WhaleFest turns focus to scientists

The 21st annual Sitka WhaleFest, hosted by the Sitka Sound Science Center (SSSC), will kick off Nov. 2 for a weekend of activities and learning. There will be a film screening, marine art reception, market and café, Maritime Grind show, a run to benefit SSSC, marine wildlife cruises, a concert and more. A big feature of WhaleFest is the three-day symposium of scientists and science advocates who will share their knowledge.


This year’s theme is “The Making-Of: Behind the Scenes of Science” and was selected in February by the symposium committee, said Sitka WhaleFest director and SSSC assistant director Rachel Klein. Scientists will speak about whales, but the focus will also be on the scientists themselves.

“So we were talking about ideas of how to have WhaleFest kind of focus on parts of research and science that most of the public would be unaware of… how scientists get inspired to conduct their research in the first place, and then what sort of findings do they have throughout their research, and what do they do after the fact when they’re done. We wanted our symposium to focus on parts of science that aren’t just lab coats and microscopes,” she said.

Each day of the symposium has its own theme, the first being ‘Serendipity.’

“Our scientists that day are going to be talking about those surprising or serendipitous moments that inspired them to want to study their topic. One speaker that day, Kate Stafford, is going to be speaking on her… serendipitous moment of discovery that bowhead whales are the jazz singers of the Arctic,” Klein said.

Stafford’s current research “focuses on the changing acoustic environment of the Arctic and how changes, from sea ice declines to increasing industrial human use, may be influencing subarctic and Arctic marine mammals,” stated the website. Other speakers for that day are Christina Lockyer and her talk “Choosing My Own Path to Discovery,” and Macy Rae Kenworthy, a former U.S. Arctic Youth Ambassador, whose talk is “Standing on the Edge of Climate Change.”

The second day of the symposium theme is “Linking Up,” which focuses on unexpected connections that links to other marine research, Klein said. Thomas Royer will speak on “Southeast Alaska: Ancient Gateway to the Americas,” Colleen Duncan on “One World, One Health,” and Seth Danielson on “Ice Floes to Seals, Waves to Whales.” Rounding out the evening, Jacquelyn Gill, who was one of the original organizers of the international March for Science, held this year on April 22, or Earth Day, will speak on “Mice and Mammoths: A Paleoecologist’s Thoughts on Extinction, Survival, and Resilience.”

The third day of the symposium is “Action!,” which will address science policy and advocacy. Klein said this day asks the question: “Should scientists advocate for their research or let the science speak for itself?” Betsy Baker will present “How Marine Science Changed My Life: One Lawyer’s Story.” There will be a discussion panel called “Back off Man, I’m a Scientist!”

“The main purpose of Whalefest is that we really want to get the community and Alaskans and really anybody – we do have a lot of people coming from down south as well — engaged in science,” Klein said. “This festival is great opportunity to do that because not only do we have scientists from all over come to present their current research but we have all these other fun events that support the whole festival. It’s a great to have fun, chat with scientists, attend the lectures and really get engaged in science.”

On Thursday, there will be a free screening of the film “The Dark Side of the Ocean” by Rick Rosenthal. He will be in Norway during the festival but will Skype in for a Q&A. On Friday there will be the Maritime Grind, where there will be music, dancing, and a dessert contest (it costs $5 unless you bring a dessert, then your ticket is refunded). On Saturday, Allen Marine Tours will do $55 marine wildlife cruises. For a full listing of all the events associated with WhaleFest, go to sitkawhalefest.org.

• Clara Miller is the Capital City Weekly’s staff writer.


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