Thursday, September 17, 2015

2015/16 Lecture Series Kicks off October 11

Future of Oceans Lecture Series presents:

Using Unmanned Hexacopters to Measure Orcas in the Wild

presented by Dr. John Durban of NOAA

Sunday, October 11 at 3 pm

Fort Worden Commons
$10 General Admission | $5 PTMSC Members | FREE Teachers & Students

Dr. John Durban is a population ecologist with a primary focus on killer whales, which he has studied for more than 20 years. He now works with the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California.

The focus of Dr. Durban's lecture will be the use of small unmanned aircraft as a photogrammetry tool. To-date, Dr. Durban has flown 60 flight missions with a small hexacopter above killer whales collecting images to conduct research on killer whale abundance and demographics, studies of individual size, growth and body condition, and analysis of movement patterns using photo-identification and satellite telemetry.

Dr. Durban currently works on the population assessment of eastern North Pacific gray whales, the ecosystem role of killer whales in the North Pacific and Antarctic, and the response of beaked whales to Navy sonar exposure.

THE 2015/16 FUTURE OF OCEANS LECTURE SERIES explores the frontiers of ocean research and emerging technologies as they confront the human capacity to know and sustain oceans.

Marine Science Center Finds 5.8 Tons of Plastic on Salish Sea Beaches

The following is a guest post by former Port Townsend Marine Science Center Executive Director, Anne Murphy. She tells the story of the Plastics Project from its earliest days and emphasizes that without dedication and hard work of our volunteers, this timely study of plastics pollution in the Salish Sea would not have been possible:

It was around 2006 when I first I heard about the “garbage patch” in the eastern Pacific Ocean. It brought up the question that would fuel our research:

If that much plastic is floating out in the Pacific Ocean, how much is here in our local marine waters and on our beaches? 

With the help of Marcus Eriksen* of Algalita Marine Research Foundation, PTMSC conducted some exploratory beach sampling trials at home in rural Jefferson County and in urbanized King County. Our trials focused on sampling sandy beaches for small bits of plastic called microplastic, a size that beach clean up efforts generally miss and a size that commonly enters the food web through ingestion by birds and fish. (*Marcus Eriksen is now with 5 Gyres Institute.)

We found microplastic in our trials. We conducted more trials on new beaches, this time looking for a pattern in microplastic distribution along the length of drift cells. Again we found microplastics, but no pattern emerged within drift cells. Sampling by drift cell proved to be more complicated than our original approach. By this time, I was convinced that we wanted to develop a sampling plan that could be easily learned and replicated by volunteers throughout the region.

We secured funding to conduct a three-year study that we hoped would provide a baseline estimate of how much microplastic was on WA Salish Sea beaches. (Thanks to our major funders: WA DOE’s PPG Program and Foss Maritime.) In Year 1 we recruited and trained volunteer groups in 7 counties. In Year 2 we expanded to include volunteer groups and partnering institutions in all 12 Washington Salish Sea counties.

Enthusiasm, support, and interest remained high throughout the three-year project duration. When the project ended, many volunteers were motivated to share what they’d learned about plastic debris accumulating on their beaches and the associated impacts to marine ecosystem health. In many cases, volunteers chose to engage at a deeper level as partners in conservation. Examples of their actions included creating a plastic bottle reduction campaign, working with local municipalities to ban the distribution of plastic bags, offering awareness-building programs in schools to help youth think about their choices and alternatives to single-use plastics, leading beach clean-ups, and more.

After the project ended, PTMSC received repeated queries about starting up again. It was a very popular citizen science project. Public awareness about plastic pollution in the ocean had grown so much by 2011 that people wanted to be part of a solution.

After three years of sampling, PTMSC’s next hurdle was to find a statistician to analyze and interpret the data so that we could share our findings. We dreamed of writing an article for submission to Marine Pollution Bulletin about this research, but who had the time while working full time? It was after I retired from my position as executive director that a window of opportunity opened.

I met Wally Davis, a retired biologist/statistician from Snohomish County who was conducting his own research on plastics in surface water. We conversed about our research and stayed in touch. It was Davis’s idea to jointly write an article on the two studies. He pointed out that they overlapped in time and space and provided complimentary views of plastics in the environment. And, Davis loved crunching data. Murphy readily agreed. The PTMSC is eternally grateful to Davis for stepping in and running with this joint project.

It is important to note that a project of this regional scale could not have happened without partners in the 12 counties where sampling occurred. Each partner group helped PTMSC recruit and train volunteer citizen scientists. Many volunteers stuck with the project from start to finish while others joined or left at various points in the project. We conservatively estimate that over 600 citizen scientists contributed over 4313 hours to acquire our data. PTMSC again thanks our partners in this project and is pleased to share our article with them. We simply could not have done this work without their assistance.

ANNE MURPHY is the retired executive director of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center and co-author of the article, “Plastic in surface waters of the Inside Passage and beaches of the Salish Sea in Washington State.”  The article, as published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, is accessible for free until September 30, 2015. After that time, you may contact the Port Townsend Marine Science Center for access to the paper.

