Thursday, February 2, 2017

Way of Whales Conference 2017

Way of Whales
The view from the Coupeville ferry. Photo by Mattie Stephens
The time has come and gone for the annual Way of Whales Conference, or as I like to call it, Whalefest 2017. Coupeville high school was the host, and in order to arrive in time, Jan North, Betsy Carlson and I caught the 8 am ferry to make our way into Whidbey Island. When we arrived, I caught a whiff of the local agriculture before setting up our exhibition table while Jan and Betsy signed us in. We displayed skulls of all kinds, including a steller sea lion that took many as a bear skull. Our save the shore sign was displayed and many a pamphlet were spread around to give the good word. After speaking to a few visitors to our booth, I was able to walk around and explore the other organizations and their tables while awaiting the day’s many presentations.  
Our proud table! Photo by Mattie Stephens
As I wandered, looking at all the tables, gathering stickers and snacks, I realized how nice it was to be surrounded by fellow “whalers.” My goal of the conference was to expand my marine science network, including my interesting new friends, London, and her father. I spoke with them after overhearing London is heading to New Zealand to work with a graduate student – something I didn’t expect to have in common with a nine year old. London is invited to come to the Port Townsend Marine Science Center (PTMSC) and train her brain on our many cetacean skeletons.
The first presentation was by Howard Garrett of Orca Net, welcoming us all to Whalefest. After introducing the day, he spoke about freeing Lolita, an orca taken from the Salish Sea in the 70s, currently kept at Miami Seaquarium.
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Howard Garrett of Orca net. Photo by Betsy Carlson
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John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research Collective and others. Photo by Betsy Carlson
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The second presenter was John Calambokidis. He gave a presentation about Sounders – local gray whales. It was fairly early for a PowerPoint, but I was wide awake when he presented awesome videos of gray whales he received from suction cup video tags. I met him afterwards, and he knew the professor I worked with in Galveston. He said he would happily be in correspondence.
I’ll remember you all when I’m famous.
Val Viers, an environmental physicist, spoke on his 15 year quest to learn about orcas and acoustics in the Salish Sea. He presented interesting and rare footage of orca communication sequences matched with recorded orca actions and position. What I found most interesting was Val’s deciphering of an orca mother scolding her offspring, which we were able to see on film. Val and his son work with PTMSC and installed our hydrophone, a device that allows us to hear boat and animal noise underwater. We work with his son Scott in the Salish Sea hydrophone network, monitoring ship noise and orca/marine mammal communication.
Current hydrophone network of the Salish Sea. 
Lastly, we watched a beluga whale documentary on the endangered St. Lawrence whales. An orphaned baby beluga is found alive on the beach with time running out. The responding scientist tries something unusual – releasing it back into the wild in hopes another mother will adopt the calf as her own. I’m no movie critic, but the message of the movie was critical – there needs to be widespread knowledge and support of environmental and animal stewardship. Without a change in human behavior, the environment of these whales will deteriorate.
Drone footage of St. Lawrence beluga whales. Photo by Suzanne Chisholm and Michael Parfit
Whalefest was closed with a special music video about saving the Salish Sea and played a part in explaining the inter-connectivity of the diverse organisms. Helping people connect emotionally with a place like the Salish Sea can inspire them to protect it. This resounds soundly with the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s mission of inspiring conservation of the Salish Sea. The Way of Whales conference and its presenters, all wonderfully well-spoken and knowledgeable, moved strongly for the Salish Sea's conservation. I enjoyed my experience at Whalefest 2017, hope to return, and would recommend a visit to anyone.

See more of our wonderful organization on our Facebook and Instagram, and please consider donating today.
Matthew (Mattie) Stephens is an AmeriCorps serving at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.


