Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Lecture: Seabirds and Marine Mammals of the Protection Island Aquatic Reserve

Sunday, February 10

3 pm

Bob Boekelheide

The Fort Worden Chapel

Admission: $5

(students, teachers FREE)

Bob Boekelheide's lifelong interest has been in the ecology of marine vertebrates, particularly birds and mammals. Bob has an M.S. in Ecology from UC Davis and participated in several marine research projects to the Arctic, Antarctic, across the Pacific, and in California, including seven years as a biologist on the Farallon Islands. While in California, he coauthored a book and several papers about the marine ecology of nesting seabirds and marine mammals. A certificated teacher, Bob taught science and math in WA public schools for 13 years. He is the former director of the Dungeness River Audubon Center, a community nature center in Sequim, WA. As Bird Count chair for Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society, he has compiled the annual Sequim-Dungeness Christmas Bird Count and the Clallam County International Migratory Bird Count for over 20 years, along with helping to organize several other citizen-science projects on the north Olympic Peninsula. He enjoys spectacular areas of the Pacific Northwest and lives on the shores of Dungeness Bay with his wonderful wife Barbara.

Contact: bboek@olympus.net

This is the fifth installment of The Future of Oceans lecture series.

This event is offered with generous support from the Darrow Family.

Assisted Listening Devices available

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Puget Sound Seabird Survey

Survey collects long-term data to estimate the size of local seabird populations

White-winged scoter
(obtained from Wikimedia Commons)
Ever since my first week at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, I have been participating in the Puget Sound Seabird Survey. The PSSS, managed by Seattle Audubon, is a monthly shore-based survey that runs every year from October to April at over 120 locations throughout Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

One of the main goals of this survey is to collect long-term data that allow us to estimate the size of local seabird populations. This is important for two reasons. First, it gives us a better understanding about the seasonal trends and community composition for the seabirds inhabiting Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Second, if there is ever a man-made or natural disaster, subsequent surveys will show us how these seabird communities have changed compared to those before the disaster.

Besides its ecological importance, another great thing about the PSSS is that it is conducted by over 200 citizen science volunteers. Whether you are an expert or beginning bird-watcher, everyone who is interested is invited to be trained by Seattle Audubon. Because it is open to virtually anyone willing to learn the protocol, Seattle Audubon has a plethora of volunteers that are capable of collecting data over a vast area of the southern part of the Salish Sea. Plus, because it only occurs once a month, there is no large time commitment involved.

In order to collect meaningful data, the PSSS always occurs on the first Saturday of each month within a pre-determined four-hour window. Because each survey team conducts their survey on the same day at relatively the same time, it reduces the chance that any bird is counted twice at two different sites. Each survey team aims to conduct their survey during -- or close to -- high tide, within the four-hour window, so that the birds are closer to the observer and therefore easier to identify.

Overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca at Point Wilson
(Photo by Michael Siddel)
In order to actually estimate the density of seabirds in a given area, the PSSS utilizes a method known as distance sampling. Distance sampling is a commonly used method for surveying animals in an area in which you cannot directly observe and count them all. It operates on the assumption that that chance of observing an animal decreases as the distance from the observer increases.

Essentially, if we count all of the seabirds that we can see on the water and measure their distance from us, we can estimate the actual number of birds in the area, even the ones we didn’t see. 

Admittedly, the actual math that goes into estimating the distance from observer to a seabird, as well as their actual density, is discussion best saved for another blog post. 

PSSS volunteers (from left to right) Steve McDevitt, Ron Sikes, and Tim Weissman
(Photo by Michael Siddel)
Personally, I am a part of the team that conducts the PSSS at Point Wilson, just under a mile north of the PTMSC. Our last survey took place on January 5, and while there weren’t a large number of birds present, we were treated to a good diversity of species. These included horned grebes, a common loon, pigeon guillemots, red-breasted mergansers, a pelagic cormorant, surf scoters, a mew gull, harlequin ducks, buffleheads, a glaucous-winged gull, marbled murrelets, a double-crested cormorant and a white-winged scoter.

Regardless of how each survey goes, I am always eager for the next one!

Written by Michael Siddel, Citizen Science Educator AmeriCorps Member

Friday, December 21, 2018

New Faux Piling for our Piling Tank

One of our tanks in the aquarium represents how animals and algae can grow even on human-made substances, such as pilings under piers. While this is true, our current “piling” is made of wood and could be misinterpreted to represent creosote-treated wood pilings.

Creosote is a substance comprised of over 300 chemicals that are used to preserve the wood (read: protect it from decay, insects, etc.). There have been many efforts to remove and replace all creosote-treated wood from the water due to its terrible environmental effects. The preservative is toxic to organisms that ingest it or even live in its proximity.

 When the waves and salt water break down the wood, small pieces of debris containing the creosote can be ingested by the animals living around it. Additionally, the chemicals in creosote are even more likely to leach into the water when exposed to ultraviolet light (i.e. sunshine).

