Tuesday, September 27, 2016

2016 Eleanor Stopps Award Winner Announced!

We are excited to announce that Pete Schroeder 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.

The 2016 Eleanor Stopps Award nominees were Bob Campbell, Tim McNulty, Dr. Eloise Kailin, and Ron Sikes.

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; 2015: Jude Rubin.

Throughout his career, Dr. Pete Schroeder has taken his many opportunities to study marine mammals and directly apply his learning to improve the lives of these animals, whether through direct veterinary care, advocacy, or education. He has worked as a veterinarian for the US Navy, as the lead veterinarian for the rehabilitation of Springer the orca calf, and worked as a consultant and contributor to NOAA Fisheries' Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery Plan. He was nominated for the Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award by Anne Murphy and Chrissy McLean.

The following is excerpted from Dr. Schroeder’s nomination:

People of the North Olympic Peninsula involved in conservation work light up when they hear the name “Pete Schroeder”. That’s because somewhere along the line he has helped them advance their cause. Although Pete’s career revolved around marine mammal health and husbandry as a researcher and clinician, his community service has reflected a Salish Sea-wide vision of ecosystem health.

Pete is a warm-hearted, generous, humble, and tireless supporter of others carrying the torch for healthy ecosystems and healthy wildlife. No one knows this better than the Marine Science Center staff and volunteers who received his help on three key projects: the Orca Project, the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, and the Gray Whale Project.

Dr. Pete Schroeder (left) sharpens flensing knives as he advises
Marine Mammal Stranding Educator Katie Conroy
during the dissection of a gray whale, May 2016


Springer was observed alone in Puget Sound with a skin condition, 2002
Pete and his wife, Carolyn, moved to the Olympic Peninsula to retire in the mid-1990s but the orphan killer whale calf, Springer, had different plans for him. Springer (Northern Resident A73) showed up in the Seattle area in early 2002. Experts started monitoring her and quickly observed her failing health. They set in motion a plan to bolster her health and then return her to her home waters and family. Pete was a consulting veterinarian for her capture, lead veterinarian in charge of her 30-day rehabilitation period in Puget Sound, and the consulting veterinarian on her release back to her pod in Johnstone Strait, British Columbia. Pete remained on a team doing follow-up assessments of Springer’s health for a couple of years.

This is the only capture, translocation and reintroduction case of this type ever completed successfully and involved cooperation between the US and Canadian governments. The work done by the US and Canadian teams of scientists and marine mammal specialists to accomplish this feat was truly remarkable. Springer’s successful rehabilitation and return to her pod represented a new milestone in Killer Whale stewardship. Her story touched people around the world, especially those living in the Salish Sea region. Dr. Schroeder was recognized for his excellent veterinarian care during her rehab period, getting her to eat and exercise again while not creating a dependency on humans.

“Pete brought a lifetime of knowledge and medical expertise to Springer’s recovery and reintroduction. He was also sensitive to the cultural significance of Springer’s return to the First Nations community. In an honoring ceremony he presented the Namgis band a stick that had been Springer’s toy before capture, with her in rehab, and transited with her 400 miles north back home.” 
—Lynne Barre, NOAA Protected Resources and part of the US team

The Orca Project

Pete was one of the first people to find and respond to the stranding of two transient Killer Whales, CA 188 & 189 near Dungeness Spit. He inspired the Marine Science Center to get involved and ultimately gain possession of CA 189’s skeleton for preparation and display. He used his extraordinary networking skills to help unearth the story of the animal’s poor health and deterioration. He interpreted scientific and medical terms so that the Marine Science Center could tell her story in a new exhibit — and he reviewed exhibit text for accuracy. He also served as an ambassador for the fundraising component of the project, speaking at events and promoting the project in the broader Salish Sea community.

Marine Mammal Stranding Network

Stranding network volunteers protect an elephant seal in Port Townsend, 2013
Pete has been involved in establishing stranding networks and performing rescues of stranded marine mammals throughout his career. After observing the Marine Science Center’s professional and competent handling of CA 189’s skeleton, he encouraged the Marine Science Center to ratchet up participation and response to marine mammal stranding by submitting a NOAA Prescott Grant. He served as co-investigator on the grant with Chrissy McLean. He helped with veterinary concepts, vocabulary, training, networking, and, as always, bolstered the Marine Science Center’s confidence in taking big steps.

