Sitka Whalefest (SWF), established in 1997, became a program of the Science Center in 2012. SWF is a community focused three-day marine mammal symposium and a weeklong Scientist in the Schools (SIS) program each November. The focus of the event is to celebrate marine wildlife while providing marine education for a wide variety of people.

For over sixteen years the Sitka WhaleFest has been a venue for informal science education and community engagement focusing on a target audience of students (grade 8 to Ph. D), teachers, policy makers, representatives of science agencies, Alaska Natives, community members and scientists. Sitka WhaleFest offers the opportunity to hear about world-class multidisciplinary research in an engaging and accessible forum. This has been accomplished by creating a symposium surrounded by community and cultural events that blend the traditional knowledge of Alaskan Natives with Western science. This innovative science outreach program creates opportunities for future scientists to partake in discovery and develop relationships with professional mentors. In effort to further promote local student attendance, a substantially reduced rate is offered to them.

Scientist in the Schools Program raises scientific literacy with the ultimate goal of creating a student population with an appreciation for marine ecology by introducing basic scientific concepts and exciting students about marine science through an experiential activity. SIS brings five renowned marine scientists to help secondary school students with creative thinking and problem solving techniques important to scientific understanding. In 2012, Scientists in the Schools provided education programming to 1601 students (kindergarten to graduate) during 1644 total hours of instruction. The SIS program is an innovative and popular model that is being replicated throughout the region due in part to USDA Secondary Education, Two-Year Postsecondary Education, Agriculture in the K-12 Classroom Challenge Grants Program (SPECA) and through SSSC’s National Science Foundation funded Scientists in Residency Fellowship program.


Ellen Chenoweth

Todd O’Hara

Marnie Chapman