Tuesday, November 24, 2015

My First Stranding as the Americorps Marine Mammal Stranding Educator

Nine days. It only took nine days to get my first stranding call. Actually, by the official definition, it was not technically a stranding.  However, I am going to count it because it was a good, easy call to start my Americorps term as the Marine Mammal Stranding Educator.

I’m from Brooklyn, New York. We don’t have many marine mammals in those waters. My first experience with them was after college and ever since then I’ve stayed close to the field volunteering for organizations involved with stranding, but this was my first interaction with a stranding as the marine mammal stranding member — I was excited.

Before I go on, let me first define what a stranding actually is. A stranding is when a marine mammal is in one of four different situations:
  1. In a place that is dangerous to humans or animals
  2.  Dead on shore or in the water
  3.  On shore and able to return to the water, but in need of medical assistance
  4.  In the water but not able to return to its natural habitat without assistance
My first "stranding" was none of those.

It was 5:30 pm on a Saturday. I had just closed the Orca Exhibit and I was tired. Neil, the intern, had left the building right before me. By the time I had gathered my things and locked up he was back at the entrance wearing the same tired look as I wore on my face. “There is a seal pup down the beach.” 

It was in front of the camping kitchen, so not far at all. As we walked up to it, my heart started to melt. 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. It looked so comfortable and content and at one point it stretched its little flippers and yawned. I wanted to hug it, I wanted to pick it up and snuggle with it. But then I remember the Marine Mammal Protection Act and decided against a huge fine and possible jail time.

Harbor Seal pup sleeping on the beach.
Isn't it the cutest thing you have ever seen?!?!
Normally I would have called volunteers to sit with the seal, but it was after 5:30 pm and slowly getting dark. In any other situation, I would not have hesitated leaving the seal to sleep on the shore — even though they are marine mammals, seals spend some of their time on land to rest. This time was different; it just so happened that there was a party in the camping kitchen only 20 feet away!

My maternal seal instincts kicked in and all I wanted to do was make sure this adorable sleeping seal pup would be okay. 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.

Now, I do not have children, but I’m sure that the painful, heart-wrenching feeling of saying goodbye to this seal pup is exactly how all parents feel when they drop their kid off at school for the first time. I was so scared for the seal pup, but I was also tired and hungry so I decided to go home. After all, the seal was not hurt and there was nothing else I could have done.

The next day I checked where the seal had been, and it was gone. It must have woken up from its slumbers and gone back to the sea where its actual mother was waiting, too scared to come ashore. I am happy that it safely made it back to its natural habitat, but secretly (or not so secretly) I wish I could have kept it in a bath tub in my office.

So if you remember anything from this story, remember that seals need their rest. It is natural for them to come on to shore and sleep. They don’t check to make sure people are not there, they just wiggle their cute bodies out of the water and onto the sand.

If you do see an injured or dead marine mammal, give us a call at 1-(360) 385-5582 x 103! And remember, don’t hug a sleeping seal! As fun as that may be, the Marine Mammal Protection Act protects seals, and other marine mammals from any humans interaction. So give it at least 100 yards of space and let it rest.

KATIE CONROY is the Marine Mammal Stranding Educator and an AmeriCorps member serving at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.  

Monday, November 16, 2015

Sea Star Wasting Strikes Again

During my first week at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, our tanks suffered a minor catastrophe. We had another small bloom of sea star wasting disease, a notorious viral infection that has been killing off sea stars all along the north Pacific coast. 

I have personally seen the effects of wasting on beaches from Alaska to California, so I was anxious to see it in a captive setting. It’s a pretty depressing progression, that’s for sure. I watched four sunflower stars (Pycnopodia helianthiodes) progress from behaving unnaturally to losing limbs in a matter of a few days. 

However upsetting the disease is, it is fascinating and heartening to see the work the PTMSC is putting in to tracking and understanding it. Along with other aquaria, the PTMSC observers noted that the first stage of the disease is a behavioral one. Stars act lethargic and twist their arms across one another. This observation has allowed the Science Center volunteers and staff to detect the presence of the disease before any animals show more classic physical symptoms. 

The PTMSC runs a citizen science monitoring program of its tanks and of nearby subtidal and intertidal plots. Volunteers and staff gather data on the health of many different species and populations of stars in Strait of Jaun de Fuca water. These data are shared with the University of California Santa Cruz and other organizations monitoring the disease. 

Hopefully we are contributing to a better understanding of the disease, its symptoms, and its spread in our ecosystem.

