What can the ocean tell us about ourselves? Marine scientist Amy Bower, author and historian Skip Finley and Wampanoag storyteller Tobias Vanderhoop — three raconteurs and ocean experts — set out to answer the question last Wednesday night in the most recent installment of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s virtual series, Ocean Encounters.

Moderated by WHOI staff member Véronique LaCapra and joined by an audience of nearly 2,100 virtual registrants, the panelists used science, history and oral storytelling to talk about the sea, weaving a large and colorful narrative about the water, the planet, and all we have drawn from it.

Mr. Vanderhoop, former chairman of the Wampanoag tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), addressed the audience first, drawing on the tribe’s rich oral history, to recount the origin story of a small Island buoyed in the waves of the Atlantic called Noepe — also known as Martha’s Vineyard.

“[The stories] tell a much deeper history, a connection that our people carry that is over 13,000 years in our tribal homelands in Massachusetts,” Mr. Vanderhoop said during the event.

He regaled the audience with tales of the giant named Moshup — the leader of the Wampanoag tribe — and his journey to a land with sparkling white cliffs and abundant nuts and berries. The ocean, which carves Noepe off the mainland into an Island, plays a leading role in the tribe’s origin story, he said.

“Being an Island people and coastal people, of course, the ocean plays big into everything about the way that we’ve always lived,” Mr. Vanderhoop said.

Shifting gears from oral history to scientific inquiry, Ms. Bower, a physical oceanographer at WHOI took the virtual stage next to talk about how the ocean and its climate affect the societies who live beside it.

Ms. Bower told the story of her scientific expedition to the Indian Ocean in 2001 that was interrupted by an attempted attack from modern-day Somalian pirates. According to the story, Ms. Bower and her colleagues were studying the water in the Gulf of Aden, tracing its fingerprint, or makeup. Days into the cruise, however, a group of pirates carrying grenades and rifles, circled the research vessel, chasing the research team from the coast for nearly 45 minutes.

The attack failed and no passengers were injured, Ms. Bower said, but the experience opened her eyes to the ways the ocean’s fingerprint can teach us about cultural fingerprints.

“We were there to learn more about how Earth’s climate works,” the oceanographer said. “But ironically, scholars have determined that climate change can play a role in civic unrest . . . the hydrological cycle or, the cycle of evaporation and precipitation, just has such an enormous impact on the countries of Africa.”

For the final story of the evening, Mr. Finley, an author, historian and director of the sales and marketing at the Gazette, led the audience through the history the whaling industry and the role play by captains of color.

“Since about the late 1600s, 175,000 people have gone whaling, but it hasn’t really been known until recently, that many of those people — in fact, the estimates are as high as 30, or 40 per cent of them — were people of color,” Mr. Finely said.

Drawing on artifacts like scrimshaw illustrations and archives from the Gazette, he illustrated the important role of the numerous — and often forgotten — black and indigenous whaling captains who have been left out of the dominant Melvillian vision of the whaling era.

“What has happened over the years is if your history isn’t written, it doesn’t count and is not remembered,” said Mr. Finley, who for his recent book traced the origins of whaling back to Wampanoag and indigenous practices centuries ago. “Over more than a 250-year period of time, this is an industry that generated, my calculation is over $10 billion, and thanks to Moshup, who Tobias just told us about.”

At the close of the event, Ms. LaCapra encouraged interested viewers to explore each of the panelist’s books and sources for more stories about the ocean and the role it has always played in human life through the ages.

“The ocean has been a source of inspiration throughout humanity,” she said. “Each of these storytelling traditions, informs our own connections to the ocean and enriches our understanding of the world around us.”