Live link until September 30, 2015:

Monday, August 31, 2015

Lab Report: Large Squid Dissection

The following is a post by Allison Kellum, Americorps Natural History and Volunteer Educator. Listen to Allison discuss the squid dissection with Nan Evans on KPTZ's Nature Now.

Living on the edge of the Salish Sea, we only see the periphery of the vast and complex diversity in our local waters. On rare occasions, we get the special opportunity to be up close and personal with extraordinary creatures of the cold, watery vastness. Through our close relationship with the local officials at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the Port Townsend Marine Science Center (PTMSC) received a fisherman’s donation of a large squid specimen for use in our education programs. I was privileged to lead this unique experience with our other staff for 15 exuberant summer campers and a dozen inquisitive onlookers. 

From “Squid-sicle” to Dissection Day 

We didn’t have enough space in our specimens freezer to house the squid, so a hand-off had to be arranged the week of camp to get the squid to PTMSC from the WDFW freezer. A large 20 gallon black tub housed the iceblock containing the squid as it thawed in our Discovery Lab over the course of three days. Luckily, decomposition had been minimal before being frozen, so this was one of the less smelly specimens we’ve dealt with this year. Our normal classroom tables were ill-suited for the size and juiciness of the specimen, so our Marine Mammal Stranding Network necropsy table was brought up to the Pier, along with a scale, large buckets, clear plastic cups, towels, and a couple of pairs of sharp dissection scissors.

The Class

Our summer campers had been honing their observation and inquiry skills all week long in our brand new “Marine Biology Afoot and Afloat” camp. The squid dissection was the final activity of the week, and students were eager to show off what they’d learned ...and to get a little messy. I set the foundation for the large dissection by spending an hour leading the students through dissecting their very own 15 cm long market squid. They sketched the external anatomy, labels and everything, then *snip-snip* opened up their squid to explore the various organs and search for the three hard parts (beak, pen, and lens). We sped through a quick classroom clean-up to join the growing group of onlookers outside for the large specimen dissection.

The Large Dissection - Step by Step

Step 1: Set the scene
With many bodies in a small space, I introduced students to our tools: necropsy table, buckets, step-stools, and a cart holding dissection tools.

Step 2: Weigh the squid
The squid was weighed, with it’s surrounding liquid, in the 20-gallon bucket . The squid was lifted onto the table, and then the bucket and liquid were weighed again without the squid. The squid weight was determined by subtracting the second weight from the first.

Step 3: Arrange the squid
We identified the main body parts (mantle, arms,
tentacles, fins, siphon), then flipped the squid over to make dissection easier (the whole class helped with this!). We took some time to pass around pieces of the skin and pen.

Step 4: Take measurements
I invited students to help hold the measuring tape and read off dimensions so that our other AmeriCorps, Ashleigh Pilkerton, and a handful of campers could record them on the data sheet.

Step 5: Open up the mantle cavity
Students “drum-rolled” on the edge of the necropsy table while I cut up the center of the ventral (siphon) side of the mantle.

Step 6: Identify organs
While we talked about parts of the larger squid we used a check-list on the data sheet to quiz students on what they’d just learned about the anatomy of their small squids . Highlights included: finding the stomach, stomach contents, and spiral caeca; removing the beak; and finding the ganglia and large axons.

A Note on Engaging Students While Dissecting

Since this was a dissection with summer campers, I wanted this to be different from the marine mammal necropsies we do for our Stranding Network Program. Our main goals were: have fun, practice scientific skills of inquiry, collect enough data to identify the species, and inspect the stomach contents. Keeping these goals in mind, I let go of some precision in data collection to be a little messier with the process. As staff, I felt extremely lucky to share this dissection with such curious, engaged, and helpful students. They were incredibly hands on - to the point where there were times I had to ask that the students stop touching the specimen!
Dissecting the small squids first was a baby step up to the larger squid — the campers gained knowledge that they could immediately use to contribute to the bigger, group process. I set the tone at the beginning by sharing how unique this experience was, kept the dissection fast paced, and called on students by name to engage them in various roles. It created a great balance and students didn’t mind at all being in the “splash zone.”

The all-important clean-up

The small squids were kept for feeding to PTMSC animals in the Marine Exhibit, but without enough freezer space, the remains of the large squid were broken down and disposed of. Some pieces were taken back by a WDFW staff member, many pieces were thrown back into the Salish Sea, but the pen, beak, and stomach contents were saved for future education programs and to help with species identification. Having the dissection outside sped clean-up immensely.

A Note About Including the Public

One of my personal goals for this dissection was to open up the experience to members of the public who were visiting our exhibits, or just walking around our Pier. To facilitate this I used rope to cordon off an outside mini-classroom area on the North side of our Marine Exhibit building. In addition to being in public view this allowed for: ventilation, shade, and easy access to the classroom. I invited other PTMSC staff to view the dissection and help answer visitor questions so that my team could focus on the squid and summer campers. I brought out a whiteboard with a diagram of basic squid anatomy and I made an additional sign that described the activity, while also requesting people stay behind the rope. This helped to both inform the public and establish boundaries for the dissection area.