“My favorite thing about Pete is that he believes in people. He helped me get the training I needed and then pushed me forward to do work that I didn’t always feel qualified to do, like leading seal necropsies.”
—Chrissy McLean, former PTMSC Marine Program Coordinator

Gray Whale Project

Pete again stepped forward in May, 2016, to help the Marine Science Center recover the skeleton of a young gray whale. He supported the Marine Science Center team with logistical planning, fact checking, networking with other professionals, proper dissection of the whale, and bone identification and inventory. According to Betsy Carlson, Pete made himself available for moral and professional support during the entire retrieval process.

Pete's participation in these projects has had a ripple effect, touching all the visitors to the Marine Science Center's exhibits and website who are interested in Hope's story and in the health of the Salish Sea. Pete Schroeder embodies the spirit of the Eleanor Stopps Award. He is passionate about conserving the Salish Sea and gives his time, effort, knowledge, support, and enthusiasm to this cause giving so many of us the confidence, connections, and understanding we need to work as a community and conserve the Salish Sea ecosystem.

We extend our thanks to the 2016 Eleanor Stopps Award nominees: Bob Campbell, Tim McNulty, Dr. Eloise Kailin, and Ron Sikes.

Photo 1 by Port Townsend Marine Science Center | Photo 2 by Joe Gaydos | Photo 3 by Lynne Barre for NOAA | Photo 4 by Port Townsend Marine Science Center | Photo 5 by Wendy Feltham

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Summit to Sea: In Pictures

Prepare yourself...for a rare glimpse into the secret lives of two of our AmeriCorps members on a day off.

When not cleverly disguised as an undercover Marine Exhibit Educator, terrestrial botanist Rebecca Mostow can typically be found traversing the exotic landscape of yesterday's glaciers (if yesterday were 800,000 years ago, that is). Fun fact: the working motto of our friendship is "never a dull moment, only dull knives" — a nod to all the salt-encrusted knives we use to prepare snacks for the critters in the Marine Exhibit galley. What follows is the story of a standard 24-hour embodiment of this motto (*free of the excitement of overflowing tanks, power outages, pump failures, etc. etc.)

Once upon a time in early July, in a kingdom far far away behind the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, Rebecca and her not-so-trusty sidekick Kitz schemed a magical adventure in the Olympic National Forest.
Captured kitten moments: Kitz (L) in a rare state of calm, and 
Sampson (R, Zofia's cat) aggressively cuddling as per usual. 

Specifically, a backpacking trip traversing the fairy playground of Marmot Pass via Upper Dungeness River Trail. While seemingly straightforward, I threw in the PLOT TWIST of only having one day off and a reservation on the Marine Science Center's first Puffin Cruise of the summer. Womp womp. However, Rebecca and I have been practicing flexing and stretching our 'mussels' for 9 months together at this point. All things considered, this plot twist was merely an inconvenience. We decided that we would spend the first night camping not too far up the trail, and the next day I would pack in as far as I could with Rebecca before needing to turn around and head back to Port Townsend. Rebecca would continue on to Tubal Cain and Buckhorn Lake and spend another night in the forest.

Here's where it got interesting: we decided to camp only a mile from the trailhead because we found a campsite on the Dungeness River that was too beautiful to pass up. Also, we wanted snacks, i.e. the Thai takeout we brought (brilliant idea, thanks Rebecca). This meant, however, that we were 7 miles from Marmot Pass — not a problem, provided we got up early. I was not about to compromise my one day of 'sleeping in', so we had a leisurely slow roll to a state of caffeination and hit the trail at about 9 am. The scenery along the trail got freaky beautiful fast — the higher we climbed, the better it got. We were also tromping along at a good pace. Needless to say, I was hooked. Even though reaching Marmot Pass was a pie-in-the-sky notion, we pressed on.

Not a bad view to wake up to.

One of the many wildflowers we saw, Lilium lancifolium.

The first viewpoint we reached. It only got better.

Eventually, we made it to the summit!

And we still made it back in time to catch the evening puffin cruise

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

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A week at Coastal Explorers camp

Making discoveries on the beach
The campers started their first day at camp by meeting everyone and learning about the various habitats of Fort Worden. They then participated in two fun learning activities, one outside activity where they tried to find all the hidden unnatural items on the un-nature trail and another where they identified natural objects from the Natural History Exhibit. The afternoon was spent on the beach where campers participated in a scavenger hunt and later made beach art.

Hidden pond exploration
On Tuesday the campers went to the Marine Exhibit where they learned about the four different types of marine invertebrates as well as the animals in the touch tanks. They also got to feed some of the animals! In the second half of the day, we explored a hidden pond and a lagoon in Fort Worden.