Many organizations, including the Washington Department of Natural Resources, have made large efforts to remove all creosote-treated wood from the ocean. The Puget Sound Partnership was launched in 2007 with the mission of cleaning up the Puget Sound by 2020. The PSP’s Action Plan includes creosote removal because of its adverse effects on the environment.

Here at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, the wood piling in our Aquarium is, of course, not treated with creosote. However, it is slowly starting to break down, and we would like to showcase a piling that is not harmful to the wildlife, has the appropriate pH, and supports the natural animal life that would occur in our Salish Sea.
Marley, AmeriCorps member, and Ali, PTMSC Aquarist,
with the new piling before it was lowered into the water. 

After a lot of research on the best method and recipe, we cooked up our own piling that we hope will fulfill our requirements! The cylinder is a mix of crushed oyster shells, concrete, and foam. We added the foam so that the faux piling would be a maneuverable weight, while still being negatively buoyant to sit on the bottom of the tank without floating.

 After curing for a couple of days, we tied it off the side of the pier to hang in the water. This will allow it to finish curing and maybe start growing some new small organisms before we place it into the tank. It will hopefully go into the tank in early spring!

If you see a wood piling or a piece of wood that you suspect may be treated with creosote, you can report it using the MyCoast Washington website or phone app! Check it out here.

Written by Marley Loomis, Americorps Aquarium Educator

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Tiny Creatures with a Big Future

Abalone Project targets restoration of threatened population

During this season of giving, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center is celebrating the connection between marine animals and humans, and the power of these amazing ambassadors to inspire tens of thousands of people each year to become stewards of the Salish Sea. Please consider gifting others with this connection by making a donation to the PTMSC -- -- Thank you!

2018 was a big year for some baby sea snails with personality. It marked the inception of the Abalone Project at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.

Juvenile pinto abalone in the Conservation Lab nursery in the Aquarium. Staff photo.

With planning and coordinating support from the Puget Sound Restoration Fund (PSRF), the goal of the larger pinto abalone recovery program involves *government agencies, businesses, nonprofits and citizens determined to restore pinto abalone to a population density that can be self-sustaining.

The start of the Abalone Project coincided perfectly with the unveiling of the new PTMSC Conservation Lab, both of which were funded by an ALEA grant from the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. Housed within the Aquarium, the lab was constructed while the facility was closed for the season and the Abalone Project is its first effort.

Juvenile abalone arrived in April 2018. From left, PTMSC Aquarist Ali Redman, volunteer Dana Africa, and Josh Bouma of the Puget Sound Restoration Fund. Staff photo.

The broader purpose of the Conservation Lab -- completed in time for the annual Aquarium re-opening in April 2018 -- is to highlight efforts to conserve the Salish Sea, functioning both as a citizen science area and a public exhibit.

The main objective of the Abalone Project is to educate the public about the story of pinto abalone restoration. The project helps accomplish this by:
  • Telling a story of positive action being taken to conserve our ecosystem;
  • Describing to visitors the dangers of overharvesting and the reasons why abalone are endangered locally;
  • Explaining the benefits of responsible fisheries management; and 
  • Introducing visitors to this wonderful and often unfamiliar marine animal, a rather charismatic mollusk!

Volunteers prepare the Abalone Project for public display.
The first juvenile pinto abalone were transferred to the Conservation Lab on May 22. Aquarium visitors immediately notice the breeding tanks and, with the help of docents, soon realize the tanks are teeming with baby abalone. Many of these people would probably not have heard about efforts to save the pinto abalone without this new PTMSC exhibit.

The plan is for the current cohort of abalone to be released in Spring 2019. By that time, they will have grown to the size of a nickel or even a quarter.

Numerous people have been involved in the Abalone Project, overseen and directed by Aquarist Ali Redman, Citizen Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson and Facilities Coordinator Phil Dinsmore. Over the winter, volunteers constructed the breeding tank frames and assisted with the building of the Conservation Lab.
PTMSC volunteers Sue Long (l) and Lee Merrill (r) examine the abalone tanks. 
Staff photo.
Once operational, additional volunteers assist with the twice-weekly tank cleaning, while others conduct monthly abalone counts and shell length measurements. All of the Aquarium docents, as well current and former AmeriCorps members, have played a vital role in interpreting the exhibit for visitors.

Because the Conservation Lab is essentially a satellite PSRF hatchery, the pinto abalone that are bred and raised the PTMSC Abalone Project represent a very small portion of the larger PSRF project. But the impact of the project cannot be under-estimated, because PTMSC has a unique ability to provide outreach and public education.

Recently, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife proposed adding pinto abalone to the state’s endangered species list. The recent meetings are described here and in this news article published by the Port Townsend Leader on Nov. 20.

The PTMSC will continue working with the PSRF and will likely raise pinto abalone again next year, and hopefully in the years beyond.
Volunteer Dana Africa shows off the abalone young-'uns!

