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The Student News Site of Laguna Blanca School

The Fourth Estate

Alaska Bound

Six students embark on a 10 day benchmark study of Kukak Bay, Alaska.
Alaska+Bound

After a 2 a.m. wake-up call, a grueling 2-hour bus ride, three flights, and a two-hour boat ride, the Stem Research Pathway (SRP) trip was officially underway. In August, seniors Andreas McClintock, Christiana Cino, Elyse Weaver, Griffin Rick, Kendall Keshen, and Lucas Acosta, along with Science Research Program Coordinator Staci Richard, spent 10 days on the 72-foot-long Endeavour floating in Kukak Bay on the Alaska Peninsula of the Katmai National Park and Preserve. 

Laguna alum Bill Urschel ’74, the founder of Alaska Endeavour, hosted the group for their benchmark study, a research method for analyzing the environment. 

“We chose one very specific area and did an analysis to allow scientists to have a point of comparison in the future,” Richard said. 

The SRP’s Kukak Bay expedition focused on marine and riparian (land) mammals, marine invertebrates, birds, geology, botany, and mycology, with each student choosing a focus for their research. 

“I chose marine and land mammals because I thought it would be a lot of fun to observe animals in their natural habitat and hike around a little bit,” Andreas said. “I think the subject started to focus on bears a lot, just because of the sheer numbers that were out there.” 

Students saw eagles, puffins, orcas, whales, otters, and even a white wolf, snapping photos whenever they could. 

“Observation was the biggest skill. The initial idea was to study Kukak Bay, which is giant, so we really had to focus and narrow down our research questions,” Richard said. 

Along with conducting their research, SRP students were off the grid together on a small boat, getting to know each other better and connecting to the outdoors.

“It was a chance to step away and observe something bigger than ourselves, then contribute to our understanding of our world in a meaningful way. I think that understanding truly made my experience so special,” Griffin said.

 Between their excursions, which included charging through rivers and plunging into the bay in giant red suits, the group had time to relax on the boat. 

“Just being in the boat with everyone, either reading, napping on the couch in the famous corner, or having meals together, was something that was so special for me to experience,” Kendall said. 

One of the most memorable moments was when Elyse caught a 16.2-pound Lingcod.

“It was the biggest catch by far, and we really wanted to have it for dinner, but Elyse really felt bad, so out of mercy, she beat the living daylights out of it with a bat,” Griffin said. “It was brutal; she missed four times, so the fish didn’t die. Later, I taught her how to clean the fish, and it was delicious.” 

Students took on chores that rotated daily, including galley duty for cooking and cleanup, deck duty for vessel maintenance, and watch duty, where students tracked the weather and sea conditions.

“There was a lot of laughter, joy, and getting to know each other. It was unlike any other trip I’ve done with students in the past,” Richard said. 

Conducting research in the outdoor field instead of lab work made for a different environment from the research students conducted in the previous two years of their SRP experience. 

“The times when it was just Andreas and I walking on the river mouth, watching the bears live in their natural habitat and just peacefully observing or watching Bella (the captain’s dog) play with the sticks and run on the beach was such a beautiful thing,” Kendall said.

This fall, SRP students will work towards publishing a research paper describing what they observed in Kukak Bay that will include tables, graphs, and photographs to present their findings. The positive feedback from this trip and Alaska Endeavour’s connection to Laguna means more trips are probable.

“I think it was an absolute success. More trips to Alaska are definitely a possibility,” Richard said.

Back in Santa Barbara, the wisdom students have acquired from their 10 days aboard the Endeavour has stayed with them.

“It taught me that there is still a lot to learn. To be able to get out in the field and do meaningful research gave me perspective, both on what I know and what still is left to be understood.” Griffin said. 

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About the Contributor
Lucia Camp, Co News Editor
Lucia Camp is a senior and second-year journalism student. Lucia's hobbies include cooking, hiking, paddleboarding, yoga, and sewing. Lucia enjoys playing tennis and spending time with loved ones. She is also a member of the Laguna mock trial team. She has interests in criminal and social justice, local issues, and environmental science and is an active member of the Santa Barbara Youth Council.
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