Whale of a Tale: Day 4 Aboard Holland America’s Oosterdam

Viewing humpback whales in Juneau, Alaska. photo by Andrea Guthmann

Sea lions, eagles and whales… oh my! This is why people flock to Alaska, for the chance to experience wildlife in a natural setting, and today’s Juneau shore excursion did not disappoint.

Sweet Charity

Today was a chance to give back while still having a great time, through Holland America’s “Cruise with Purpose” program. Holland America partners with various groups in ports around the world, giving passengers a chance to participate in meaningful community service projects while on shore. It’s an innovative way to give guests an opportunity to meet the locals in port, while also raising awareness about issues local residents face. Our “Cruise with Purpose” excursion was called “Whales and Glaciers: Science Adventure”.

We became “citizen scientists” for the day, experiencing Juneau’s landscape through the eyes of our friendly, knowledgable and enthusiastic guide. A former park ranger, Scott Ranger (yes, that’s his actual name) is a real scientist, with an undergraduate degree in forestry and a Masters in Environmental Interpretation. Yet, Ranger kept reminding us, “You don’t need to be a scientist to make a contribution and advance science. Ordinary people doing real science, that’s what today’s all about.”

Naturalist guide, Scott Ranger, helps us collect and record water samples, to be shared with a variety of state and federal agencies. photo by Andrea Guthmann
Our knowledgeable guide, Scott Ranger, did a great job explaining the science behind what we were seeing in the wilderness. photo by Andrea Guthmann
Describing the fungus among us: Scott Ranger is the biology teacher we all wish we had in high school. photo by Andrea Guthmann
One citizen scientist examining ice from the Mendenhall Glacier. photo by Andrea Guthmann

We stopped by a salmon spawning area, then it was on to the big show— whale watching. Our citizen science adventure not only provided us with an opportunity to contribute and learn about the local environment, it came with a guaranteed whale sighting. Luckily, our guide and captain gave us our money’s worth!

Whale watching is big business in Alaska. photo by Andrea Guthmann

Being citizen scientists for the day, our guide  explained what contribution we’d be making during our next adventure— helping marine biologists at the University of Alaska Southeast collect data about humpback whales.

Scott Ranger shows us the data collected on humpback whales. photo by Andrea Guthmann
As citizen scientists, we were handed cameras and asked to gather photos of humpback whale tails. Marine biologists identify   whales from one another by their tails. photo by Andrea Guthmann
Whale photos get forwarded to marine biologists at the University of Alaska Southeast. photo by Andrea Guthmann
Water Samples are prepared for the Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). photo by Andrea Guthmann

An added bonus was the chance to  view plenty of other wildlife from the boat.

Sea lions frolicking in Juneau, Alaska. photo by Andrea Guthmann
Birds of paradise— the bald eagle in Juneau, Alaska. photo by Andrea Guthmann

As any volunteers knows, you often get back as much as you give. We learned that today in a big way, on our citizen science adventure.

Andrea Guthmann is a Midwest Emmy Award-winning broadcast, print and digital journalist. She spent many years as a TV producer for WTTW, the PBS station in Chicago. Her writing’s been published in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Parent and on-line travel sites. She’s also the Midwest blogger for TravelingMom.com.

A native Floridian, Andrea’s now a big (windy) city mom of 3, who range in age from tot to teen. She loves sailing Lake Michigan and visiting the world class museums and restaurants in her sweet home Chicago. Being a scenery starved city girl, she loves escaping to the outdoors during vacations. She’s thrilled to be sharing tales of her Alaskan adventure aboard Holland America’s Oosterdam through August 5th, 2012, through daily reports on AvidCruiser.com.

Disclosure: Holland America Line is hosting the author and her guest for purposes of this review.

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