NSB Mystic Educational and Cultural Exchange

NSB-DWM and Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut have worked together to bring students from the North Slope to Mystic in an Educational and Cultural Exchange to “follow the beluga samples” that are collected during the summer beluga hunt in Alaska back to the laboratory. DWM biologist Robert Suydam has worked with Tracy Romano, Vice President of Research & Chief Scientist at Mystic Aquarium, since 1994 on the study of beluga health, sampling belugas harvested during the subsistence hunt in Point Lay.

Since 2010, this program has provided an educational opportunity for the young people of the North Slope to learn more about beluga whales and beluga health assessment and to encourage them to pursue a career in science. They also learn about “city life” and the east coast environment, and they do so along with students from the local Mashantucket Pequot tribe, giving the students an opportunity to learn about each other’s cultural traditions. The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation was a natural partner for this exchange as they provided funds for the Arctic Exhibits, which include the beluga whales, at Mystic Aquarium.

In 2014, Mystic Aquarium received a Medal of Honor from the Institute of Museum and Library Services for their educational programs, nominated by Rodney Butler, Chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council, for the NSB Mystic Educational and Cultural Exchange. And, in 2014, students from the tribe traveled to Point Lay for the first time to learn more about the subsistence hunt, closing the circle in this Educational and Cultural Exchange.

Point Lay and Mashantucket Pequot students participating in the first Exchange in February of 2010: (L to R) Toie Tolbert, Leslie Stalker, Janelle Young, and Tiffany Williams (Photo courtesy of Mystic Aquarium)

February 2010 Trip:

Students from Point Lay, Janelle Young and Leslie Stalker, traveled with chaperone Willard Neakok, NSB biologist Robert Suydam, and NSB Outreach Coordinator Leslie Pierce to Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut and met up with students Toie Tolbert and Tiffany Williams from the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. During the visit, students from Point Lay and the Mashantucket Pequot participated in a beluga encounter, beluga blood sample processing, marine mammal necropsy, and more. Students answered journal questions each day to gauge their learning in the activities. Students were able to get behind-the-scenes tours of the California sea lion, Steller’s sea lions and beluga exhibits. Point Lay students were welcomed by the tribe with traditional dancing and a tour of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum. The experience was very positive for all involved and the students will have the opportunity to work with the biologists this summer to collect beluga samples during the Point Lay beluga harvest. Students were interviewed by the local newspapers and the public relations staff at Mystic Aquarium. An article was published on the front page of the The Day, a local newspaper in Connecticut. The article was also published in the article in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. Here are some of the highlights of the trip (photo credits: Leslie Pierce):

Leslie, Willard and Janelle watch the trainer with a beluga Leslie stains beluga blood cells placed on a slide
Janelle counts beluga blood cells Janelle with Naku
Leslie gets kissed by a sea lion Students and chaperones visiting the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. Dr. Kevin McBride explains how these spear points found near Mystic are similar to Paleoarctic artifact technology found in Alaska

October 2010 Trip:

In October 2010, another group of students from Kali School in Point Lay traveled to Mystic, Connecticut, to participate in the NSB Mystic Educational and Cultural Exchange. Julia Neakok, Kimberly Neakok, Dorthy Pikok and Martha Upicksoun were immersed into beluga biology as well as learning about other marine mammals. Willard and JoAnne Neakok were the Point Lay chaperones and Robert Suydam and Leslie Pierce of the NSB-DWM accompanied the group. The girls will participate in the beluga hunt and harvest this summer and have been offered opportunities to return to Mystic Aquarium on internships. Read an article in the New Haven Register reporting on their visit.

Point Lay and Mashantucket Pequot students and chaperones on 2010 Exchange: Breanna Davies, Leslie Pierce, Kyle Sebastian, Robert Suydam, Joanne Neakok, Willard Neakok, Julia Neakok, Kimberly Neakok, Dorthy Pikok, Tracy Romano, Chrissy Gray, and (kneeling) Martha Upicksoun, Sarah Shourds, and Toie Tolbert. (Photo courtesy of Mystic Aquarium)

Martha preparing beluga blood for the centrifuge
Kim loading beluga DNA in a gel
Julia turns on power to gel electrophoresis box Martha, Kim, Dorthy and Julia at a Cider Mill near Mystic
Dorthy loading tubes in the centrifuge
Kim, Martha, Julia and Dorthy ready for the seal necropsy

Dorthy and Julia with the beluga while Martha and Kim wait for their turn

Dorthy Pikok went on to a 3-week Internship at Mystic Aquarium in August of 2011

Presentation on the Point Lay Mystic Exchange Program given by Leslie Pierce and Dorthy Pikok at the Alaska Marine Science Symposium in Anchorage, Alaska in January 2012

October 2011 Trip:

Another group of students from Point Lay traveled to Mystic, Connecticut, to participate in the Point Lay-Mystic Beluga Educational and Cultural Exchange. The students were Kuoiqsik Curtis, Eugene Neakok, Maryann Neakok, Hubert Long, and Florence Ningeok. Willard Neakok and Bill and Marie Tracey were the Point Lay chaperones and Robert Suydam and Leslie Pierce of the NSB-DWM accompanied the group.

Point Lay students and chaperones on 2011 Exchange: Bill Tracey, Hubert Long, Marie Tracey, Kuoiqsik Curtis, Florence Ningeok, Tracy Romano, Maryann Neakok, Willard Neakok, Leslie Pierce, Robert Suydam and (kneeling) Eugene Neakok. (Photo courtesy of Mystic Aquarium)

Point Lay students and chaperone Bill Tracey with Naku

October 2012 Trip:

In October, another group of students from Point Lay traveled to Mystic, Connecticut, to participate in the Point Lay-Mystic Beluga Educational and Cultural Exchange. The students were Bryan Anniskett, Timmothy Ferreira, Carl Hank, Flora Hank, Carolyn Long, and Joe Neakok. Willard Neakok and Marjorie Long were the Point Lay chaperones and Robert Suydam and Leslie Pierce of the NSB-DWM accompanied the group.

