Monday, May 13, 2019

Apply Now for 2019 PTMSC Anne Murphy Ocean Steward Scholarship

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center is pleased to announce the annual $1,500 Anne Murphy Ocean Stewardship scholarship for a graduating East Jefferson county senior. 
Applicants should be graduating seniors from a public or private school, or a home-schooled student who expects to complete high school level instruction by June 2019.  The person who wins this scholarship will be selected on the basis of his or her demonstrated interest in science and the environment. Having volunteered on behalf of education about or conservation of the Salish Sea is especially desirable, particularly at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. The scholarship may be used for tuition, books, or living expenses while pursuing higher education.

To apply for the scholarship, please go to and search for Anne Murphy Ocean Stewards Scholarship. Questions, please contact Liesl Slabaugh, Development and Marketing Director, at or 385-5582 x101.

Applications are due by May 22, 2019. The winner will be selected and notified by May 30, 2019.  The award will be given at the PTMSC Annual Meeting on Tuesday, July 9th.

Friday, May 10, 2019

UPDATED May 9! Two PTMSC volunteers join a NOAA Ecosystem Assessment Cruise

PTMSC volunteers Frank Handler and Melody Stewart were selected for an 11-day voyage aboard a NOAA research vessel to collect samples for marine toxins. Frank's periodic messages and smart phone images appear below, scroll to the bottom for the latest!

“I’ve always wanted to be a marine biologist,” Frank Handler once told his friend, Port Townsend Marine Science Center Citizen Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson. And yet his professional pathway took him elsewhere.
PTMSC voliunteer Frank Handler

Now, retired, Frank has the chance to fulfill a life-long dream. With security clearances, medical office approvals and bags packed, Frank and his neighbor, PTMSC volunteer Melody Stewart, arrived in Newport, Ore., on April 28 to start an 11-day voyage aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research vessel, Bell M. Shimada.

Frank and Melody will be alternating 12-hour shifts on the state-of-the-art fisheries survey vessel, collecting samples for marine toxin and harmful algal species analysis during the 2019 Northern California Current Ecosystem Assessment Cruise.

The trip came together quickly.

In March 2019, the Northwest Fisheries Science Center Harmful Algal Bloom team sent out a request for volunteers to participate in a series of cruises along the Washington, Oregon and California coastlines. The request was shared with PTMSC SoundToxins volunteers.

Melody and Frank, prepping for departure
For Melody and Frank, it was a perfect fit. Both have spent many hours looking through a microscope as part of their volunteer work with the SoundToxins project. They are skilled with plankton nets and have practice identifying plankton. So, the duo took the initiative, contacted NOAA to volunteer and were accepted!

Here is the project description sent from NOAA:
“The project will be conducting 24-hour operations, sampling stations on the continental shelf and out to 200 nm along transects from 38°N to 45.5°N [see map below]. At each station a CTD (with rosette, fluorometer and DO) and plankton nets (bongo and vertical net) will be deployed for the primary project. The NWFSC Harmful Algal Bloom team is seeking volunteers to participate in the cruise to collect samples for particulate and dissolved toxins (e.g. domoic acid), macro-nutrients, chlorophyll, DNA, and cell counts from the Niskin bottles on the CTD rosette at the stations on the map below. A hand deployed phytoplankton net tow will also be conducted at each station to collect a concentrated sample for phytoplankton ID."

News from the ship

At first, the PTMSC staff didn’t expect any news from Frank or Melody because of security concerns. So, it was a great surprise and relief when Frank sent his first message while underway. The images are small (apologies for their low resolution), so just consider this a teaser for when we can hear more about their experiences: How they adjusted to life on board, what they did, what they saw and where they went.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Stefanie Worwag and Mario Rivera: new, old hands for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network

Throughout the 2019 GiveBIG campaign, we are showcasing the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s long-standing commitment to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Plan your donation now -- we have a dollar-for-dollar matching fund of $8,000 -- to support this crucial program that is so vital to the well-being of the marine mammals that make the Salish Sea their home.

Stefanie Worwag and Mario Rivera started volunteering for the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network just over a year ago. Stefanie is a veterinarian and Mario is a retired police officer and retired military. 

“What drew us to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network is the strong desire to help animals,” said Mario, who has also volunteered for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Mario Rivera and Stefanie Worwag, right, with the northern elephant seal stranding team.
“We both have a great passion for animals, and the aspiration to learn more about marine life.”

Because Mario and Stefanie are new to the program this season, they have only responded to five or six stranding call-outs. A typical call-out can last anywhere from 1 ½ to 4 hours depending on the situation and location.

“Something we also do before responding is to do a quick research of the type of animal we’re going encounter, to have a working knowledge of the animal,” said Mario.

Despite their relative lack of experience with marine mammals, they have jumped in with both feet.

“On two call-outs, Stefanie assisted with performing necropsies on two mammals, one being a [northern] elephant seal and the other a Steller sea lion,” recalled Mario, who added that the necropsy of the sea lion was a memorable event for Stefanie because they determined the actual cause of death.