Sunday | February 12, 2017 | 3 pm
Ian Miller, PhDCoastal Hazards Specialist, Washington Sea GrantThe Fort Worden ChapelAdmission: $10 ($5 for PTMSC members)
A skilled science communicator and media spokesperson, Dr. Ian Miller is Washington Sea Grant’s coastal hazards specialist, working out of Peninsula College in Port Angeles as well as University of Washington’s Olympic Natural Resources Center in Forks. Dr. Miller works with coastal communities on the Olympic Peninsula to increase their ability to plan for and manage coastal hazards, including tsunami, chronic erosion, coastal flooding and hazards associated with climate change. To accomplish this, he uses a suite of tools including outreach, applied research, synthesis of existing science, and coordination to help coastal communities access funding and expertise to achieve their goals and implement their plans. Dr. Miller has expertise in a range of topics including: sea level rise, ocean acidification, marine debris, tsunamis, beach erosion and change, Washington coastal ecology, coastal sediment transport and geomorphology.
Before joining Washington Sea Grant, Dr. Miller served as the education director of the Olympic Park Institute and as Washington field coordinator for the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation. Dr. Miller holds a bachelor’s degree in marine ecology at Western Washington University’s Huxley College of Environmental Studies and a doctorate in ocean sciences from the University of California, Santa Cruz. His graduate research focused on the transport and fate of sediment in the coastal zone adjacent to the Elwha River delta. Find him online blogging at the Coast Nerd Gazette.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Honoring a Legacy with Service: 5th Annual MLK Day Weed Pull

“Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”  -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 
Brave volunteers tackling the Himalayan blackberry near the campgrounds. Photo by Wendy Feltham.

Every year in January, AmeriCorps members across the country honor Martin Luther King Jr. on his namesake national holiday with a day of service. MLK Day is usually a day off; a day off from school, work, meetings or errands—a long weekend in some regard. However, the legacy of MLK Jr. is one of taking action. That’s why Washington Service Corps and the Port Townsend Marine Science Center (PTMSC) strive to make it a day on, instead of a day off.

PTMSC AmeriCorps (from left to right) Juhi, Brooke, Sarah, Mattie. Photo by Wendy Feltham.
The AmeriCorps at PTMSC chose to serve the community of Port Townsend by committing to a term of service. The annual MLK Day of Service is meant to recruit others from the community to join us in that duty. This year marked the 5th annual day of service weed pull at Fort Worden State Park. On January 16th, 2017, we gathered with volunteers who rose to the call to join us in serving our community.

A clearing where invasive, pokey, Himalayan blackberry used to be. Not to be confused with trailing blackberry, a native species. 
Photo by Carolyn Woods.

This year we targeted the Himalayan blackberry and English ivy that were overrunning the area behind the Natural History Exhibit and campground. These are both quick-growing plants that out-compete the native species vital to the ecosystem at Fort Worden. We gathered at the Natural History Exhibit to identify target areas, gear up, and get to work.

Volunteers rolling up the English Ivy like a carpet; the best technique for those pesky vines! Photo by Wendy Feltham.
Although we had been prepared for rain to pour on us, somehow it managed to hold off for the weed pull. It was the only thing that held back. Over 50 volunteers showed up, donating a combined total of over 150 hours of service. The outpouring of support was tremendous, and the event an all-around success.

(Above, both) Team work makes the invasive-species-eradication
dream work! Photos by Carolyn Woods.
The weed pull couldn't have been so outstanding without the help of many. Thank you to PTMSC, Friends of Fort Worden, and Washington State Parks for partnering with us on the event. Thanks to the Noxious Weed Board, Native Plant Society, as well as individuals from the Coastal Artillery Museum and Department of Fish and Wildlife and other volunteers who generously donated tools. Thanks to the Fort Worden Rangers and Maintenance team for their continuous support. Thanks as well to our Washington Conservation Corps team at Fort Worden and to our fellow AmeriCorps from NOAA Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary for joining us in service. I also want to recognize and thank my teammates Sarah, Juhi, and Mattie for their individual and collective efforts in executing the weed pull. We have enormous gratitude for every single volunteer who joined us to honor MLK Jr. by coming together as a community and providing a service to our environment.


BROOKE ASKEY is the Citizen Science Educator and an AmeriCorps Member at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Bird is the Word

“What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird.” –David Attenborough

Snowy Owl in Acadia National Park
Photograph by Sarah Croston
Birds have weaved an invisible thread throughout my life and into my heart. My love for birds started at a young age falling in love with the majestic and ever so beautiful Snowy Owl. My love of Snowy Owls may have been influenced by the wooden carving my uncle made which stood proudly in our living room. Owls have fascinated me for as long as I can remember with their mysterious aura and wide eyes. As a young child, I was familiar with the feathered friends who would visit our bird feeder. I also spent lots of time flipping through the pages of The Audubon Society’s Field guide to North American Birds long before I knew how to read.

