The voyage of a lifetime embarked this Tuesday from Seward, Alaska, en route to the elusive Northwest Passage. Sharing her perspectives from this historic journey and its fascinating ports of call, veteran travel journalist Katie Jackson takes over the Crystal Insider™ today with her first dispatch from Kodiak.
Many people find shells at the beach. Other beachgoers find sea glass. Occasionally, someone finds a long lost message in a bottle. But not Stacy Studebaker. In May of 2000, the retired teacher was walking along Alaska’s Pasagshak Beach when she found a dead Gray Whale as long as the buses that used to bring her students to school.
Affectionately known as Gordie, Studebaker’s whale was waiting for members of Crystal Cruises’ Northwest Passage expedition today when Crystal Serenity stopped at its first port of call, Kodiak. Studebaker herself, now an accomplished author of children’s books like Hey Bear, Ho Bear and Octopus in the Outhouse, was standing next to Gordie’s impressive 37-foot-long frame hanging in the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center.
“I’m not even a biologist,” she laughed when asked about what it was like to be known as the woman with the whale. “I’m a botanist!”
Before Gordie was moved to the center, Studebaker and a team of volunteers buried him so the soil would naturally decompose his flesh—a necessary step in order to create a museum-ready exhibit. For four years Gordie lay beneath 10 feet of soil until he was excavated. For the next three years he was bleached, polished and prepped—one bone at a time. By 2007 he was finally ready to debut his new look.
“If you crouch in that corner,” said Studebaker, pointing to a spot next to the screening room for a video on Kodiak Island’s world famous bears, “You can take a photo and get all of Gordie’s good side in it.”
She probably said that at least one hundred times today. With their white Crystal Cruises umbrellas (used as fashionable folding accessories once the sun came out) Crystal Serenity’s guests trickled in and out of the center all afternoon. Unaware that in crossing that threshold—expecting exhibits on bears no doubt—they were about to meet the island’s most talked-about woman and her whale.
When the theme of your voyage is expect the unexpected, these kind of surprises are bound to happen sooner and later.
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