Whalefest: A marine wildlife celebration

Symposiums to feature regional speakers, art show, concerts, shopping for all to enjoy

Posted: Friday, November 06, 2009

In its thirteenth year, the Sitka Whalefest kicks off today in Sitka and boasts educational fun and events for the whole family.

Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire File
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire File

"It is a celebration of marine wildlife, so we do it through education, research, and community events," said Executive Director Holly Keen. "Our big event is this weekend where we have symposiums, whale watching cruises, family concerts and the market. But really, it's just a way for us to party with scientists."

Keen said the Sitka Whalefest will offer events such as the scientific symposium, a student art show, banquet, maritime grind - a type of variety show - and a sea chantey concert. There will also be the 10K run, and the Market at Whalefest will offer a myriad of whale-themed goods.

The symposiums will feature speakers in different areas of study, including Lisa Munger, an expert in whale acoustics, keynote speaker Richard Ellis, an artist and writer who will be speaking on perceptions of sea creatures throughout the ages, Juneau's Flip Nicklin, a National Geographic photographer, and seven other presenters involved in marine life research.

Keen said the speakers will talk for about 30 minutes each, with 15 minutes for questioning from the audience afterward.

She said they already have around 125 out-of-town visitors registered for the weekend, along with the hundreds of Sitkans who plan on attending.

"We'll have probably 200 participants in the symposiums," she said. "But, there are tons of people who like to do the separate events like shop at the market or go to the concerts."

Another education technique used for the past 11 years is bringing different scientists into area schools to teach young people about what is going on in the environment around them. According to www.sitkawhalfest.org, the content of the in-class lectures and hands-on activities changes annually, but in the past, researchers have presented a range of scientific programs from necropsies on marine mammals to fluke identification on humpback whales.

"I'm surprised at how many out of town folks we get who are repeat visitors," Keen said. "Some of them come in the summer and get their first look at Sitka as a tourist; then they realize they want to see Sitka from the view of a local."

Keen said "it's easy to join the crowd in the summer, but they become part of the community during winter."

With focus on education and the presentation of research, the Sitka Whalefest has proved to be an enlightening event for all involved in the past, and Keen said it will once again be an entertaining learning experience.

"It's basically putting out there that science can be fun; it's not dry information," she said. "For Alaskans, the goal is to make people more aware of their environment."

Rain or shine, the 13th annual Sitka Whalefest will take place today through Sunday in Sitka.

• Matthew Tynan can be reached at matthew.tynan@juneauempire.com.

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