“A Ratfish spine had lodged in the animal’s esophagus and migrated into a large vessel in its chest,” said Mario. “He bled out and was septic.”

An unforgettable experience for Mario was the stranded elephant seal.

The team of PTMSC staff and volunteers examine the
stranded northern elephant seal. Staff photo.
“It was huge, about 14 feet long and it weighed approximately 4000 pounds!” Mario exclaimed.
The project took on added importance because the PTMSC was allowed to preserve the full skeleton as a tool for future study, education and display. 

Above: Mario in action, left; Stefanie, right, checking on the decomposition 
with with PTMSC's Citizen Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson. Staff photos.

Besides the MMSN program, Stefanie and Mario volunteer for home crew (tank cleaning), beach surveys and public events. On Sunday, April 21, they staffed a PTMSC table at the Finnriver Earth Day Expo, where community organizations showcased their programs in support of environmental protection and stewardship. About 40 people stopped by to learn more about upcoming programs, volunteering and membership. 

Staffing the PTMSC table at the 2019 Finnriver Earth Day Expo.
The PTMSC is very grateful for Mario’s and Stefanie’s support and the ways in which they have rolled up their sleeves – literally – as citizen scientists and volunteers.

“Volunteering for the MMSN is a wonderful opportunity to learn about the marine mammals in this area and possibly be a crucial link in the survivability of the animals,” said Mario. “It is a very rewarding experience.”

To learn more about the Marine Mammal Stranding Network and other volunteer opportunities at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, visit

Friday, May 3, 2019

Citizen Science Day BioBlitz 2019

On Saturday, April 20, local volunteers gathered at Port Townsend Marine Science Center to conduct the second annual BioBlitz of Fort Worden State Park in celebration of both Citizen Science Day and Earth Day.

A BioBlitz is a 24-hour intensive study that aims to document as many species as possible for a given area. Our goal was to find and identify as many plants, birds, mammals, invertebrates, fungi and more as we could during the event.

Pacific blood star (photo by Wendy Feltham)

All of this was made possible with the use of iNaturalist. iNaturalist is a social network for naturalists, and it allows its users to document and upload sightings of any living thing that they encounter in the wild. Anyone can click on these observations to view photos as well as see where and when it was observed. Other users can also suggest identifications, which is very helpful when the person uploading the observation doesn’t recognize what they saw.

Rockweed (photo by Wendy Feltham)

Using the iNaturalist mobile app, volunteers photographed, identified and uploaded every living organism they encountered in Fort Worden to our iNaturalist project page, which is available for anyone to view online here.

All members of the public were welcome to attend. This year we had 22 participants, many of which were local students from Port Townsend High School. It was wonderful to have them all become engaged in citizen science and discover more about the organisms that live in their local area.

A purple shore crab observed by
 Port Townsend High School students (photo by Claudia Garfias)

In total, our participants made 344 observations of 150 different species. Of those 150 species, the three most common groups were plants (62 species), birds (22 species), and mollusks (20 species). The information that we gathered during the BioBlitz will be especially useful to visitors of Fort Worden State Park, as it will give them an idea of what organisms they are likely to find during their visit.

A map displaying all of the observations made during the BioBlitz

Many of the organisms that were observed during the BioBlitz have yet to be identified. If you would like to help us identify these species, or simply get started on making your own observations, go to to sign-up for a free account.

Written by Michael Siddel, Citizen Science Educator AmeriCorps Member

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Marine Mammal Stranding Network - science, and a love of animals

Throughout the 2019 GiveBIG campaign, we are showcasing the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s long-standing commitment to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Plan your donation now -- we have a dollar-for-dollar matching fund of $8,000 -- to support this crucial program that is so vital to the well-being of the marine mammals that make the Salish Sea their home.

Underlying the strong commitment of volunteers to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network is their love for the warm-blooded inhabitants of the Salish Sea.

Wendy Feltham, former PTMSC Board Chair, citizen scientist
and photographer extraordinaire! Image by Champion Productions.
Former PTMSC Board Chair and longtime MMSN volunteer Wendy Feltham speaks for many when she says: “I volunteer for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network because the seals, sea lions, elephant seals, and other marine mammals need and deserve to be protected. We are lucky to live by the Salish Sea with so many remarkable animals!”

The love for marine mammals has no age limits. In 2013, Ella Ashford, then age 12, wrote about her encounter with a stranded northern elephant seal pup in downtown Port Townsend.

One summer day while walking with her mother, the couple spotted something unusual on the driftwood-covered beach at Adams Street Park.

“Then to my surprise, one of the logs moved! That’s when I realized it was a very sandy seal,” Ashford wrote. 

A very sandy seal! Photo by Steven Urbanc.

Little did she know she was about to embark on a weeklong vigil to protect the young mammal from harm.

“I was there every day and a few nights, too,” Ashford wrote. “The community became so attached to the seal we even named him. His name is Star. I felt like the name fit, he was the ‘star’ of Port Townsend, that’s for sure.”

