PUBLISHED: 5:02 PM on Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Scientists in Schools
For the past eight years, Sitka WhaleFest's "Scientists in the Schools" program has brought marine mammal scientists from North America into classrooms in the Sitka School District. Last year we initiated this same program in Mt. Edgecumbe High School, as well. The content of the in-class lectures, and hands-on activities changes annually. Researchers have presented a range of contemporary scientific research from genetics studies on whale populations to anthropogenic influences on marine mammals.

The success of Sitka WhaleFest's educational program depends on a carefully crafted integration of contemporary scientific research questions with the school's existing science curriculum. Our program has three components. The first part involves spending classroom hours introducing students to basic marine science research concepts. The second part has the scientists presenting their research into classrooms at an age appropriate level, and the third component allows students to participate in a hands-on project that emphasizes the scientific process and demonstrates the importance of research in marine conservation. In order to make the guest lectures relevant, our education facilitator and curriculum coordinator integrates the research topics of working scientists into the existing science curriculum. The coordinator prepares students with lesson about basic marine conservation, ecology and research methods. The scientists then lecture on their research and finally have the students do a hands-on project so they can experience the scientific process, and better understand the scientific questions that are being asked.

2006 "Scientists in the Schools" Presenters

Rich Capitan came to Alaska from Michigan as a SCA volunteer in 1993. Having been "bitten by the Alaska bug", he returned every summer to assist with various wildlife research projects on salmon, moose browse, lynx, songbirds, shorebirds, seabirds, and walrus. He also conducted wolf population surveys in the upper peninsula of Michigan. He was a naturalist guide on St. Paul Island (to add to the experience, he moonlighted as a prison guard), and spent an austral summer in Antarctica conducting penguin/seabird studies. Rich worked at the Alaska SeaLife Center from 2000 through 2005 as the Outreach Educator, where he delivered marine science programs throughout Alaska. In March of 2006, he proudly joined the staff of Audubon Alaska, as Education Specialist. Rich holds a B.A. in Biology from Olivet College, MI and attended the University of Alaska Southeast Juneau. He is a member of Scared Scriptless, Anchorage's longest running comedy Improv troupe and is married to Alison Capitan, D.V.M. They call Anchorage home and are expecting a 'lil Capitan in February 2007.

Christine Gabriele is a wildlife biologist at Glacier Bay National Park, where she has conducted an annual humpback whale population monitoring study since 1991. Along with the Park's whale monitoring program, Chris is currently leading the Park's underwater acoustic monitoring study, which aims to characterize natural and man-made sources of underwater sound and their potential influences on whales. Chris completed her masters degree at the University of Hawaii on humpback whale behavior in the Hawaiian Islands in 1991. Frances Gulland, Ph.D. is the Director of Veterinary Science at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California. She has been actively involved in the veterinary care and rehabilitation of stranded marine mammals and research into marine mammal diseases since 1994. Frances received her veterinary degree from the University of Cambridge in 1984, and her PhD in Zoology also from Cambridge in 1991 for her work on the role of parasites in the population dynamics of Soay sheep on St. Kilda. Todd O'Hara, Ph.D. recently became an Associate Professor of Wildlife Toxicology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (2004) and was a Research Biologist for the Department of Wildlife Management, North Slope Borough and 9.0-year resident of Barrow, Alaska. He lives with his wife Carla; and son Lars and daughter Anne. Dr. O'Hara came to Alaska for the "opportunity of a lifetime" to work and live "in the field" with amazing people and wildlife. Dr. O'Hara's academic training includes a D.V.M. [University of Wisconsin - Madison , School of Veterinary Medicine (1988 - 1992)], a Ph.D. in Pharmacology/ Toxicology [Medical College of Virginia (1985-1988)], and a B.S. and M.S. in Biology [ Villanova University (1979-1985)]. Dr. O'Hara is a Diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Toxicology (ABVT) since 1995. His major interests are environmental/ wildlife toxicology, and wildlife conservation and medicine. Current research activities include assessments of arctic fox, polar bears, ice seals and other mammals for nutritional value and exposure to contaminants for human consumers and health assessments of free ranging wildlife.

This successful program is made possible by funding from the Sitka Alaska Permanent Charitable Trust, the Skaggs Foundation, The CIRI Foundation and other generous contributors. If you are interested in supporting this or other Sitka WhaleFest Programs please contact or phone 907-747-7964.