Two local teachers participate in whale camp

Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise

Two fourth-grade teachers from Woodrow Wilson Elementary School recently enjoyed a whale of an experience north of the border.

Taking part in Whale Camp – which spanned from July 27-Aug. 4 in New Brunswisk, Canada – Shelly White and Vanessa Wallace got a firsthand view of some scenes from nature that few get to witness.

Most of the camp took place on Grand Manan Island, which is located about nine miles from the eastern-most point of Maine. The largest island in the Bay of Fundy, Grand Manan, has a population of more than 2,500 people and measures approximately 53 square miles.

“The island has the highest and lowest tides in the world,” notes White, “And that brings in a lot of plankton, and in turn, a lot of whales.”

White and Wallace got to listen to lectures about subjects relating to marine life, such as plankton, moon phases and food chains. They got to head out into the water for some whale watching tours as well, aboard a tourist boat and a lobster vessel.

“At one point, we were literally surrounded by whales,” says Wallace. “We saw humpbacks, menkes, and finbacks.”

Finbacks are the second-largest whale species in the world, ranking behind only blue whales. Some North Atlantic Right Whales, which are nearing extinction, were due into the area a few days after White and Wallace left.

Shelly White, top left, and Vanessa Wallace, fourth-grade teachers at Wilson Elementary School head to Machias Seal Island earlier this summer while taking part in Whale Camp. While at Machias Seal Island, they got to witness some unique creatures such as Pufflins, pictured top right.

While attending Whale Camp of Grand Manan Island, Woodrow Wilson Elementary School teachers Shelly White and Vanessa Wallace saw several species of whales, including the humpback, which is pictured.

The Wilson teachers appreciate the insight they were able to garner from the camp. They teach about different regions of the United States at their school, and the trip to Grand Manan offered them first-hand accounts of some subjects about which they had taught but never witnessed.

White and Wallace were able to attend the Whale Camp thanks to a 2007 Fund For Teachers grant. White and Wallace initially put in for a grant to attend a work-shop in Hawaii, but weren’t accepted. Undeterred, they found out about Whales Camp and applied toward the beginning of the year to attend. In March, Wallace was driving to a technology meeting when she received a phone call from her husband. White and Wallace had been accepted to Whale Camp.

“I was so excited,” recalls Wallace, “I could hardly stand it.”

White was no less enthused, and once the trip was underway, it immediately offered some notable sights. The teachers flew into Bangor, Maine, where they saw a 31-foot tall statue of Paul Bunyan. The teachers took a picture of themselves in front of the statue as one of the subjects they cover for their fourth-graders is tall tales. According to his symbolic birth certificate, Paul Bunyan, a mythical lumberjack, was born in Bangor.

After a short stay in Maine, the pair took a ferry to Grand Manan to being their whale adventure. On the island, they saw unique wildlife such as Puffins and Razorbills as well as some lighthouses which are common in the area. They got to Kayak and take a trip to the nearby Machias Seal Island, also.

In order to help preserve the fragile ecosystem of Grand Manan Island, the Machias Seal Island and the rest of the area, virtually everything used was recyclable and disposed of accordingly, including plates, cups and eating utensils.

Whale Camp is held annually for much of the summer. But due to the guidelines of Fund For Teachers, White and Wallace won’t be able to apply for another FFT grant

for five years. But when they become eligible to apply again, they plan to try to attend another Whale Camp.

“It’s one thing to see nature in books and on television,” says Wallace, “But it’s another to see it with your own eyes and to live it.”

“I think the No. 1 focus of Whale Camp is to expose people to that life so that they understand it and care about it.”