Returning Orca Swim to Classrooms across the Nation

J-Pod traveling north near Lime Kiln Point State Park. Photo by Jeff Hogan

Over 3,000 students in grades 2-7 joined Washington State Parks Foundation (WSPF) and Killer Whale Tales at Lime Kiln Point State Park on May 23-25 for Journey to the Parks: Songs of the Salish Sea, where the stars of the show were the endangered Southern Resident killer whales which return this time of year to regularly swim by the park. Lime Kiln Point is known as one of the best places anywhere to see orca from land, and programs included a tour by Friends of Lime Kiln Society (FOLKS).

These three days of live whale educational programming connected classrooms via satellite with students across Washington, Oregon and Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Wisconsin and New York.  These session allowed students to engage with a whale expert and with students in other parts of the country to ask questions and help each other learn about these amazing creatures. This amazing technology and coordination was provided by Inspired Classroom, Polycom, GCI Education, Vision Net and Alter Enterprise. The programs allowed students to learn about orca and to identify different Puget Sound orca pods based on recordings. Students also learned the tools and methods of a whale biologist, and find answers to their questions about whales using science-based thinking. Nothing like this educational event had ever been attempted in Washington state parks before.

“Each May we mark the return of the resident orcas to San Juan Island, but this May was even more special because it marked the expansion of WSPF educational programming to connect more kids and families with state parks across our state. We are grateful for everyone who helped us make this happen so that school kids from places ranging from Yakima to the Yukon to New York City could learn about the natural wonders we hold dear.” explained John Floberg, Executive Director of WSPF.

Jeff Hogan, Executive Director of Killer Whale Tales, is an educator and a research associate with NOAA Fisheries and the Cascadia Research Collective and teaches thousands of kids each year as he visits classrooms along the west coast. This year Jeff is thrilled to be able to take his program to almost 3,000 kids in three days and to be able to interact with them live over satellite. “It was exciting to work with students across the region to connect them with these fascinating and iconic animals, especially students located in cities and towns who have less opportunity for visiting the park” said Hogan.

This 3-day event and educational opportunity was made possible by a $20,000 grant from the Peach Foundation and $5,000 in support from WSPF members who want children to experience Washington’s glorious state parks.