A sunflower star with wasting that has started to lose limbs. 

A sunflower star with wasting. Note the white lesions and deflated appearance.

Zofia and me removing a sick sea star from the cluster tanks. I was very close to trading places with the sea star that day! 


REBECCA MOSTOW is the Marine Exhibit Educator and an AmeriCorps member serving at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Citizen Scientists Deploy Mussels for WDFW Regional Stormwater Monitoring Program

Guided by the light of the full moon (and headlamps) on October 27, 2015, three groups of PTMSC volunteers patiently awaited the arrival of the zero tide. They, along with 70 other teams, are part of a collaborative project taking place this week, led by the Washington State Department of Ecology with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and other agencies. PTMSC teams placed cages full of mussels at specific shoreline locations in Port Townsend, Port Hadlock, and Irondale.

Mussels filter water to feed and in doing so, can accumulate toxins found in the water. In February the mussels will be collected, delivered to WDFW labs and tested for toxins.

Our mussel deployers were: Liz Hoenig, Aaron Walter, Charley Kanieski, Dave Sachi, Darryl Hrenko, Rebecca Mostow, Carolyn Woods, Katie Conroy, and Zofia Knorek.

Our mussel rustlers were Merce Dostale and Michael Tarachow, who journeyed to Penn Cove Shellfish on Whidbey Island to get our supplies.

Above: Jennifer Lanksbury, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, at Penn Cove Shellfish with our supplies ready for pick-up.
Below: The mussels were kept on ice in cooler bags until deployment.
Photo Credit: Michael Tarachow and Merce Dostale

Above: Carolyn (L) and Zofia (R) assembling the mussel cage at Port Hadlock
Below: Carolyn Thor, deploying her mussels muscles!
Photo Credit: Katie Conroy

Above: Team Irondale (L to R: Rebecca, Darryl, and Dave), rebar pounding champions
Below: Cage in place--see you in February!
Photo Credit: Darryl Hrenko and Katie Conroy

ZOFIA KNOREK is the Citizen Science Educator and an AmeriCorps Member at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award Winner Announced!

We are excited to announce that Jude Rubin has won the Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award. Eleanor Stopps was a powerful advocate for lasting protection of the North Olympic Peninsula environment. In the 1960s and 1970s she recognized the need to protect the uniquely important marine environment of the Salish Sea. With no special political base or powerful financial backers she testified before the Washington State Legislature and the United States Congress, an act which was instrumental in getting legislation and public support for protection of the area. She was responsible for the establishment of the Protection Island Wildlife Refuge in 1982. Today, it is a critical link in the preservation of the whole Salish Sea region.

Previous winners include: 2005: Katherine Baril; 2006: Anne Murphy; 2007: Tom Jay and Sara Mall Johani; 2008: Al Latham; 2009: Peter Bahls; 2010: Sarah Spaeth; 2011: Dick and Marie Goin; 2012: Judith Alexander; 2013: Rebecca Benjamin; 2014: Ray Lowrie.

Stay tuned for blog posts about the 2015 Eleanor Stopps Award nominees: John Fabian, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, Cindy Jayne, Port of Port Townsend, Peter Rhines, and Steve Tucker

The following blog post is excerpted from Jude’s nomination:

Over the past two decades, Jude has been an instrumental force in environmental conservation in Jefferson County. Jude initiated and lead environmental programs for children and young adults, most notably the “Plant-a-Thon”, the largest annual environmental service project in Jefferson County, played a critical role in passing the Port Townsend bag ban, and helped preserve over 4,000 acres in the Tarboo Dabob Watershed while serving both as the Stewardship Director and as a founding board member of Northwest Watershed Institute.


Over a decade ago, Jude Rubin was listening to school fundraising ideas at a parent’s meeting and thought, “If children can wash cars and sell magazine subscriptions, why not sell honorary tree cards and plant trees to raise money?” Nearly every winter since, over 150 students, teachers and parents from five local schools plant about 3,000 native trees and shrubs at salmon restoration sites prepared by Northwest Watershed Institute along Tarboo Creek.

Before each planting event, Jude, as Stewardship Director with Northwest Watershed Institute, meets with the children in classrooms throughout Jefferson County to help them understand the critical role that temperate rainforests play in sustaining salmon habitat.