Boating on the Martha J
On Wednesday we started the day with a learning activity about marine mammals. Campers learned about what classifies a marine mammal and about how blubber protects some marine mammals in very cold water. In the afternoon the campers split into three groups to go on a boat to test the salinity levels and temperature of the water. They also collected and observed plankton samples. The captain of the boat made every group their own bull kelp horn which the campers got to blow for the rest of the day. While off the boat the campers pulled Scotch Broom, an invasive plant species that is harmful to the Fort Worden habitats, and picked up trash on the beach.

Building bugs
On Thursday morning the campers observed and identified different insects through microscopes. They then used this knowledge to build their own bugs out of egg cartons and pipe cleaners! Thursday afternoon had more fun forest activities! After we walked to the beginning of the trail we started a really cool learning activity called Each Two Teach Two. Campers got in pairs and went down the trail two at a time. They then received a letter about a certain tree or plant that could be found on the trail and were responsible for teaching the next group to come down the trail. We finished the day with a nature hike and the walk back to the Natural History Exhibit.

Beach fun
On our last day, we got to go down to the tide pools! Before we started we learned about beach etiquette. The campers then collected different creatures that they found under rocks and in the pools and observed them. After snack we walked further down the beach to look at the different layers of the bluff. When we got back to the Marine Science Center the campers got to go into the Natural History Exhibit to learn more about the layers of the bluffs after having their own experience. In the afternoon we split up into five groups to build sand creatures on the beach.

Personal Notes: I had previously been a camper for multiple years and it was a really cool experience to do the camp as a counselor. I learned a lot about responsibility and now understand how much hard work every counselor and staff member puts into each day at camp. I would definitely recommend being a counselor to every camper. Thank you to all the campers! I hope you come back next year.

HAYDEN RINN is a seventeen-year-old volunteer summer camp counselor at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Gray Whale Project

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center is trying to raise $10,000 for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network by August 31 to ensure that we can continue to help stranded seal pups and other marine mammals. Donate to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network today to see your donation matched dollar for dollar by a generous donor! 

Last week we raised the dead, guiding a seine net full of gray whale bones to shore with the help of a pile of barrels, hardy swimmers, some borrowed boats, and a gaggle of great volunteers. Collectively we breathed a sigh of relief knowing that all our work and worry had paid off and this young whale could become part of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s educational programs and exhibits.

This is the story of how this gray whale got from here:

To here:

Just two and a half months ago, on May 12, 2016, a young, female gray whale (officially identified as CRC-1524) died after floating for several days in Elliot Bay, watched closely by scientists, NOAA, Marine Mammal Stranding Network observers, and even ferry boat captains. Her body was towed to Indian Island where the Navy pulled her to shore and Cascadia Research Collective conducted a necropsy.

As the Port Townsend Marine Science Center covers response for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network in eastern Jefferson County, Executive Director Janine Boire was contacted to see if we wanted to collect the whale for its skeleton. She said, “Yes!”

In six days, we planned and equipped a team to wrap and sink the 29-foot, 13,000-plus-pound whale. On May 18, the entire Marine Science Center staff, AmeriCorps members, and volunteers prepped and wrapped the whale in re-purposed Spectra salmon netting donated by a local fisherman. The whale's pectoral fins and baleen were removed before wrapping. She was then towed off shore where her body would be naturally decomposed by benthic organisms, keeping the nutrients in the Salish Sea.

It took only 11 weeks underwater for most of the blubber and other soft tissue to be eaten — much faster than we'd imagined! Every two weeks we visited and filmed the “burrito” as she was fondly referred to during the net-wrapping process. Our collection of muddy water videos allowed us to monitor the decomposition rate and check on lines and anchors.

By the end of July, the bones were ready to pull. There is a fine time balance between removing the tissue and keeping the bones. We had to to get the bones out of the water before the polychaete worms and organisms started to dissolve the bones themselves. Now we just needed to lift a few tons of bones up off the bay floor and onto dry land without a crane or lift!

Gray whale bone retrieval took two days — one day to float the whale by adding flotation at a morning low tide, then towing it to shore on the evening high tide, and one day to scrub, label, and move the bones to a greenhouse to dry.

Using the tides to our advantage, an ingenious volunteer built sufficient flotation to lift the bones using plastic barrels and a surplus helicopter cargo net. We swam the barrels out at a minus tide with assistance from a volunteer boat pilot. Our swimmers tied them on underwater, mostly to the head — the heaviest part. Then we waited for the evening high tide. It worked!