Star and Ashford were written up in the local newspaper and many townspeople stopped by to see the young seal.
"Star," the northern elephant seal pup that captivated downtown Port Townsend in 2013.
Casey Gluckman, an 11-year MMSN volunteer, recalled another stranding episode in downtown Port Townsend, when two several-hundred-pound northern elephant seals chose the city’s beachfront as their molting spot.

“They kept us hopping,” remembered Gluckman, “especially the one that went for a stroll in the middle of Water Street and had to be ‘encouraged’ back to the beach.

Marine Mammal Stranding Network volunteer Casey Gluckman
“I love helping with the stranding program,” Gluckman says today. “Every call is a different chance to learn more, and answering questions from the public is always rewarding for both the questioner and for me.”

In 2015, AmeriCorps Marine Mammal Stranding Educator Katie Conroy described her first stranding response.

“As we walked up to it, my heart started to melt,” Conroy wrote. “It was the cutest thing I had ever seen! It was not more than two or three months old and it was just resting so peacefully on the beach.”

One of the most important decisions for MMSN responders is to remember their training and give stranded animals space and time to return to their natural habitat. In fact, the Marine Mammal Protection Act protects marine mammals from any human interaction.

“My maternal seal instincts kicked in and all I wanted to do was make sure this adorable sleeping seal pup would be okay,” Conroy continued. “I wanted to protect it from any sniffing dogs and curious children. After about 30 minutes of setting up a barrier of driftwood pieces, I finally said my goodbyes and went home.

Harbor Seal pup sleeping on the beach! Photo by Katie Conroy.
“The next day I checked where the seal had been, and it was gone,” Conroy wrote. “It must have woken up from its slumber and gone back to the sea where its actual mother was waiting, too scared to come ashore.”

When describing the joys of being a MMSN volunteer, former PTMSC board member Jan North says it best.

Former PTMSC board member and citizen scientist Jan North.
“By volunteering with the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, I am constantly learning about the lives and behaviors of the seals, sea lions, harbor porpoises, and whales which share our Salish Sea waters and shores. Whether I’m ‘seal pup sitting’ in a public area or measuring and recording a deceased sea lion, it’s so much fun to share ideas with others when I'm on one of our wonderful beaches.”

Interested in learning more about the Marine Mammal Stranding Network and becoming an on-call stranding response volunteer? There are two upcoming training sessions:
  • Tuesday, April 30 in the PTMSC Museum classroom from 1-5 p.m.
  • A May training in the Brinnon/Quilcene area, time and location TBA.

MMSN training includes:
  • Marine mammal stranding network history and purpose
  • Marine mammal species identification
  • Your role as a responder to both live and dead animals
  • How to be a “seal sitter”
  • Practice responding to stranded animals

For more information, contact Mandi Johnson at or Betsy Carlson at

Thursday, April 25, 2019

2019 GiveBIG campaign supports the Marine Mammal Stranding Network!

Throughout the 2019 GiveBIG campaign, we are showcasing the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s long-standing commitment to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Plan your donation now to support this crucial program that is so vital to the well-being of the marine mammals that make the Salish Sea their home.

One of the first efforts to aid a stranded marine mammal was documented by the PTMSC in 1986, when a stranded harbor seal pup, nicknamed Itti-Vik, was cared for by a group of 20 PTMSC volunteers.
Itti-vik, meaning “spirit of the sea,” was brought to the PTMSC in 1986.
That same love for animals and dedication to science has fueled the PTMSC’s volunteer-driven MMSN program ever since.

Not all stranded mammals are found alive. But even in death, stranded marine mammal bodies can provide important information about the Salish Sea ecosystem.

Such was the case with a male northern elephant seal that was reported on Marrowstone Island on October 31, 2018.

Michael Siddel, Citizen Science Educator AmeriCorps Member, and PTMSC 
Citizen Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson examine the front flipper of the
northern elephant seal found on Marrowstone Island in 2018.
Measuring over 13 feet from the tip of his head to the tip of his tail – not counting his rear flippers – the size of the animal was impressive. In addition to collecting quantitative data, the team of PTMSC staff, AmeriCorps and volunteers sought clues for the cause of the elephant seal’s death.

Permission to conduct a necropsy (an autopsy performed on an animal) was given by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a team was immediately assembled under the guidance of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The scientific value of a necropsy is indispensable in the evaluation of an animal’s life cycle as well as its death.*

As an added benefit, the PTMSC was allowed to preserve the full skeleton as a tool for future study, education and display.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Low Tide Walk

Sunday, June 16th

9:00am - 11:30am

PTMSC Museum Portico

Free with price of admission
(members always free)

Meet at the Museum exhibit portico entrance for a guided Low Tide Walk on the beach with PTMSC naturalists. Explore tide pools and learn about how marine organisms are adapted for the challenges of living in the intertidal zone.

We recommend weather-appropriate clothing and shoes with good traction for moving around on wet slippery rocks.

Please RSVP to Carolyn Woods at or call
(360) 385-5582 x 109