Student Workshops Go Remote at Virtual Sitka Whalefest Science Festival
This year, students weren’t able to travel to Sitka but that doesn’t mean they didn’t get their (gloved) hands dirty.
Date of Press Release: January 6, 2021
Twenty-seven high school students, including students from the Rural Alaska Students in One-Health Research (RASOR) program, took part in the Sitka Sound Science Center’s annual WhaleFest Science Festival and UAS course. A highlight of Sitka WhaleFest each year is workshops where students collaborate with researchers in hands-on science. Dr. Andrew Cyr, a UAF research advising and mentoring professional (RAMP) has spent six years developing a fish sampling workshop where students learn fish anatomy and collect samples that scientists will use for research on fish diets and to monitor concentrations of contaminants, like mercury.
This year, students weren’t able to travel to Sitka but that doesn’t mean they didn’t get their (gloved) hands dirty. Instead some fresh frozen salmon and dissection kits got on planes and came to them. Juneau student, Adrian Whitney, commented on this strange reversal, "If you asked me what I thought future WhaleFests would look like a year back, I would definitely not tell you I would be dissecting a fish over a video call with a group of scientists from my own home.“
Fish were provided by the Sitka Sound Science Center hatchery and shipped via Alaska Seaplanes. Of his first virtual workshop Cyr said, “the workshop forced our team to think outside the box but it all came out better than we could have predicted.” Seven students from Hoonah, Cordova, and Juneau participated. “The students were patient, attentive, open and basically the most amazing students we could have had,” Cyr added. Students shipped their samples back to Sitka so they can contribute to research. Other workshops for high school students included activities related to whale tagging, marine mammal capture and solving a shellfish mystery.
The Sitka WhaleFest is an annual event, which includes lectures by marine science experts on topics such as sea turtles, climate change, dolphin communication and more. Students participate in hands-on workshops, and compete in ocean science trivia. University credit is available by enrolling in the one-credit BIOL 175 course “Current Topics in Marine Research.” Please visit the WhaleFest website for complete information. The workshops were coordinated and funded by the UAS Rural Alaska Students in One-Health Research Program RASOR) and the UAF Biomedical Learning and Student Training Program (UAF BLaST).
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