Prior to the big planting event, families sell honorary tree cards. Each card represents a tree to be planted in someone’s honor or memory. 100% of the money from the card sales goes to the schools because Jude and NWI work all year to raise grant funds and in-kind contributions to cover the cost of the project. For many students, the Plant-a-Thon has served as a strong influence in their growth as environmental stewards and leaders. Thanks to the remarkable collaborative efforts over the years led by Jude, 2015 marked the 10th annual Plant-a-Thon, with a total of more than 33,000 trees planted to date, well over $150,000 raised for schools, and hundreds of children and parents gaining greater appreciation for watershed ecology and environmental service.

Bag Monster

Jude is also well known as the "Bag Monster." In 2012, she took Port Townsend City Hall by storm with her humor and ensured a swift approval of the groundbreaking Port Townsend plastic bag ban.
In the Bag Ban effort, Jude coordinated the efforts of five partnering organizations, and stepped into the public limelight to represent the campaign as "The Bag Monster," addressing the City Council three times in a costume made of 500 disposable bags. Partly due to Jude’s persistent approach, the plastic bag ban was implemented in just seven months —one of the fastest adoptions of a bag ban proposal by any city in the country. In costume at City Council meetings, Jude was a force to be reckoned with. While most people would be deathly afraid to make a fool of him or herself —even for the most worthy cause —Jude courageously triumphed!

Northwest Watershed Institute

In 2001, Jude co-founded the Northwest Watershed Institute and has served as the Stewardship Director since 2004. Over the past eleven years, she has worked effectively as a scientific researcher, project manager, visiting classroom teacher, and fundraiser, and has been instrumental in NWI’s nationally recognized conservation achievements.

Jude’s grant writing skills, environmental and community outreach abilities, and her knowledge as a botanist and ecologist have helped NWI and many project partners to protect and restore over 4,000 acres in the Tarboo watershed, including critical stream and wetland habitat along Tarboo Creek and in Dabob Bay.

Jude’s environmental achievements are a continuation of a lifelong commitment to the environment. She graduated from Brown University in 1988 with a B.S. in Environmental Studies, and earned an M.S. in 1995 as both a Switzer Fellow and an R.K Mellon Fellow through the Field Naturalist Program at the University of Vermont. In the early 1990’s Jude helped launch a highly successful organic gardening education campaign in Seattle, and later worked for the Nature Conservancy in Oregon on native plant seed banking, and then at River Network as a project manager and Senior Grant Writer. In 1996, she co-authored, with Peter Bahls, the Chimacum Watershed Coho Salmon Restoration Assessment as her graduate thesis, and this work provided the scientific justification for the initial two-million dollars raised for Chimacum salmon habitat protection and restoration.

Whether she is known as "The Tree Lady," "The Bag Monster," or "Stewardship Director of Northwest Watershed Institute," Jude exudes the spirit of community-based environmental stewardship Eleanor Stopps sought to instill in everyone around her. We are grateful for the privilege of naming Jude Rubin our 2015 Eleanor Stopps Environmental Service Award recipient.

Stay tuned for the environmental leadership stories of the incredible 2015 Eleanor Stopps Award nominees: John Fabian, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, Cindy Jayne, Port of Port Townsend, Peter Rhines, and Steve Tucker.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A New Logo for The Port Townsend Marine Science Center

When you look at natural ecosystems, they are built on a web of interactions and relationships between multiple species.

When the Port Townsend Marine Science Center (PTMSC) started to look at how we were presenting ourselves through our programs, our logo, and our website, we wanted to honor these relationships. We took a deeper look at what we are, what we aspire to be, and how to visually represent the PTMSC vision to the world.

As we set out to design a new logo for PTMSC, one word in particular came through strongest to represent who we are: Ecosystem.

Above all, the design needed to convey the interdependence of the marine ecosystem, as that interdependence is something that inspires us, and something we work to conserve every single day.

So, we are thrilled this morning to reveal the Port Townsend Marine Science Center's new logo!

Thank you all for being a part of the web of community, volunteers, members, donors, and environmental advocates who help us in our mission to inspire conservation of the Salish Sea.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Meet our new 2015-2016 AmeriCorps Educator Team!

From left to right: Zofia Knorek, Citizen Science Educator; Rebecca Mostow, Marine Exhibit Educator; Carolyn Woods, Natural History Exhibit and Volunteer Educator; and Katie Conroy, Marine Mammal Stranding Educator. 

We're so happy to have our new AmeriCorps team on board to help us inspire conservation of the Salish Sea. Stop by to say "hi" to them in our exhibits! We're open Friday - Sunday, 12-5pm.

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.