Monday, August 23, 2021

New interactive orca exhibit opens at Port Townsend Marine Science Center

‘Orca: Shared Waters, Shared Home’ explores the history and challenges of Southern Resident orcas

The Port Townsend Marine Science is pleased to announce the Aug. 21 opening of a new exhibit, “Orca: Shared Waters, Shared Home,” at its museum facility at Fort Worden State Park. The interactive exhibit explores the natural history of the orca species and the extreme challenges facing the Southern Resident orca families that frequent Puget Sound. The exhibit will be up until October 31st.

Based on the book of the same name co-published by The Seattle Times and nonprofit publisher Braided River, the special showing features captivating photography by Steve Ringman and others, and stories by author and Seattle Times journalist Lynda V. Mapes about the power, majesty and plight of two endangered – and intertwined -- species of the Salish Sea: Southern Resident killer whales and Chinook salmon.
“Orca: Shared Waters, Shared Home” is a traveling exhibit that is touring Salish Sea marine centers in 2021-22. It complements the PTMSC’s permanent exhibit, “Learning from Orcas – The Story of Hope” at the PTMSC museum.

"We are grateful to Lynda Mapes, Braided River and The Seattle Times for bringing this complex story into focus,” said PTMSC Program Director Diane Quinn. “The writing, photographs and illustrations will reach visitors in a new way and help us all remember what's at stake for the orcas and for us."

Quinn said the exhibit is designed for all ages. For children there’s an orca rocker, a drawing and coloring table, children's books about orcas, a dorsal fin to measure one's relative height, model whale toys and an orca rope to show the size of adult and newborn orcas. While the children are engaged, parents can review the display panels, view the Seattle Times’ Hostile Waters webpage, and read newspaper reprints and excerpts from Mape's book. Also, a monitor will be running the website as well as a sound loop of orca recordings made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Janine Boire, PTMSC executive director, said the traveling exhibit is the result of a collaborative effort by the marine science centers around Puget Sound to support each other to achieve their common goals.

"This is what the collective is made for,” Boire said “Throughout the pandemic we've found ways to support each other. I can't imagine a more perfect next step for these organizations to take together."

To visit, look up our hours on our Visit Us page.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Port Townsend Marine Science Center purchases historic Flagship Landing building

On August 5, we celebrated our purchase of the Flagship Landing building on downtown Port Townsend's Water Street. 
(photo by Jen Lee Light Photography)

We are so excited to announce that the Port Townsend Marine Science Center has purchased the Flagship Landing building at 1001 Water Street. 

In my 10+ years working to advance our mission, first as the Administrative Coordinator and now as the Marketing and Development Coordinator, I’ve associated the Port Townsend Marine Science Center to a very specific location: Fort Worden State Park. From the dock that stretches out over the calm shores and cradles our aquarium, to the historic building that houses the legendary skeleton of Hope the orca, to even the high-ceiling office where my desk resides for me to perform my tasks, my work has been tied to a fixed location for over a decade. But in recent months, my construct of a fixed location has been challenged by COVID-19, a force that has little respect for geography. Since March of 2020 I have worked from home. At first I did this begrudgingly. But now, after a year and a half, I’ve come to a new understanding: for PTMSC to advance our place-based mission of “inspiring conservation of the Salish Sea”, we may not necessarily have to stick to just one location. 

We are excited and proud to announce our purchase of the Flagship Landing building on Water Street, Port Townsend’s historic downtown thoroughfare. Our plan is to make this a platform for our vision to foster the growth of generations of environmental stewards living in balance with marine ecosystems. Our Executive Director explains, “Not only does Flagship Landing give us the flexibility to move in over time, but most importantly, by bringing new life to this historic 132-year-old building, we dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of the project. The purchase of this building provides us with an exceptional opportunity to showcase best practices in shoreline redevelopment for a healthier marine environment. And working with Port Townsend’s city manager, John Mauro, we intend to be a demonstration project of seismic and sea level rise adaptation for our town.”

PTMSC staffers Mandi Johnson (left) and Marley Loomis display a piece of
whale baleen in front of PTMSC's newly aquired Flagship Landing building. 
(photo by Jen Lee Light Photography)

Even as the scope of our mission has expanded, the pier on which our aquarium sits was assessed by Washington State Parks to be near the end of its useful life. We participated in State Park’s planning efforts and, when it became clear a smaller pedestrian pier was best for the marine environment, our Board of Directors began the search for a new home. Our long-term goal is to create an aquarium at our new Flagship Landing building; in the meantime, we’ll continue to operate at the existing Fort Worden aquarium and museum as long as possible during the transition phase.

And then there is the issue of reaching more people. When the news of this change was shared with Anne Murphy, founding Executive Director, she responded that “this is a time for bold and radical action. The time to make a radical change is now.” She wholeheartedly endorsed the plan.

