Whalefest starts today in Sitka

Posted: Friday, November 05, 2004

The Alutiiq people that inhabited Prince William Sound, Kodiak and the Alaska Peninsula hundreds of years ago hunted whales alone.

Unlike Native peoples in other areas of what has become the state of Alaska, the Alutiiq relied on magic and spiritual practices to hunt the oceans, according to archaeologist and anthropology teacher Amy Steffian.

Steffian is one of more than a dozen researchers, biologists, historians and photographers who will lecture this week at the eighth annual Sitka Whalefest.

The festival begins today and will continue through Sunday. In addition to the lectures, the festival will include whale and marine mammal viewing tours, art shows, a banquet, two concerts and a 10 kilometer fun run.

The keynote speaker, National Geographic underwater photographer Flip Nicklin, will speak Saturday.

Steffian, who works as deputy director of Kodiak's Alutiiq Museum, said the Alutiiq have inhabited the Kodiak Archipelago for some 7,500 years. Alutiiq whalers were shaman who hunted alone, unlike communal hunters in northern Alaska.

"It was very different than what was happening in other parts of the state," Steffian said. Some archeologists suspect that on the west coast of the state whalers scared the sea mammals into beaching themselves, while the Nootka near Vancouver hunted from canoes and harvested drift whales that washed up on the beaches of modern-day British Columbia.

Steffian said it's been three years since she spoke at the symposium.

Jan Straley, a marine biology professor at the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka and organizer of the event, said the symposium will focus on the Arctic on Saturday, the Gulf of Alaska Sunday, and Friday will include a hodgepodge of topics.

"We try to have a theme for each day," Straley said. "The focus is on research in the North Pacific."

Straley said the symposium will include 12 lectures. Tickets cost $75 for all three days or $25 per day.

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothy.inklebarger@ juneauempire.com.

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