Stop by when the Aquarium re-opens over the holidays and meet the Pinto Kids!

*In addition to the PTMSC, other partners include: 

Friday, December 14, 2018

Salish Food Web Fun!

Quilcene kids connect with ecosystem

We began our program with a beach walk to pick up trash.
The kids found a long piece of Kelp and decided to turn in into
a jump rope! Staff photo.
This week, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center hosted the Quilcene Elementary School through a program funded by the Discuren Foundation that allows students to receive a multi-day interactive science education program. This particular program was three days long, and we hosted a multitude of different classes. We covered topics from whales to invertebrates, and all the way to plastics in our environment.

Yet, one particular class stood out to me: Salish Sea food webs.

I love teaching kids about how vastly complex ecosystems are. Ecosystems are like a huge puzzle, with so many different and complicated parts, and this can make them a difficult concept grasp.

This is why I love the education tools we have here at the PTMSC. We created such a fun and simple way to understand these key concepts.

Salish Sea food webs began with some simple review of key concepts such as: What exactly is a model and how do scientist use them? As well as, how can we use them?

Diving right into the first activity, the kids got to create a food web linking the relationships between some of the animals right here in our aquarium.

AmeriCorps members, Michael Siddel and Mandi Johnson, discussing their findings after completing the food web. 
Staff photo.

In order to create this, the kids had cards with the picture of an animal they could find in our tanks. They needed to use information set around the room to find what animals they might predate on, and what might eat them.

Once this was figured out, the creature was placed on the board with energy flow arrows placed between the relationships the students had uncovered. This generated a food web of our aquarium – with a few additions like humans and sea gulls, too!

Generating a visualization like this shows how complicated the entire food web system is, especially considering we were only looking at such a small part.

Fortunately, this lead into a discussion of how some species play a much larger role than we would have thought. Take for example, the sunflower sea star.

Sunflower sea stars were shown to be important predators, which most kids found to be surprising. When we looked at what might happen to different populations if we took them out of the ecosystem, we were then able to discuss the current issue of Sea Star Wasting Disease.    

AmeriCorps member, Mandi Johnson, working with the kids to determine
where their animal belonged in the food web. Staff photo.

Afterwards, the class moved onto another activity. We played a game, with the students simulating a small ecosystem including plankton, herring, salmon, harbor seals and transient orcas. In this game, we demonstrated an ecosystem, with each species being able to ‘feed’ off the species they would naturally consume in the wild by collecting the contents of their stomach pouch. We continue this game until all of one species had been eaten, thus bringing our ecosystem to an end.

At the beginning of each trial, as a group we determined how many of each species the next trial would begin with. Thus, giving the kids a chance to realize what a balanced ecosystem means and what numbers are needed to achieve that balance.

We concluded with a discussion of "bug killer" toxins that were leached into the environment and what this means for each species. Explaining this concept of bio-accumulation helped us to relate the Story of Hope in our museum and what we can do at home to help create positive change.

Written by AmeriCorps Volunteer Program Educator Mandi Johnson

Thursday, December 13, 2018

MLK Day Weed Pull

January 21
meet at Noon
PTMSC Museum 

Join PTMSC for our 7th annual MLK Day of Service! This year, we will be pulling invasive European Dune Grass from the beaches of Fort Worden.

Some tools will be provided, but we encourage you to bring your own shovel and wear sturdy gloves!

Plan on meeting at the PTMSC Museum at noon on Jan. 21, 2019. Light refreshments will be provided.

RSVP encouraged: Mandi Johnson, mjohnson@ptmsc.org, 360-385-5582 ext 116.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Admission by Donation During Winter Months

We have brought back our voluntary admission-by-donation policy for the 2018-19 winter season at its public facilities in Fort Worden State Park.

The admission-by-donation policy is effective immediately and ends March 28, 2019.
  •          Winter schedule (Museum only): Friday – Sunday, 12–5 p.m., weekly.
  •          Holiday schedule (Museum and Aquarium): 12–5 p.m., December 27-30.
  •          Closed Christmas Day.

"This is our way of saying ‘thank you’ to our community and visitors alike, especially at this time of year," said PTMSC Executive Director Janine Boire. "Our admission pricing, while low, can still be a barrier for some of our visitors.

Visitors are encouraged to visit the Museum, which is open year-round, as well as the Aquarium, which is open during holidays (dates above). Of special interest is Eleanora, the juvenile giant Pacific octopus acquired in September.

"We tested the admission-by-donation policy earlier this year and it was well received," Boire said. “We want to serve people from all walks of life and we hope our guests will support our programs and contribute to our cause -- inspiring conservation of the Salish Sea -- by offering a donation instead of paying admission."

In recent years, the "pay-as-you-wish" policy has been tested by museums across the county. Researchers found that the greatest revenue came when consumers were informed that a percentage of what they paid went to a charitable cause.

To view year-round exhibit hours, visit https://ptmsc.org/left-menu/visit-us