Once ashore, the water subsided leaving a pile of netting, seaweed, crabs, and what was left of a graceful gray whale. Most of the lumbar and caudal (tail) vertebrae were still together, which made identification and inventory easier, but the middle was a jumble of ribs and thoracic and cervical vertebra all covered with a fine layer of barnacles.

The bone-recovery team took over, setting up a trash pump for washing bones and cutting away the lines and netting. Several crabs tangled in the net were rescued as well. Bones were numbered and identified by marine veterinarian Dr. Pete Schroeder along with other experienced volunteers. Scraping barnacles off the surface of the bones took the most time, but the bones cleaned up well.

Clean bones were loaded into empty flotation barrels and pick-up trucks. Since we were on Indian Island Naval Magazine property, Navy security required that all of our whale crew and vehicles pass security screening. We had an escort with us at all times and needed to come and go as a big group.

Bones packed, boat ramp washed, and all volunteers accounted for, we headed over to Marrowstone Island and the backyard greenhouse of a dear friend who graciously lent us the space to dry the bones.

This was truly a team effort from necropsy to drying the bones. There will be more opportunities to get involved as we clean, repair, number, and articulate the bones to display the skeleton. Thanks to everyone involved.

Photos 1 courtesy of NOAA | Photo 2 & 4-9 by Marine Science Center | Photo 3 & 10-12 by Wendy Feltham

BETSY CARLSON is the Citizen Science Coordinator at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. Check out our citizen science projects and learn how to get involved.

In the past, the Marine Mammal Stranding Network Hotline and training for the team of Marine Science Center volunteer responders has been funded by a highly competitive grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Unfortunately, funds are very limited and this year our grant was not renewed. We urgently need your help to protect the future of our marine mammals in the Salish Sea. Please donate today to help us raise $10,000 for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network by August 31.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Learning From The Story of Hope

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center is trying to raise $10,000 for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network by August 31 to ensure that we can continue to help stranded seal pups and other marine mammals. Donate to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network today to see your donation matched dollar for dollar by a generous donor! 

Can skeletons talk?

If someone had asked me this question before I came to the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, my answer would have been “of course not!” But after serving for ten months as the Natural History Exhibit AmeriCorps member at the Marine Science Center, my answer is a little different.

Of course, a skeleton doesn’t have vocal cords or a mouth to talk with, but there are other ways to make yourself heard.

"Hope" the female orca skeleton
Hope is a 22-foot-long female transient orca whale who stranded near Dungeness Spit in 2002. You can read more about her stranding and the events that followed on our website.

Through studying her bones and tissues, scientists learned more about the challenges faced by marine mammals living in the Salish Sea. In addition to an infection of brucellosis, Hope had the highest levels of PCBs (a toxic man-made contaminant) ever recorded in a marine mammal.

After her bones were carefully cleaned and articulated by a team of Marine Science Center staff, Hope was moved to her new home in our Natural History Exhibit. Since the exhibit opened in 2012, thousands of visitors and students have come to view the skeleton and learn about orcas.

Over the course of my time here, I’ve spent countless hours in the Natural History Exhibit. In that time I’ve seen Hope speak to students, tour groups, and families, including visitors from other towns, states, and even other countries. Hope speaks to people through the power of her story and the passion she inspires in our staff and volunteers.

Volunteer docents attend a training to learn about the Story of Hope

I have seen Hope’s story inspire people to think differently about their connection to marine ecosystems. For some, it’s the first time they’ve realized that human actions on land — even far inland — can have an effect on the ocean and the animals that live in it. For others who have seen orcas in the wild, it’s a chance to learn more about what it’s like to be a marine mammal in the Salish Sea. Hope’s story also speaks to the importance of continuing scientific research to foster a better understanding of ecosystems in the Salish Sea.

Hope has spoken to me about the positive impact that environmental education and scientific communication can have in connecting people with the world around them. Her story is an encouragement to keep working hard and to try to reach out to new people every day about their role in conserving the Salish Sea.

Can skeletons talk? I think the answer is yes, as long as we listen carefully.

CAROLYN WOODS is the Natural History Exhibit and Volunteer Educator and an AmeriCorps Member serving at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.

In the past, the Marine Mammal Stranding Network Hotline and training for the team of Marine Science Center volunteer responders has been funded by a highly competitive grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Unfortunately, funds are very limited and this year our grant was not renewed. We urgently need your help to protect the future of our marine mammals in the Salish Sea. Please donate today to help us raise $10,000 for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network by August 31.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Wailing Seal

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center is trying to raise $10,000 for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network by August 31 to ensure that we can continue to help stranded seal pups and other marine mammals. Donate to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network today to see your donation matched dollar for dollar by a generous donor! 

