Three Mashantucket youths going to Arctic to help with whale study

Mystic - Three Mashantucket Pequot youths and their chaperone will accompany Mystic Aquarium researcher Tracy Romano to the Arctic this week to not only assist in her annual beluga whale research but continue a relationship they have with the people of Point Lay, Alaska.

Teens from Point Lay, which is 160 miles southwest of Barrow, have made several trips here, the latest came last fall, where they have spent time with aquarium researchers and Mashantucket tribal members.

Students Shaquanna Sebastian, Brianna Sebastian and Ashanti Kelly along with chaperone Cristina Gray will leave later this week and stay in Point Lay through July 9.

Romano, the aquarium's executive vice president for research and zoological operations, said the students will help her team of researchers take measurements and blood samples of belugas killed during the village's annual subsistence hunt as well as tag, examine and release live whales. In addition to the research, they will go on hikes and boat trips and participate in the village's Fourth of July celebration.

The teens will be reunited with a group of Point Lay students who came to Mystic last fall. They have kept in touch since.

"This trip is not only for them to learn the science and get excited about it but learn about one another's culture," she said.

Romano said the students will see the isolated lifestyle their peers live in Point Lay and how they rely on marine and sustainable resources.

She said the students will have to prepare for weather that will run from snow and rain to heat and insects.

"And the 24-hour days will be very different for them," she said about the summer days when the sun does not set.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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