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 ...

Monday, July 4, 2016

Ocean Acidification and Systems-Based Education: A Story of Service

The ocean absorbs a quarter of the annual carbon dioxide (CO2) humans release into the atmosphere through wave action (NOAA). Chemically, this forms carbonic acid, which ultimately dissociates into hydrogen (H+) and carbonate ions (CO3-2). Since the industrial revolution, the concentration of hydrogen ions in the ocean has increased 29%, lowering the pH of the ocean by a staggering 0.11 units (WHOI). This phenomena is called Ocean Acidification.

Ocean Acidification is a global problem that poses great threat to the future of the ocean; scientists estimate that without dramatic and collective change in human behavior and consumption, the ocean could drop another 0.3-0.4 pH units before the end of the century. To inspire such change, or collective action, communities must introspect and foster the education of their citizens — particularly youth.

Empowering communities with environmental education opportunities such as the NOAA Bay Watershed Education and Training program and citizen science can result in powerful learning outcomes that promote conservation and stewardship, informed advocacy, and science literacy. These learning outcomes formed the purpose of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center's Ocean Acidification Study through Systems and Inquiry Science (OASSIS) Project, which implemented a twelve-class, hands-on Ocean Acidification curriculum within a Chimacum High School AP Environmental Science classroom.

We adapted the curriculum for this project from the Baliga Lab at Institute of Systems Biology Ocean Acidification module (Systems Education Experiences). Unit lessons encompassed ecological networks, Ocean Acidification chemistry and sources of CO2, the scientific method and experimental design, and citizen science.

Field Trips
Figure 1. An adult geoduck (Panopea generosa), the world’s 
largest burrowing clam, responds enthusiastically to being 
handled. Taylor Shellfish raises and sells geoduck and 
geoduck seed. 
Students visited the Taylor Shellfish Quilcene Hatchery (Figure 1), and observed how shellfish farmers are working to offset and mitigate the economic consequences of Ocean Acidification on the industry. Ocean Acidification hinders larval shellfishes’ ability to form a protective shell and can corrode the shells of adults. Later, we visited the North West Fisheries Science Center's Mukilteo Research Station, a hub for international Ocean Acidification research. There, students learned about careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers from NOAA researchers and educators. Finally, the students visited the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, where they studied plankton collected from each field site and local marine fauna.

Population Surveys
(B) After digging the hole, students sorted the
clams from the hole by species.
Figure 2 (A) Students learn about
measuring local water quality parameters.
At each of the three field sites, students towed plankton, measured water quality parameters (Figure 2A), and performed a clam population survey (Figure 2B). We adapted the protocol from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife management surveys, which are used to determine seasonal take limits. Every 20 m along a 100 m transect parallel to the water, students dug three 1 ft3 holes. The holes were increasing distances from the water line. Students combed through each hole’s contents, noting substrate and identifying each clam (and whether or not it met the legal harvest size of 1.25”). 

Planning, Executing, and Presenting Cohesive Experiments
Figure 3. Ethan and Orion observe their experiment under a
fume hood. The inspiration for their project was born from
another class they were taking — Materials Science —
showing their ability to draw connections between
ocean acidifcation and other 
At the end of the OASSIS unit, students further investigated a component of Ocean Acidification of interest to them through research experiments. Project topics ranged from testing the combustive effects of various carbon sources (coal, wood, paper) on the pH of water (Figure 3) to comparing the dissolution of shells at varied pH levels. Students used Vernier LabQuest2s, which allowed them to collect data in real-time. The OASSIS unit culminated with a summit, at which students presented a scientific-style poster on either their research project or another significant unit component (Figure 4). Preparation for the summit fostered critical-thinking and a formal reflection of experiences; presenting the posters enabled students to communicate and share their knowledge of Ocean Acidification with their peers and broader community.

Figure 4. At the summit, Sean and Feam shared their results of
their shell dissolution project. 
One of the greatest personal challenges of being an informal environmental educator is that I frequently have only one interface with my students. Thus, there exists a fine balance between time spent developing interpersonal bonds and teaching content; learning is not achieved if these practices are left mutually exclusive. As the lead Marine Science Center AmeriCorps member on the OASSIS project, I had the unique opportunity to interact with students 12 times over a period of three months. Through this experience, I truly came to understand these students as individuals and better meet their needs as an educator and mentor.

The most meaningful part of this experience, though, was not personal. Rather, it was hearing students’ personal accounts of knowledge gained and inspiration piqued. Some students did not know how the impacts of Ocean Acidification encompass their everyday lives, and others now have deep interest in pursuing environmental science as a major in college.

Seven years ago, I had my first field-based marine science experience, Ocean For Life (OFL) which was also sponsored by NOAA. Upon competing OFL, I distinctly remember feeling intellectually and emotionally enriched. I sincerely wish these students too are able to capture and culture this same eternal wonder for our ocean.

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

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Feeding Flounders

The starry flounder wouldn’t eat. Over the preceding week, I’d tried nearly everything. He turned up his nose at krill, herring, clams, shrimp, and geoduck. If he didn’t eat soon, I was going to have to release him back into the wild. This starry flounder is about a foot long, with the sassy expression and bugged out eyes that only a flatfish can master. He’d only been in the exhibit for two weeks but I was already pretty attached to him.

I decided to play my picky-eater trump card. I went outside with a net and caught a few small grass shrimp off some kelp. I dropped one into the tank — the flounder either didn’t see it or didn’t care. The next one I held carefully by the tail and inched closer to the mouth of my new friend. He was uninterested until the shrimp wiggled wildly. The flounder slid closer and then snapped up the shrimp! Success! “Good boy!” I said. “Good fish!”
Serving as the Marine Exhibit Educator AmeriCorps Member at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center is full of small puzzles like the Flounder Dilemma. Each one has to be tackled with care and speed because there are many different individuals from every imaginable phylum counting on me. The starry flounder needs to eat so that he can stay healthy and strong in the exhibit. But he also needs to eat so that he can be a vibrant and interesting ambassador of his species. On an ideal day, I don’t teach people about the fish — the fish themselves are interesting enough to teach the visitors.

Me cheesin' with the starry flounder (in the water directly below me).
A few days later, the starry flounder had developed a prodigious appetite. Now he eats everything offered to him, although he still greatly prefers to be hand-fed grass shrimp (how luxurious). On public feeding days, he swims around his tank vivaciously and children ask, “what kind of fish is that? How does he swim? Why are his eyes on one side?” We talk about the spotty patterns on his back, not unlike the night sky, his nearly symmetrical dorsal and anal fins, and the fascinating transformation he went through as a larva that shifted both of his eyes onto his right side. As often happens in the Marine Exhibit, these answers beget more questions and a day of learning and exploring begins.

As a Washington Service Corps Member, my mission is the same as that of the organization at which I serve: to inspire conservation of the Salish Sea. The work that feeds into this mission can be dirty; some days I leave the office covered in herring guts or rotten whale slime or muck from inside the pipes. But each of these messy projects supports the education and outreach programs we tackle every day. I take the time to look after our starry flounder; to clean his tank, monitor his behavior, and figure out his favorite food. Now, as a team, we will teach hundreds of people about his species, his habitat and the sea on which his life depends.

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

The Marine Exhibit is open for Summer Hours! Come say hello to the resident animals, and get ready to meet some brand-new critters! The exhibits are open every day from 11 am -5 pm, except Tuesdays.