales (this is part of the program when it's conducted in the New Bedford Whaling Museum), learning the Portuguese names for the species, creating food chains for some of the animals discussed, or reading more about the Azores and its people.

Classroom resources

  • world map
  • Atlantic Ocean map. A PDF version of a North Atlantic chart can be found within the lesson. 
  • markers (dry erase if you're using a laminated map)

All other resources are provided within this Learning Center.

Learning Objectives

  1. Students will learn the concepts of latitude and longitude.
  2. Students will learn mapping skills by plotting coordinates provided from a whale ship's log book.
  3. Students will learn the geographical location of the Azores.
  4. Students will learn about the historic, economic and cultural connection between Massachusetts and the Azores.
  5. Students will learn about marine creatures encountered during whaling voyages.

Historical background

Historical background

Whale ships that sailed out of New Bedford, Massachusetts into the Atlantic Ocean would quite often stop at one or more of the Azores islands to pick up crew members, fresh food and water. Most often, they would visit the islands of Faial and Pico. 

This chain of nine islands is situated 2422 miles (3900 km) from the east coast of the United States and 930 miles (1500 km) from Portugal. (A plane flight from Massachusetts would take between five and six hours.) The islands' location in the Atlantic Ocean is in the path of prevailing winds and the Gulf Stream. Thus, they were a logical port of call for these ships.

Captains and first mates kept daily, and if necessary, hourly records of events during these voyages. Any whales struck and/or killed were noted. Sightings of other marine animals may have been written in as well. The locations of these events were plotted with latitude and longitude coordinates.  Ship owners, who did not typically participate in the voyages, could retrace what happened to their investments by reading through these documents.

At the end of these voyages, many Azoreans chose to settle in New Bedford and surrounding towns rather than return to their island homes. In later decades, immigrants from the Azores moved here to work in the textile and fishing industries. Their cultural influence is visible throughout southeastern New England in festivals, restaurants, other businesses, and media.

Learning Activities and Teaching Strategies

Learning Activities and Teaching Strategies

Download the student worksheet for these activities.

I. Sailing Out

Whale ships sailed southeast out of New Bedford and southwest out of Buzzards Bay, before sailing around Martha's Vineyard and into the Atlantic Ocean. Whaling voyages lasted three to five years on average. 

They followed the Gulf Stream (see Prevailing Currents image to the left) and searched for whales. Whales were caught, flensed and processed on board in the "tryworks."  The primary target was the sperm whale. Other whale species in the Atlantic included the right and humpback.

Ships hunted whales around the Azores and visited the ports for a variety of purposes (see Historical Background, previous page of this Learning Center).

Azorean whaling was a bit different from Yankee whaling. Whalers who lived on the islands would launch boats from shore and row or sail to the whales, capture them and process them in shore-based tryworks. See the Whaling off Pico image on the right.

Have students look at the image of the Azores Archipelago in the Additional Resources section of this Learning Center. Have them name all of the islands. Challenge them to translate some of the names into English.


II. Latitude and Longitude

Locations on the ocean are noted in latitude and longitude. This website has a great explanation of how latitude and longitude work. 


Once you and the students have worked through this concept, they should take the absolute locations shown on the blue slide shown to the left and plot those locations on a map of the Atlantic Ocean. A pdf of the Atlantic Ocean chart can be downloaded and printed by clicking here.

III. Species Seen

Now that you know where this particular ship went during much of 1905, have students take a look at the image of "Animals Named in brig Sullivan Logbook." Have students match the pictures to the names in the logbook and write them on the worksheet. Encourage them to look up the Portuguese names for these organisms.

IV. What Else Lives in the Atlantic?

Using the two Species Worksheets provided here have students determine which seven animals might be found in the Atlantic Ocean between Massachusetts and the Azores. Students should circle their choices.

V. Plotting Specific Locations:

Part One

Students will choose two of the seven Atlantic animals that they picked in the previous exercise. As a means of practicing latitude and longitude, decide upon a logical absolute location for each animal. Plot it on the Atlantic Ocean chart.

Part Two

Either print out the Ponta Delgada and New Bedford pdf files (click on the titles to download the documents) or go to the two images in the Additional Resources section of this Learning Center that start with the phrase "What is the Absolute Location" and have students write out the latitude and longitude coordinates for each one. Which one is further north?

Final Question

Based on this information, in which direction did whalers have to sail to get from the mouth of Buzzards Bay to the Azores?

Assessment and Evaluation

Assessment and Evaluation

Student learning can be evaluated via the following methods:

Successful plotting of the provided absolute locations onto an Atlantic Ocean chart or map.

  • Completion of the quiz at this address http://www.quia.com/session.html Use the session name bowerman to take the quiz.
  • Completion of the worksheet that accompanies this Learning Center.
  • Being able to locate the Azores on a world map.
  • Correct identification of the current that runs along the western Atlantic towards the Azores.
  • Identifying the animals on the provided image by using the names mentioned in the logbook entries of the Sullivan
  • Additional learning can be gauged by the students' ability to identify other common names used for the animals. An example would be the diamondfish, which is typically called the manta ray in current texts.

Additional Resources

Additional Resources

These images offer additional resources, available in the collections of the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

In addition, plan a visit to the New Bedford Whaling Museum or download its many on-line educational resources from its web site, to complement the activities in this Learning Center.

Academic Standards

Academic Standards

Massachusetts Learning Standards

Life Science Grades 3-5

1. Physical characteristics of plants and animals.

6. Inherited characteristics may change over time as adaptations to changes in the environment enable organisms to survive

7. Changes in the environment have caused some plants and animals to die or move to new locations (migration)


Earth and Space Science Grades 3-5

14. Earth orbits the sun in a year’s time and rotates on its axis in approximately 24 hours.  The rotation of the earth, day/night, and the apparent movement of the sun, moon and stars are connected.

Life Science Grades 6-8

1. Organisms are classified into kingdoms

13. Organisms interact and have different functions within an ecosystem that enable the ecosystem to survive.


Earth and Space Science Grades 9-10

1.7 Oceanic currents relate to global circulation within the marine environment and climate.


National Academic Standards


NSS-G.K-12.1: The World in Spatial Terms

  • As a result of their activities in K-12, all students should understand maps and other geographic representations, tools and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective.

NSS-G.k-12.3: Physical Systems

  • As a result of their activities in K-12, all students should understand the spatial distribution of ecosystems on Earth's surface.

NSS-G.K-12.4: Human Systems

  • As a result of their activities in K-12, all students should understand the patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth's surface.

NSS-G.K-12.5: Environment and Society

  • As a result of their activities in K-12, all students should understand the changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources.


NS.5-8.3: Life Science

  • As a result of their activities in 5-8, all students should develop understanding of populations and ecosystems.