Follow-up: species identification

I want to preface this section by saying that I am a marine biology generalist and educator, not a squid biologist. This specimen was brought in with a tentative identification as a Humboldt Squid (Dosidicus gigas). WDFW asked that, as part of the dissection, we make a conclusive species identification. Unfortunately, with the tight camp schedule, a positive id was not made during the dissection. Despite this, I was able to use our data sheet, pictures, and the pen to help me identify the species in the week following the dissection. Various identification resources online show pictures of sharply toothed suction cups on the arms of D. gigas and that the apex of the pen (gladius) is spoon shaped. These two characteristics were not present on our specimen. Our suction cups lacked teeth and the apex of the pen was circular in cross-section. These two differences lead me to believe that the specimen was possibly a Robust Clubhook Squid (Onykia robusta), more common to the North Pacific. One of the key features of the Clubhook Squid is the presence of longitudinal ridges along the length of the mantle. We were missing much of the epidermis on our specimen, but a review of photographs from the dissection show indications that this may have been present on the intact parts of the skin. I am looking forward to sharing these thoughts with a squid specialist to confirm a species id.

THANK YOU! the anonymous fisherman for our specimen, Washington Department Fish and Wildlife, and PTMSC Summer Camp campers. PTMSC staff: Ashleigh Pilkerton, Chrissy McLean, Nancy Israel, Amber Heasley, and Alison Riley (for her photography).

To see the keys used for identification and to view photos of the stomach contents, read the full report

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Set Sail on the Adventuress September 5!

Join the Port Townsend Marine Science Center on a September 5 sail aboard the Adventuress with naturalist Roger Risley!

September 5 | 12 - 6 pm 

Reserve your spot at

The PTMSC offers one 6-hour sailing adventure each year to the Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge aboard the 101' historic schooner, Adventuress.

On this cruise, you can help the crew sail this historic vessel while enjoying a leisurely tour of the wildlife sanctuary.

As on all our cruises, Port Townsend Marine Science Center Naturalist Roger Risley, will be onboard to assist in wildlife spotting and interpretation.

The sail departs at 12 pm on September 5 from the Northwest Maritime Center dock at the north end of Water St. in Port Townsend and returns to the dock at 6 pm.

Tickets for the Protection Island Sail are $80 per person or $75 for members of PTMSC, Audubon, Burke Museum, or Washington Ornithological Society.

For more information on the Protection Island Sail, or to reserve your spot, email

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Goodbye and Good Luck, Inky!

On July 21, 2015 the staff at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center released "Inky," their resident Giant Pacific Octopus back into the Salish Sea. Check out the video below documenting the duration of her stay at PTMSC and her release.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Announcing Winner of Anne Murphy Ocean Stewardship Scholarship

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center is pleased to announce the winner of the Anne Murphy Ocean Stewardship scholarship. The Port Townsend Marine Science Center awards this $500 scholarship annually to a graduating East Jefferson county high school senior who embodies the values that Anne Murphy lives: curiosity, wonder, and love of the marine environment. Anne Murphy served as Executive Director of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, pouring her heart into growing an organization that would  nurture exploration and discovery of our local shores and waters. She retired after 24 years, leaving behind a vibrant community treasure that has profoundly affected thousands of people.

Anne Murphy

The winner of this year's award is Rian Plastow, selected for her demonstrated interest in science and the environment. Rian has pursued her interest in environmental science since the 7th grade. As an active community organizer and advocate for ocean health in Jefferson County, Rian has worked with organizations like the Jefferson Land Trust on the Elwha River re-vegetation project and the North Olympic Salmon Coalition to restore salmon habitat.

Rian Plastow
Rian is off to Evergreen State College this fall where she will study environmental science and ecology, continuing her work with watershed health. “I want to speak for the trees, for the salmon, the ocean, the creeks, and everything else that doesn’t have a voice,” Rian said. She’s also excited to pass on what she’s learned by teaching children about human impacts on the environment and steps they can take to reduce their impact. “I think education is the key to really making a change,” Rian said. “This is the generation that can make an impact and I want to be a part of that.”

We wish Rian well during her first year of collegiate study and are thankful for her support of ocean health and advocacy.

The Anne Murphy Ocean Steward Scholarship will be awarded each year in the spring. We invite you to make an annual contribution to this fund. Learn more about the Anne Murphy Ocean Stewardship Scholarship.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Citizen Science Report - Spring 2015

Rain, rain! Please don’t go away!

With a timely rain storm, PTMSC volunteers completed our roof runoff study in November of 2014. Since then, the Citizen Science program at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center had busy fall and winter seasons. The pages that follow highlight measurable impacts our volunteers have had on the health of the Salish Sea.

In 6 years, the Citizen Science program has doubled in volunteer hours. We will engage over 100 volunteers in the coming year. This summer, we will have 18 citizen science projects engaging mem-bers of our community in civic science. These are remarkable mile-stones for the program and we’d like to thank all of YOU for mak-ing it possible.

—Jamie Montague, Citizen Science Coordinator