Point Lay and Mashantucket Pequot students and chaperones on 2012 Exchange: Carolyn Long, Marjorie Long, Robert Suydam, Leslie Pierce, Shaquanna Sebastian, Carl Hank, Ashanti Kelly, Joseph Neakok, Bryan Anniskett, Willard Neakok, Tracy Romano, (in front) Brianna Sebastian, Flora Hank, Chrissy Gray and (kneeling) Timmothy Ferreira. (Photo courtesy of Mystic Aquarium)

July 2013 Mashantucket Pequot Students Visit Point Lay:

This cultural exchange has only been one-way for the last three years, until this July. Mashantucket Pequot students Ashanti Kelly, Brianna Sebastian, and Shaquanna Sebastian, along with chaperones Crissy Gray and Jason Mancini, traveled from their reservation in Connecticut to Point Lay. While in Point Lay, the visitors toured the village, observed bearded seal and walrus butchering, walked along the barrier island on the Chukchi Sea, entered the Fourth of July parade and enjoyed festivities. They assisted biologists with beluga sampling, and participated in the community butchering of the successful beluga harvest. On the way back to Connecticut, they were able to take a trip to Point Barrow, visit the IHC museum and meet with Mayor Charlotte Brower. Many friendships were forged and lifelong connections made during their visit. We hope to be able to continue these exchanges between the North Slope and Connecticut into the future, building on the common link of whaling, past and present.

Mashantucket Pequot students leaving Point Lay.  From left, Brianna Sebastian, Shaquanna Sebastian, Robert Lisburne and Timmothy Ferreira of Point Lay, chaperones Jason Mancini and Crissy Gray, and Ashanti Kelly

March 2014 Trip:

Another group of students from the North Slope Borough participated in the Exchange program. This time there were 3 students from Point Lay (Harry Hank, Bethany Miller and Nichole Tukrook), one student from Barrow (Justina Tracey) and one student from Point Hope (Corey Tuzroyluke). The students were accompanied by Point Lay chaperones Lily Anniskett and Willard Neakok and NSB-DWM staff Robert Suydam and Leslie Pierce.

Back, left to right:Jason Mancini, Willard Neakok, Noah Cudd, Harry Hank, Corey Tuzroyluke, and Dennis Charles. Front, left to right: Robert Suydam, Leslie Pierce, Bethany Miller, Nichole Tukrook, Lily Anniskett, Justina Tracey, Crissy Gray and Tracy Romano. (Photo courtesy of Mystic Aquarium)

June/July 2014 Trip:

  • Read Jason Mancini’s blog to follow the travels of Jason, Noah Cudd and Dennis Charles, as they visit Barrow and Point Lay.
  • Also, check out the Indian Mariners Project, conducted by Jason Mancini, Ph.D., research staff at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum. Dr. Mancini is tracking Native Americans from New England who traveled on Yankee whaling ships, some into Arctic waters.

Mashantucket Pequot students and chaperone leaving Point Lay: Noah Cudd, Jason Mancini, Dennis Charles, Robert Lisburne and Robert Suydam

March 2015 Trip:

We traveled with four students (Lori Ferreira, Daisy Frankson, Lorena Henry and Ethan Tukrook) and chaperone Julie Itta from Point Lay. The Alaska Beluga Whale Committee sponsored Grace Luther and her two chaperones, Raymond and Janice Lee from Buckland, to join us!

Standing: Tracy Romano, Janice Lee, Julie Itta, CJ Moore, Aakyia Goodwin, Crissy Gray, D’vante Colebut, River Rose, Grace Luther, Lorena Henry, Lori Ferreira, Daisy Frankson, Robert Suydam, Leslie Pierce. Kneeling: ____ Gray, Ethan Tukrook, Raymond Lee, and ________. (Photo courtesy of Mystic Aquarium)

June/July 2015 Trip:

Four Mashantucket Pequot students and their chaperones Crissy Gray and Jason Mancini traveled to Barrow and Point Lay to continue the exchange adventures. You can visit Jason Mancini’s blog to read all about it!

Mashantucket Pequot chaperone Crissy Gray and students CJ Moore, Aakyia  Goodwin, River Rose, and D’vante Colebut, holding a whale vertebrae and walrus bone found on the beach near Point Lay

November 2017 Trip:

Eight NSB students, including Nichole Hank from Point Hope; Jacquelyn Henry, Caitlin Koonuk and Gerilynn Stalker from Point Lay; and Nathan Nayakik, David Panik, Jamie Panik and Arthur Tagarook from Wainwright, traveled with four chaperones, Aqquilluk Hank from Point Hope, Madeline Hickman from Wainwright and Robert Suydam and Leslie Pierce from Utqiaġvik (formerly Barrow) for this year’s exchange.

Amaliyan ______, Tracy Romano, Leslie Pierce, Sequoia Hood, Madeline Hickman (behind), Jacquelyn Henry, Candyce Testa, Nichole Hank, Arthur Tagarook, Isys Sebastian (in front), Aqquilluk Hank (behind), Jamie Panik, Caitlin Koonuk, Gerilyn Stalker, Nathan Nayakik, Missugken Zamora, David Panik, Rubyn Sebastian, Jason Mancini and Robert Suydam (kneeling). (Photo courtesy of Mystic Aquarium)

Group with staff and faculty from UConn and Mystic Aquarium with the UConn Project Oceanology research vessel


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