Throughout this process, I have thought about how difficult it would be to give up our location on the Fort Worden dock‒this has been an iconic spot for our organization and a focal point for our visitors, volunteers and staff. But I weigh this feeling of attachment against the ever growing need for our mission “to inspire conservation of the Salish Sea”‒ if we truly wish to fulfill this mission, we must inspire via leading by example. Letting go of an old dock in the interest of marine conservation is ultimately a better fit with our values, and retrofitting a historic building is entirely more environmentally sound than building a new facility from scratch.

Led by Executive Director Janine Boire (right), PTMSC's staff and board members carry items across Port Townsend's Water Street signifying the organization's transition to a new headquarters downtown. (photo by Jen Lee Light Photography) 

Besides, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center is so much more than an aquarium. While we transition in phases to our new location over the next several years, we offer and will continue to to offer programs like our popular summer camps, marine mammal stranding assistance, The Future of the Oceans lecture series, quality marine education programs for schools, Protection Island wildlife cruises (in partnership with Puget Sound Express), and so much more.

Even after we have fully phased into the Flagship Landing building, we will retain our museum building at Fort Worden as an environmental learning center. 

Our partnership with Fort Worden remains strong, and we look forward to strengthening the connection between downtown and Fort Worden by deepening our collaborations with other nonprofits that operate (or wish to operate) in both locations, such as Northwind Arts, Jefferson County Historical Society, and the Northwest Maritime Center. 

We look forward to this exciting new phase of inspiring conservation.
Become a member and be a part of this thrilling new chapter in our 40+ year story!

Brian Kay
Brian Kay (he / him)

PTMSC Marketing & Development Coordinator

Read the media links below:

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Sketching the Natural World Workshop

Saturday, September 25
11 a.m. - 12 p.m.

Pope Marine Park, Port Townsend

offered by Jefferson County Historical Society

Join artist Maria Coryell-Martin and naturalist Carolyn Woods of The PT Marine Science Center for a sketching and watercolor workshop at Pope Marine Park, inspired by the natural world! Each guest will be provided with a handmade art kit, consisting of a pencil, paper, a watercolor palette, and a water brush. Guests will enjoy 45 minutes of guided looking and sketching, and finish with 15 minutes of independent sketching or painting. Guests are encouraged to continue after the 1-hour workshop concludes, as well as enjoy all day complimentary admission to the Jefferson Museum of Art & History and The Port Townsend Marine Science Center.

$5 for kids, $10 for adults.
Pre-registration is required.
20 guests max. (masked required)
Register here.

Maria Coryell-Martin is a Port Townsend-based expeditionary artist. She graduated from Carleton College in 2004 and received a Thomas J. Watson fellowship to explore remote regions through art from 2004-2005. Since then Coryell-Martin has worked with scientists, local communities, and travelers in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and the Antarctic Peninsula. In the field, she sketches with ink and watercolor, and collects multimedia recordings to build her palette of place, a record of experience, climate, and color. This work becomes the basis for exhibits of large-scale studio and field paintings, as well as multimedia presentations and hands-on workshops for audiences of all ages to promote observation, scientific inquiry, and environmental awareness.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Anne Murphy Ocean Stewards Scholarship awarded to Ella Ashford

Former PTMSC volunteer plans to attend Willamette University

Port Townsend's Ella Ashford has been awarded the 2021 Anne Murphy Ocean Stewards Scholarship. Ashford intends to apply the $1,500 scholarship, which is sponsored by the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, toward an environmental science degree at Willamette University in Oregon.

Ella Ashford, age 11, with
former volunteer the late Roger Wilson in 2013

Ashford is well acquainted with the marine environment. In 2013, at age 11, she volunteered with the Marine Mammal Stranding Network to help protect a northern elephant seal pup that had come ashore in downtown Port Townsend. Ashford wrote about the experience on the PTMSC blog and the unusual story was written up in the Peninsula Daily News.

Another PTMSC project in which Ashford participated was the TEENS (Teens Envisioning and Engineering New Solutions) Camp, where a tour of the Port Townsend wastewater treatment facility served as the springboard for an air quality research project that Ashford conducted at the treatment facility.

Ella Ashford today
“I have continued to pursue my service and environmental passions through programs like the MATE underwater robotics competition,” Ashford said in her application. “I have worked closely with NOAA to facilitate the Olympic Coast MATE ROV Competition, which provides equitable STEM education for students in rural and Native American communities.

“I strive to create opportunities not only for myself, or for my peers, but also for the next generation of scientists and engineers that follow in my footsteps,” she said.

About the Anne Murphy Ocean Stewardship Scholarship
The PTMSC awards the Anne Murphy Ocean Stewardship Scholarship annually to an East Jefferson County student or graduate who embodies the values that Murphy demonstrated in her 24 years as the organization’s executive director: curiosity, wonder and love of the marine environment.

For the latest information about the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, visit Also, look for @PortTownsendMarineScienceCenter on Facebook, @PTMarineScience on Twitter and @ptmarinescictr on Instagram.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Elephant Seal in the Classroom!

