PUBLISHED: 7:49 PM on Wednesday, October 29, 2008
WhaleFest gains popularity as scientific event
Sitka's annual festival starts Nov. 7
SITKA - A scientific symposium is not always cause for a community-wide celebration. But Sitka's WhaleFest can draw quite a crowd; so much in fact the event is becoming "by invitation only" to scientists and will be branding its own wine label this year.

Returning for the 12th time, the annual celebration of Alaska's marine mammals will be held Nov. 7-9.

Jayleen Beedle photo
  Quite a few of Southeast Alaska's humpback whales can be seen feeding in Sitka Sound during this time of year. The three-day WhaleFest held Nov. 7-9 includes presentations from scientists, whale-watching tours, music, a banquet and student art show.
Quite a few humpback whales can be seen feeding in Sitka Sound during this time of year. The three-day festival includes presentations from scientists, whale-watching tours, music, a banquet, student art show and a fun run.

"One thing the scientists say when they come is it's just a unique event," said director Phyllis Hackett. "It's sort of science wrapped in fun, because scientific symposiums are not always festive. Scientists love to come (and) they want to come back. It's by invitation to scientists, and we now have scientists coming to us asking if they can come."

This year's symposium is centered on "movement and migration." Keynote speaker Russ Andrews will discuss using remote-monitoring devices to "spy" on marine animals during their migrations.

Students come to WhaleFest from throughout Alaska and beyond, including Hawaii and England this year. At the end of each day, scientists will meet with students to discuss their research at greater length.

During the week before the symposium, the scientists will be visiting around 900 kids in Sitka schools, working with educational specialists and classroom teachers to develop curriculums centered on marine environment.

"The 'Scientists in the Schools' program is really interesting to me," said board president David Moore. "When I was growing up, the scientist was a guy standing in front of the projector on the wall in a white lab coat, and I could never be that because I didn't know anyone like that.

"Here they have real life people, they're talking to them, and they're doing research right in their own backyard. And the kids are saying, 'Hey, I could do that, and I could live here. I could live in Southeast and do this kind of research.'"

This year Sitka WhaleFest is introducing a wine label at a Nov. 6 reception. New wines include "Killer Cabernet" and "Whale Song Shiraz."

Evening entertainment will include the Maritime Monthly Grind Nov. 7 and a sea chanteys concert from Don Sinetti Nov. 9.

"It's fun, it's festive," Hackett said. "We've got a great lineup of researchers again."