KETCHIKAN (KDN) — The Ketchikan National Ocean Sciences Bowl teams attended Sitka Whalefest from Thursday through Monday for a multi-day immersion in whale research, marine biology and ocean science competitions.
Students from Ketchikan High School, Revilla Junior/Senior High School and FastTrack comprise the three teams, according to NOSB coach Keenan Sanderson.
Sitka Whalefest is held in partnership with the Sitka Science Center and the University of Alaska Southeast.
The theme of this year’s Whalefest was: “How it’s made: Courting, Mating and Growth.”
In an email to the Daily News Monday, Sanderson described the activities the teams participated in during the event.
Their first activity was participating in exhibition “quiz bowl” matches. In those matches, students use lockout buzzers and race to answer team challenge questions designed to test students on their knowledge of oceanography. Questions cover the fields of biology, chemistry, geology, geography, social science, technology and physics.
Sanderson wrote that teams from Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Port Alexander, Metlakatla, Angoon, Petersburg and Wrangell participated in the quiz bowl matches. They were split between experienced and first-time divisions.
The Ketchikan teams were: the Saber-Toothed Salmon, Smolts and Fry. The three Ketchikan divisions were placed in the experienced division with two Juneau teams and one Sitka team.
“Overall,” Sanderson wrote, “Ketchikan went about 50/50 in wins and losses this year. Juneau has another strong team this year after winning the state title last year. Definitely a team to beat this season.”
Sanderson also noted that this meet was the first time that many of the Ketchikan students had competed against students from other communities.
“Everyone definitely met my expectations during these exhibition matches,” he wrote. “Everyone has now had a chance to gauge their skill level against one of the top teams in the state and we will continue to work on learning to maintain pace with them.”
Over the weekend, the Ketchikan students also participated in two workshops, Sanderson wrote.
The first workshop was conducted by Oregon State University Department of Climate Science staff.
“Faculty and graduate students from OSU have developed tools to obtain environmental data including temperature, air pressure, soil moisture, precipitation, and humidity,” Sanderson noted.
During that workshop, students learned how to assemble the devices and how to properly use them, as well as learned the potential scientific applications of the tools. Following that, they used data from one of the devices to make music through “data soundification.”
“The idea is to correlate the relative ups and downs of data on a group and add pitch, tone, and sound,” Sanderson wrote. “This helps some people further conceptualize the data that they are looking at. The students that participated really enjoyed it.”
In another workshop, students competed in a remotely operated vehicle challenge. After listening to a lecture on the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the importance of ROVs in science, teams were given a bag of PVC pipes and connectors, tape, zip ties and propellers and were asked to build their own ROVs.
Teams then participated in several challenges to test their ROVs. Challenges set before them included: maneuvering in a three-dimensional space, attaching “anchor chains,” stability, and collection of floating objects — all to be completed with minimal explanation on how to accomplish those tasks.
Students were given about 45 minutes to design and construct their ROVs and 60 minutes to complete all tasks to win the challenge.
“The cool thing about this workshop is that it made students collaborate on a project with a very short deadline,” Sanderson wrote. “It was awesome to see how fast they worked and how well they communicated.”
On the second evening that the teams were in Sitka, a few of the students attended the Maritime Grind that featured several local music groups who performed a variety of songs, of which the majority was ocean related.
“The students also listened to a number of talks about the marine animal reproduction process in organisms such as whales, birds, octopuses, marine jellies, and seaweed,” Sanderson wrote.
“Each lecture was about 30 minutes in length and the audience was given about 15 minutes to ask questions,” he added. “As a coach, I tasked them with writing down the do’s and don’ts of how to do a presentation, because part of our state competition is to give a 15-minute formal presentation on our research topic.”
Sanderson noted that the “students were really good at constructively criticizing these lectures and now have a better idea on how they will make their own presentations later this year. The students were particularly fond of the ‘Mating Behaviors and Reproductive Anatomy of Cetaceans’ and ‘Slime, Clones, and Baby Factories: Sci-Fi or Jellyfish Sex?’ lectures.”
Following each day’s lectures, the students had 20 minutes in a breakout room to ask questions of each lecturer.
“Student questions included topics about their project they talked about, professional development, and personal stories in relationship to science,” Sanderson wrote. “Every student from every school in our breakout room had really engaging questions. It seems everyone learned a lot from that.”
Sanderson also explained that now that Whalefest is over, students are now expected to complete their final assignment through the University of Alaska Southeast by responding to the following questions:
●Why do different animals and plants have different reproductive strategies?
●How do scientists come up with their questions and then how do they go about answering them?
●How has human impact on the environment affected how animals reproduce?
When students complete their final assignment, they will be awarded a college credit from the University of Alaska.
Sanderson also shared some quotes from Ketchikan students.
“It has helped me ask more questions while learning/answering past questions,” Carina Chernick said.
“It’s really enlightening hearing about these subjects not just from textbooks, but from real life scientists,” Izaak Landis said.
“It was interesting to see how actual professional scientists communicate their work,” Chezca Mae Correa said.
“It has inspired everyone to consider seriously pursuing further education in ocean sciences,” Tosh Ratzat said.
“Being there listening to these talks with my peers was riveting and it was a wonderful experience,” Tiernan Johannsen said.
“Ocean is cool,” said Rickey Baum.
Sanderson concluded, “Overall I thought this year’s Sitka Whalefest was a complete success.
“After two years of the event being made virtual, I was concerned that students would not be excited or motivated to participate in the event, but I thankfully was very wrong. The students had an incredible time. They got to bond with their peers, got to poke the brains of scientists, made friends from other schools, and in general made memories that they’ll take with them for the rest of their lives,” he added. “A number of students told me that they are already excited to go next year!”
The next NOSB event planned is a mini-tournament scheduled for Jan. 13 through 15 in Juneau against Juneau Douglas, Diamond High School and potentially other Alaska high school teams.
More information and photos from Ketchikan students’ experiences at Sitka Whalefest can be found on Facebook and Instagram by searching for “Saber-Toothed Salmon.”