HILO (HawaiiNewsNow) - In Alaska, we saw them up close, it was just a taste of what these native students see, following the journey of the humpback whale.
These same humpbacks go all the way down to Hawaii to breed. Dr. James Turner teaches Marine Science at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, he explains the humpbacks life cycle, "So they spend their winters here calving, giving birth and then rearing the young, and then they make their migrations back to Alaska in late spring and spend the summers in Alaska feeding."
An amazing life cycle, that very few get to witness. A U.S. Department of Agriculture grant allows students in Hawaii and Alaska to experience both. "Some of the grantees do all of their work in Alaska, some do all of their work in Hawaii, our grant is unique in that we're meshing the two together. So we're actually sharing resources and sharing our students across the two states."
In 2007, students attended a whale fest conference in Sitka. Last year, their experience expanded, Trisha Soares explains, "Our second year was actually more culturally based and we were able to interact with Mount Entchcome high school students."
"These students may or may not have thought about a career in higher education, about going to college and pursuing graduate school and things like that and they can just see our Hawaiian students already doing that, already pursuing those academic careers," explains Dr. Turner. Trisha and her classmates, alongside the high school students, performed animal autopsies on seals, sea lions, porpoises, and even grizzlies and conducted genetic research.
"It was really different because I'd never done genetics before and to have these high school students from Alaska teaching me. It was an eye opening experience," says Trisha.
Native Hawaiians and native Alaskans sharing their native knowledge, as Trisha explains, "It's a big similarity compared to Hawaii. Hawaiians had a great understanding of we need to take care of our resources, we need to manage them." They also got a taste of the culture. Trisan got to... "Try some whale and some blubber which is very interesting, as well as their dances because that gave me chicken skin, it was amazing." Alaskan students in Hawaii, tried poi and laulau, learned to hula, and were draped in lei.
"They wore it all week that we were there and it was just amazing to see how much they embraced our culture. It was a once in a lifetime experience."