GiveBIG 2021 -- This year we are ThinkingBIG, as in 2 tons!

Flashback: A 14-foot long, male northern elephant seal weighing 2 tons, washed ashore on Marrowstone Island in October 2018. The PTMSC’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network sprang into action. 

The team of PTMSC staff and volunteers participating in the northern elephant seal necropsy.

The cause of death was a mystery, so a necropsy was performed. And the elephant seal’s bones were preserved so that -- like Hope, the transient orca whose articulated skeleton is suspended from the PTMSC Museum ceiling -- people could learn about the massive elephant seal’s life and death.

The skull before we started the boiling process.Photo credit: Johanna King

Fast-forward: The elephant seal’s bones are now the foundation of a new PTMSC science curriculum being taught to marine biology students to inspire conservation of the Salish Sea.

Students from Chimacum High School participating in Elephant Seal in the Classroom curriculum

Here’s a sneak peek at the massive mammal’s preserved skeleton that’s being used in the classroom. 

GiveBIG 2021 is May 4-5 and we’re giving a live Zoom update about this exciting program on Tuesday, May 4 at 2 p.m., so be sure to mark your calendars. Here’s what we will cover:
  • How the elephant seal was found;
  • Transporting its bones to PTMSC for preservation;
  • The process of cleaning the bones;
  • How the curriculum for Elephant Seal in the Classroom was developed;
  • Examples of the curriculum, and
  • A testimonial from a student.

Please GiveBIG generously this year so that we can continue to fund programs like these well into the future -- just click here.

PS -- Thanks to a challenge match from a group of donors, the first $10,000 donated will be matched dollar-for-dollar!

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Anne Murphy Ocean Stewardship Scholarship

Now accepting applications! Please share this information!

Retired PTMSC Executive Director Anne Murphy

 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 2021.  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 PTMSC. 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. For questions, please email Development and Marketing Director Liesl Slabaugh at or call 385-5582 x101.

Applications are due by May 25, 2021. The winner will be selected and notified by May 30.  The award will be given at the school’s award ceremony or another event TBD.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Mystery Bird Photographed in an Eagle’s Talons in Port Townsend

Tropical bird spotted at North Beach was far from its normal habitat

A Bald Eagle with a brown booby in its grasp. Credit: Tim Lawson

Sometimes it starts with a simple question. “What is in the talons of that Bald Eagle?” OK, maybe that’s not a simple question. Talons, Bald Eagle, what? 

Recently Tim Lawson, one of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s longtime supporters, sent us his remarkable photos, trying to confirm what he had captured digitally. He had a hunch, but the outrageousness of the idea that it may be a vagrant tropical bird needed some backup, so he asked some of the community’s leading birders for their thoughts.

This avian puzzle rippled out from local experts to regional specialists. Emails were sent, photos shared and carefully studied. Turns out, Tim’s hunch was right, it was a tropical bird that had wandered thousands of miles from its range: a Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster*).

In the Americas, you would more likely find a Brown Booby off the coast of Mexico, or flying over the Caribbean. Australia is also home for Brown Booby. But the Strait of Juan de Fuca in February is extremely unusual.

Tim described the bird as “Brown neck, mantle, back and wings. Medium to large bird. Long yellow beak, large yellow feet, long tail.” 

A brown booby (source:

Audubon’s online guide says, “In North America [the Brown Booby] is seen most often near the Dry Tortugas, Florida,” with the only currently known nesting sites in Hawaii. This bird indeed lived up to the term “vagrant” defined by Audubon, “straying well outside of regular ecological range.”

Matt Bartels of the Washington Bird Records Committee replied to Tim’s submission, saying that it was unusual, if not as rare as it used to be, and posed the question, “Was it dead before the eagle got to it?”

Finding Brown Boobys in Washington state is fairly unusual but not unheard of. Apparently 3-4 are reported each year. One was reported in November 2020 in Willapa Bay by a crew harvesting oysters. It died with a completely empty stomach. 

Other Booby species have been recorded in Washington and Oregon. In early August 2006, a Blue-Footed Booby showed up in Skagit County, while another was retrieved a few days later from the I-5 bridge over the Columbia River in Oregon. It is now preserved in Tacoma’s Slater Museum collection.

We had experienced a cold snap the week that Tim took his photos. Freezing cold makes life for a tropical bird extremely difficult. Could that have stunned it before the Eagle hit? Or had it been a stow-away aboard a cargo ship heading this way from southern climes? We will never know.

Thanks to Tim Lawson for sharing his photos and for asking the question in the first place: What is that bird in the Eagle’s talons?

*Sula is the Norwegian word for gannet, and leucogaster is derived from the ancient Greek leuko = white and gaster = belly. Brown, masked, red-footed and blue-footed boobys are all relatives of the northern gannet and known for their spectacular, almost splashless plunge-dives into schools of small fish. None of these sulids are usually found in the Salish Sea. 

Written by PTMSC Community Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson.