A humpback whale leaps from the Gulf of Maine near a whale watch cruise boat in this 2014 file photo. Credit: Courtesy of Jesse Schwarcz

New research shows that ocean environments off New England contain the most diverse array of marine mammals to be found on the entire eastern seaboard. Lead scientist Brooke Hodge of the New England Aquarium said that the highest variety of mammals is found in and around giant underwater mountains and canyons.

In those areas, she said, cold, high-saline water carries nutrients from the deepest ocean toward the surface, powering a food chain that eventually leads to the mammals.

“The filter feeders — baleen whales — can feed on those small little animals. Then we have animals like beaked whales that are deep divers, squid eaters, and they like to go into those canyons off the shelf and dive deep, and that habitat helps support those types of animals as well. We also find things like dolphins and porpoise there,” Hodge said.

Areas such the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument typify the kind of underwater structures that foster the highest mammal diversity, she says. Designated as a marine protected area by President Barack Obama, the monument lies about 130 miles east of Cape Cod.

The study also found that along this side of the Continental Shelf, the Gulf of Maine — from Massachusetts to the mouth of the Bay of Fundy — carried the highest level of mammal diversity found on the east coast.