In the Spotlight: Sitka WhaleFest
Dr. Lauren Wild was in middle school when she first came to WhaleFest. Like many Sitka kids, she’d spent her childhood exploring tidepools and playing in the stream by her house, yet she didn’t think of herself as a scientist.
Sitka WhaleFest: Try it You’ll Like it
By Sitka Sound Science CenterExecutive Director
Dr. Lauren Wild was in middle school when she first came to WhaleFest. Like many Sitka kids, she’d spent her childhood exploring tidepools and playing in the stream by her house, yet she didn’t think of herself as a scientist. But when her mom brought her to her first Sitka WhaleFest Symposium, her thinking began to shift.
“My first memories from WhaleFest were that I felt like scientists were cool and being one was attainable,” she said. “I didn’t think “Wow, I want to be a scientist; I was just inspired to see the WhaleFest speakers walking around with us. All the access we had to them was so neat. I think kids pick up on that.”
Now at age 37, Dr. Wild has a PhD from University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries & Ocean Sciences. Her research focused on the diet and movement of depredating sperm whales in the Gulf of Alaska. She is also a member of the committee which helps select speakers for the Science Symposium. “I always think in terms of what will be interesting to young people from Sitka.”
The festival began 27 years ago when members of the visitor industry wanted to attract tourists to Sitka during the “shoulder” season. Local (now retired) marine biologist Jan Straley joined the team of planners and invited her marine mammal colleagues to come speak about their current research. Since that time, the festival has grown to include events that are put on by a posse of different organizations and volunteers, coordinated by the Sitka Sound Science Center (SSSC).
Over the course of the three days, there are whale watching cruises, evening family entertainment at the Maritime Grind, food events, an artisan market, a foot race, adult and student workshops, Ocean Bowl competitions, a marine trivia night and a “marine mingle” cocktail party, where folks can chat with visiting scientists. Each afternoon there are three “stories” or talks given by researchers. The Sitka WhaleFest theme, this year, is Sound Science: Voices from the Ocean.
For those who have never attended a WhaleFest Symposium, Dr. Wild says to think of it as more of a storytelling event than a bunch of lectures. “It’s a great opportunity to hear stories and experiences from scientists who’ve worked all over the country. We want it to be educational but in a conversational way. It’s not meant to be an intimidating lecture vibe.”
SSSC took over running Sitka WhaleFest in 2011. Dedicated to increasing understanding and awareness of the aquatic, marine and terrestrial ecosystems of coastal Alaska, the WhaleFest mission dovetails well with the Science Center’s emphasis on community engagement.
“Sitka WhaleFest is everything we love about Sitka. It brings together community, fun activities, the ocean and people to celebrate the marine world,” said Lisa Busch, executive director of Sitka Sound Science Center. “And there is something for everyone.”
Join us at Harrigan Centennial Hall November 3-5, 2023.
Support for WhaleFest includes the National Science Foundation, The North Pacific Research Board, Saltchuk Family Funds, Sandy Kincheloe, SEARHC and Alaska Airlines. Success also depends on a myriad of volunteers who put on the WhaleFest run, make food for the event, and man registration stations.
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