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Kachemak Bay Marine Mammal Forum

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Alaska Division of Parks
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Through education and celebration, the Kachemak Marine Mammal Forum will bring a better understanding and awareness of marine mammals in Kachemak Bay and how people can be ethical viewers and stewards of their environment. It will take place next Monday April 18th -Thursday April 21st .

The partner groups seek to blend local knowledge, understandable science,

and community engagement into one annual event that celebrates the marine

mammals of Kachemak Bay. This event will be free and family-friendly, and there

will be an option to attend the symposium presentations virtually via Zoom.

I met with Debbie Tobin, Professor of Biological Sciences and Coordinator of

Semester by the Bay and Student Julia Illar about what the community can look

forward to in the event starting brand new in 2022.

Tobin starts with how the idea initially formed: “The College kept getting

requests from water taxi operators and other Natural History Cruise operators and such

for some sort of an informational session ideally in the spring and in the fall to let them

know what we had seen the previous year or what to expect the coming summer. Or, to

wrap up the summer to see what specific pods or individual humpback whales that had

been identified what was found and saw and recorded over the course of the summer.

So that was like I said over the last five years or so and we finally got to thinking we

could do it when the pandemic hit and then I had mentioned this a while ago to the

Alaska Wildlife Alliance, to Nicole Schmidt and she thought this would be a really good

partnership. They wanted to expand their presence on the lower Peninsula. And so she

thought that it would be a nice partnership with the college and with some of the other

nonprofit and governmental organizations in town to put on something like what we’re

calling now, the Marine Mammal Forum.

What started out as a single day plan has broadened into a 3 day forum and Tobin

talks about what that will include: “we'll have not only presentations on various marine

mammal species but also presentations on Native culture specifically from the

Nanwalek tribe. We'll have several presentations from NOAA about safe boating

practices and the Whale Sense Program and then like I mentioned before Marc Webber

and I will be talking about just common and more rare or unusual Marine Mammal

species to keep an eye out for; things that some of the boat operators see regularly but

most of us don't notice like Minke whales or Fin whales but you know, then the common

species like Humpback whales and Killer whales our local expert research cetacean

biologists who've been studying them for 30 plus years at Olga Vonziegesar and the

North Gulf Oceanic Society’s Craig Matkin and Dan Olson. Dan will be presenting on

the Killer whales. And then also, how you report those sightings things like “Happy

Whale” which is an international program to report humpbacks and other species.

They're just branching out. Emma Luck will be presenting on that.

Julia Illar talks a little bit about her role in the in the forum as AWA (the Alaska

Wildlife Alliance) Spring intern and then goes into more detail in what she has

participated in during her time in Homer after a few more prompts. “Julia, what is

your role in the event? Well, I am AWA's spring intern so I have been at the meetings

helping to coordinate activities and just involvement as an intern.

Illar’s second set of comments: “during this Fall 2021 Semester by the Bay, I

interned with Olga Vonziegesar and her organization Winged Whale Research. I

learned a lot about photo ID of Humpback whales and Humpback whales are really cool

because their tail flukes are like a fingerprint and their unique to the whale itself. So, we

have a catalog that when you can take a photo of the Humpback’s fluke you can ID it to

this catalog. She taught me a lot about that and I got to go out on the boat with her. We

were really lucky and got to see Humpback whales every time we went out on the boat

and got images of the fluke that was such a good experience because it taught me a lot

about photo ID and how important it is and I think that so many more people should

know about that.”

Tobin adds a few final comments: “And what else am I forgetting? Oh, Marc and I

and Bruce Schulte and a few others with the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine

Research Reserve are continuing and expanding our Harbor porpoise research. So, we

will be presenting on some of our recent findings on Harbor Porpoises in the Bay, too.

The full schedule of events is posted on the website https://www.akwildlife.org/kbay.