Back in November, I wrote about my first (and cutest) stranding response. Since then, It has been a quiet couple of months; a dead seal here, a dead whale there. Well … maybe not quiet. Now summer has arrived, and with warm weather comes Harbor Seal pupping season. That means cute baby seals will be littering our beaches to rest. I have already had a few calls about sleeping seals, but one call is worth mentioning.

Two weeks ago, I received a call about a young seal pup on a busy dock in Quilcene. After viewing photos sent by the caller, I was able to identify it as a lanugo pup. A lanugo pup is a premature seal pup; they have a silvery coat that is normally shed within the womb before birth. Sadly, because they are premature and thus underdeveloped, they do not normally survive. But like all other seals, the mother temporarily left it on shore while it went to forage.

A concerned citizen called in, and as I was talking to him, I could hear the pup in the background crying out for its mom. I would have raced down there and sat with the animal if I wasn’t backup for the exhibits that day. Luckily I have an entire database of volunteers who are trained to respond to calls like this one. I sent one of those volunteers to the marina to monitor the seal and educate anyone curious about the wailing animal. I only intended for the volunteer to be there for an hour, but she insisted on staying. She took five hours out of her Saturday to sit with the seal.

Eventually the mother did return, and she and her pup swam off together. I am very happy that we were able to get a volunteer to the beach to make sure no one interacted with the seal. Each time I interact with the Marine Mammal Stranding volunteers I am reminded how dedicated they are, not only to the health of the seals, but to the stranding network as well.

As mentioned in the first blog post, no matter how cute a seal may be, no matter how much your heart melts, please give them space. Pups may be seen resting on the shore in the same area for several days; this is a natural behavior and does not mean they are abandoned. Not only are these animals protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, but they can become aggressive if approached. Please Share the Shore — stay back 100 yards if possible, keep your dogs on a leash, and if the animal is injured, call our hotline at 360-385-5582 ext. 103.

In the past, the Marine Mammal Stranding Network Hotline and training for the team of Marine Science Center volunteer responders has been funded by a highly competitive grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Unfortunately, funds are very limited and this year our grant was not renewed. We urgently need your help to protect the future of our marine mammals in the Salish Sea. Please donate today to help us raise $10,000 for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network by August 31.

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

Photos 1 & 2 by William Clark | Photo 3 by Carolyn Avery

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Nominate Your Environmental Hero!

Do you know someone who has worked to conserve or protect the North Olympic Peninsula, taken steps to encourage community-wide environmental sustainability, or altered the way you consider your impact on your local environment?

Make that person the next Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award winner!

Last year's winner Jude Rubin dressed
 as the Plastic Bag Monster
at our annual Stewardship Breakfast
From the 1960s through the 1990s Eleanor Stopps was an active member of the Northwest conservation community. Eleanor founded the Admiralty Audubon Chapter and took over the work of Zella Schultz to protect the nesting habitat for 72,000 pairs of seabirds nesting on Protection Island. She was also a tireless educator working with groups of students and Girl Scouts to raise environmental awareness.

Eleanor Stopps 
Eleanor Stopps recognized the need to protect the uniquely important marine environment of the Salish Sea. With no special political base or powerful financial backers, she formed a coalition of grassroots supporters who worked to get legislation and public support for protection of Protection Island and the surrounding marine waters. She was a primary driver behind the establishment of the Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge, one of the few established by an Act of Congress at that time.

Today, Protection Island is a critical habitat link in the preservation of the whole Salish Sea region, providing breeding habitat for Pigeon Guillemots and Rhinoceros Auklets, Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons, Harbor Seals and Elephant Seals, and a myriad of other species.

The Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award is given annually to a citizen of the North Olympic Peninsula (Jefferson and Clallam counties) who, like Eleanor Stopps, has created a legacy of conservation.

Please take a moment to recognize your environmental hero by nominating them for the Environmental Leadership Award.

The winner of the award will join the visionaries and risk-takers before them with their name engraved on the Eleanor Stopps plaque as well as an official presentation of the award at the Marine Science Center's annual Stewardship Breakfast.

Everyone nominated for the award will receive public recognition on our blog, Octopress online, and in a press release to regional media.

Email your completed form to info@ptmsc.org.

Nominations must be received by August 23, 2016.

Honor your hero today ...