Sound Waters University in session soon

Students will have a chance to get outdoors and interact with the natural environment.

Students of Sound Waters University will have a chance to get outdoors and interact with the natural environment more than ever before.

Traditionally, Sound Waters University has been an annual one-day educational conference on all things relating to the Salish Sea and its surroundings. While the subject matter hasn’t strayed far from that theme, the format of the conference has evolved during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, a limited number of classes will be offered virtually via Zoom on Saturday, Feb. 4. But the fun extends beyond the single day – a total of 17 field trips will be offered at locations around Whidbey and Camano islands and Skagit County on Feb. 3, 5, 11 and 12.

One such field trip will help participants learn how to identify and responsibly view marine mammals of the Salish Sea. Led by Erin Gless, executive director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association, with assistance from Tabitha Jacobs-Mangiafico, the Whidbey coordinator for Sound Water Stewards of Island County, this field trip will teach attendees how to tell a gray whale from a humpback whale and how to differentiate a seal from a sea lion, among other things. It takes place from 3 to 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 5 at the Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory.

Other field trips will explore winter birds, old growth forests, rain barrel construction and much more. Registration for the Feb. 4 online classes is required in order to add on field trips, which cost an additional $30 each.

Sound Waters University registration, which is currently open, provides access to recordings of the classes for 30 days. In the past, when Sound Waters University was a fully in-person event, attendees had to choose three classes from a total of 60.

“You never knew what those other classes were or had access to the materials in them,” Jacobs-Mangiafico pointed out.

Now, registrants will have access to them all, albeit a smaller number than years past.

With room for only 15 or 20 participants, Jacobs-Mangiafico is expecting the field trips to fill up quickly and advised people who are interested to register soon. The field trips are a newer addition to the Sound Waters University experience and were popular last year.

General admission tickets to Sound Waters University are $70, with some discounts and scholarships available. To request these, email For more information, visit