Hello! My name is Liam Voorhees and I am a rising junior currently majoring in Environmental Humanities. This summer I am interning as a Naturalist onboard the MV. Westward, a boat built by the period naval architect Ted Geary 1924. This unique wooden vessel is registered as a Historical site and is under the care of a company that uses her to run multi-day trips with eight guests throughout Southeast Alaska. The small company, Pacific Catalyst, strives to provide people with a unique experience that is focused on gaining orientation and an in-depth understanding of the environment of Southeast Alaska. Their goal is to foster authentic immersion into the area through education, observation, dialogue and small lectures on the places we visit.
My time is primarily spent shadowing the naturist, who has a Masters in Marine Biology, as we do two outings a day where she describes the biological functions of the nearby flora and fauna as well as the local history. These outings consist of: hiking, kayaking, visits to cultural centers, and viewing glaciers. I also help contribute to doing daily chores as often as needed. Within my time as an intern I will have the chance to have worked with all four naturalists the company uses and see their different styles of guiding. So far after working with the first two naturalists that have different styles, but both seem to have all the answer to every question. On the rare occasion they don’t we often go to small library onboard to find out.
This internship demands full immersion (living aboard out of cell service) which I was originally worried about, but now I have come to appreciate this aspect. It has made me more engaged and conscious of my surroundings. Something I did not expect was the consciousness and way of doing things this boat fosters, since the vessel has a top speed of 8 knots it has to follow the ebb and flood of the tides, it forces everyone to slow way down and appreciate things. In my free time I find myself gravitating to the guests and getting learn about them. The other week we had a guest who was a PhD biologist. He specialized in the conservation of song bird habitat in Hawaii. Learning about his thesis work and seeing how passionate he was about birds was contagious and has prompted me to learn my bird calls. Although my time with guests is short, these relationships are powerful and are a great chance to build a strong network.
One of the most inspiring aspects is walking with the naturists, being able to see surroundings through their eyes, it has left me with a totally different perspective of the environment. Now I am starting to see the many nuances that are at play such as the impact of sea otters as key stone species creating fish habitat by eating crustaceans that usually feed on bull kelp which in turn provides vital protection for fish from predators.
My goals for this internship are to develop an in-depth understanding of the ecology of Southeast Alaska and build a relationship with this company which has definitely been a success thus far. Already the company has offered to have me as an alternate Naturalist for their two boats in summers to come. Additionally, spending 63 days onboard the Westward has enabled me to start logging crucial hours towards a 100 ton captain’s license. My supervisor, the captain, has agreed to write a letter documenting my help as a deckhand and is teaching me how to skipper and operate the nearly 100-year-old boat. Part of this requires learning how to run the original motor which has to be oiled every three hours in 109 places. This will all put me in good standing for working towards my commercial captain’s license which I am planning on obtaining before I graduate.
This has truly started out as a phenomenal experience that is influencing a potential trajectory after college that I am thankful to the Whitman internship to make possible!
Experiences like Liam Voorhees’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Mitzy Rodriguez