If I lived in a big city I would not know about Bone Eating Zombie Snot Worms, but I live in Sitka so I do. This weekend Sitka celebrated its annual Whale Fest. It combines art, poetry, and music; whale watching trips, and a scientific symposium. And there is food, lots of food. Everything we do in Sitka has lots of food.
If I lived a big city I probably would not attend a scientific symposium. (In fact when I did live in a citiy I never attended a scientific symposium.) But I live in a remote Alaska island community. When we have a scientific symposium I go. I go because it is something different. I go to support friends for whom this symposium is important. I go because last year I learned a lot. Remote island towns are like that. Fishermen who would not normally attend a chamber music concert become regulars at the Sitka Summer Music Festival. Tree cutters go to art galleries, construction workers to poetry readings and everyone goes to Roller Derby. Sitka is a year ‘round Chautauqua.
This year’s symposium topic was “Life on the Edge,” 9 lectures encompassing life on the boundaries of salt and fresh water, land and ice, old ice and new ice, ice and water, water and air, and the ocean and its bottom. The scientists remain true to their science while explaining things in terms we understand. So the Osedax becomes a “Bone Eating Zombie Snot Worm.” I didn’t know that. I do now.
The whale watching cruises are always a highlight and this year whales attended in abundance. Each Humpback Whale has its own unique signature, like a fingerprint, on the underside of its flukes. When they dive we can identify those signatures. One old friend, Domino, a female humpback who has visited Sitka Sound for 20 years made several dives around the whale watching boat. In Sitka we’re on a first name basis with our whales.
There are receptions, banquets, films and videos, meals, and a Whalefest marketplace with food booths, tables for ocean advocacy groups and lots of stuff for sale. Then there’s Don Sineti. He’s the Shantyman at the Mystic Seaport Museum. Don sings in the schools, at the “Maritime Grind” (The Grind is a local monthly variety show) and ends the festival with a family concert. His strong voice rings out, without the need for a microphone, over the joyful din of kids running, skipping, dancing and trying to sing along, science and joy.