Sitka WhaleFest

Thursday, November 5 – Saturday, November 7, 2020


Produced by Sitka Sound Science Center


Sitka WhaleFest is a festival to celebrate marine life through science education, community and storytelling! Sitka WhaleFest raises awareness, educates, and creates enthusiasm for the marine environment. Our goal is to bring a deeper understanding of the marine environment to a diverse and inclusive audience in a way that all participants feel welcome and engaged.

Through a community-based festival we celebrate the marine world and our connection to it. We seek to convey that science is not just for scientists; it is a part of our everyday lives. The core of the festival is a unique science symposium for all that blends local knowledge and scientific inquiry of the rich marine environment of our oceans. Join Sitka WhaleFest virtually and celebrate with this unique tradition with our community!


The 2020 WhaleFest is donation only. If you are able to support our mission financially, we greatly appreciate any contribution.

For questions on registration please contact Alex Thorne


Ocean Connections: Culture and Communications

“Ocean Connections” will explore the many forms of culture and communication that are tied to the marine environment. Through the lens of Indigenous knowledge and scientific discovery, we will examine the web of interconnections that makes up the world’s oceans.


Deasy Lontoh

Deasy lives in Manokwari, West Papua and has been working with leatherback sea turtles nesting in the Bird’s Head peninsula of Papua since 2010, when she was a graduate student. In 2014 she received her master’s degree in marine science from Moss Landing Marine Laboratories located in Monterey Bay, California. For her thesis, she studied the productivity of Bird’s Head leatherback turtles that foraged in different regions of the Pacific Ocean.

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Hal Whitehead

Hal Whitehead is a Professor in the Department of Biology at Dalhousie University. He holds a BA in Mathematics (1972), Diploma in Mathematical Statistics (1977), and PhD in Zoology (1981) from Cambridge University in England. His research focuses on social organization and cultural transmission in the deep-water whales, but he also works on their ecology, population biology and conservation.

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Dan Olsen

Dan Olsen first experienced killer whales while teaching sailing for Outward Bound in the San Juan Islands in the late 90’s. In 2004, he began recording killer whale calls while working as a tour boat Captain in Seward, Alaska. He was intrigued and consumed by the ability to identify pods by calls alone. Dan became involved with the North Gulf Oceanic Society in 2006, and is now the Research Director, after pursuing a Masters from UA Fairbanks. His current focus involves projects including diet (poop!) sampling and year-round acoustic detection, in addition to the long-standing catalogue of identified individuals and family groups, behavior, and spatial distribution.

Heidi Harley

Dr. Heidi Harley is a comparative psychologist who studies how dolphins think. She began her dolphin life as a whale and dolphin trainer at Miami Seaquarium’s Flipper TV lagoon in the 1980s after growing to love the natural world on the coastal beaches of South Carolina. She was educated in philosophy at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and learned how to study animal thinking at the University of Hawaii Manoa in every marine mammal facility on the island of Oahu – Lou Herman’s dolphin lab on the beaches of Ala Moana, the Navy lab across from Gilligan’s Island in Kaneohe Bay, Sea Life Park at the foot of the Koolau Mountain Range. While on Oahu, Harley also mothered an orphaned sea lion complete with middle-of-the-night feedings and antiphonal calling (sea lion calves and their mothers call back and forth to each other).

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Maija Katak Lukin

Maija Katak Lukin, Inupiaq, was born in Kotzebue and raised on the shores of Cape Krusenstern National Monument at Sisualik.

Lukin attended Eastern Oregon University for Early Child Development, hoping to become an Inupiaq immersion teacher. She is the former Regional Communications Manager for NANA Regional Corporation, and Tribal Environmental Manager for Maniilaq Association, representing 12 tribes in northwest Alaska. She is also the former Mayor of the City of Kotzebue.

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Lauren Wild

Lauren was born and raised in Sitka, Alaska. She spent most of her childhood on the water and in the mountains, camping, hiking, hunting, fishing, and exploring the outdoors. She attended Sitka WhaleFest many times growing up in Sitka. 

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Madison Kosma

Madison Kosma earned a bachelor’s in marine biology from the University of Hawai’i, Manoa where she also worked as a research assistant at the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology. In 2012, she followed the whales to their northern feeding grounds for a position with the Sitka Sound Science Center (SSSC).

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Casey Clark

Casey Clark has studied the biology and ecology of marine mammals for more than 15 years. He completed his master’s degree at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in Moss Landing, California, where he studied the migratory behaviors and pregnancy rates of humpback whales. Casey earned his PhD from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where his research focused on the impacts of climate change on Pacific walruses. He is currently a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Washington.


Chuck Miller (Daanaxh.ils’eikh)

My Tlingit name is Daanaxh.ils’eikh.  I was also given the name Chuck Miller.  I was born and raised in Sitka Alaska.  I also spent time growing up in Haines with my father, where he was born and raised.  I am of the Raven/Coho clan, better known as the L’uknaxh.adi clan.  I am the caretaker of our traditional clan house, Kayaash Ka Hit (Platform House), which is also located in Sitka.  I am the youngest in my family.  I have 3 adult children and a daughter that is currently a sophomore at Sitka High School.  I also have been blessed with three beautiful grandchildren.

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Don Sineti

Don Sineti , folksinger, songwriter, part-time sea chanteyman at historic Mystic Seaport Museum (with one of the most powerful voices on the Eastern Seaboard!), and long-neck, 5-string banjo picker, is also an award-winning marine mammal illustrator with a number of prestigious exhibitions and books to his credit. 

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Lisa Busch

Lisa Busch is the executive director of the Sitka Sound Science Center where she oversees a team of researchers and science educators for the non profit she has led since 2010. She is the Outreach Chair for the Organization of Biological Sciences and works a variety of ways to promote women leadership at field stations around the nation. 

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Alex Thorne

Alex Thorne is the Business Development and Sitka WhaleFest Director for Sitka Sound Science Center. Originally from South Florida, her life long passion for Arabian horses and desire for higher education brought her to Michigan State University, in East Lansing. After graduating from MSU with a Bachelors Degree in Animal Science, she moved to Clearwater, FL to continue pursuing a career in the Arabian horse industry. 

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Arleigh Reynolds

Center for One Health Research Director at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks


Mike Castellini

Dr. Michael Castellini earned his PhD from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1981 and has been a faculty member at the University of Alaska Fairbanks since 1989. He was the founding Science Director for the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, the Director of the Institute of Marine Science, Dean for the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, Dean for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Graduate School and Vice-President of Academics for the University of the Arctic.

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Jan Straley

Jan Straley is a Professor of Marine Biology at the University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus. She received her Bachelor of Science from the College of Fisheries at the University of Washington in 1975, followed by a Master’s Degree in Biological Oceanography from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1994. 

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