Taking data on a Savannah sparrow in the fields of
Shelburne Farms, Vermont. 
My passion for birds didn’t show itself again until college and even then it wasn’t clear to me. One of my professor, Noah Perlut, asked if I wanted to go to Vermont for the summer to study songbirds. Spending every day outside conducting research sounded like a great experience and I did not hesitate to say yes. I spent the summer in Shelburne, Vermont studying Boblinks and Savannah Sparrows. The days were spent nest searching, banding birds, and taking measurements on chicks and adults.

Sarah and barred owl, Grinnell.
Glen Helen Raptor Center in Yellow Springs Ohio.

After my summer in Vermont, my love of birds flourished. I began to notice birds much more frequently than ever before. Their songs illuminate my days and seeing a flash of color now sends me looking for more. Since that eye opening summer, I’ve done more field work and have worked at a raptor center in Yellow Springs, Ohio. My passion for birds followed me here to the Port Townsend Marine Science Center (PTMSC).
While you may not think that there is a whole lot about birds going on at a marine science center, here in Port Townsend, there is! We have a great class that we teach to students called Birds of the Shore and Sea. In this class the students take a closer look at bird specimens observing specific species feet and beaks. They make educated guesses about what these birds might eat and where they live. The students also get a chance to go outside and participate in bird watching by the sea. My favorite part of this class is playing a recording of what a Bald Eagle sounds like and seeing the students’ reactions. The Bald Eagle might not sound as regal as it looks.
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The latest Puget Sound Seabird Survey in action
at Point Wilson.
PTMSC also partners with the Seattle Audubon Society. We conduct Puget Sound Seabird Surveys once a month. The survey takes place at Point Wilson and a dedicated group of volunteers survey the seabirds for a half hour no matter what the weather has in store. Many different bird species can be seen right around the Marine Science Center. As I am sitting here writing this I just saw a juvenile Bald Eagle soar by!
The most important thing I have learned is that bird watching is a great hobby, one that you can do basically anywhere. Whether you are observing songbirds that come to a bird feeder in your backyard or raptors you spot soaring high above the mountains out on a hike, birds hold a very special place in my heart. I hope to continue to learn about them throughout my life and share my passion with others.

Keep your eyes out for Sarah’s newest project called Birding from the Pier. Once a week she will be posting about a different bird she sees from the pier and a fun fact or two about it on our Instagram account and Facebook page
Sarah Croston, Americorps - Natural History and Volunteer Educator

Monday, January 2, 2017


Sunday | January 8, 2017 | 3 pm
presented by George Divoky, PhDDirector/Researcher, Friends of Cooper IslandThe Fort Worden ChapelAdmission: $10 ($5 for PTMSC members)
George Divoky has studied seabirds in arctic Alaska since 1970 when, as a researcher at the Smithsonian Institution, he participated in the Coast Guard’s survey of the Arctic Ocean adjacent to Prudhoe Bay. Since then he has been involved in Alaskan seabird research relating to a diverse group of conservation issues including the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act, oil and gas exploration of the outer continental shelf, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and regional climate change. Since 1975 he has maintained a continuing study of Black Guillemots on Cooper Island, Alaska, that is one of the longest longitudinal bird studies in the Arctic. The Cooper Island study’s findings on the consequences of recent snow and sea ice reductions provide some of the best examples of the biological consequences of climate change. 

Dr. Divoky’s research was featured in a cover story in the New York Times Magazine entitled “George Divoky’s Planet,” in the PBS’s Scientific American Frontiers program “Hot Times in Alaska,” and on ABC Nightly News and Nightline. He has appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman, been interviewed NPR’s Talk of the Nation and Science Friday, and his story and findings were featured in a play about climate change, Greenland, staged by the Royal National Theatre in London in 2011. He helped found and has twice been chair of the Pacific Seabird Group, an international organization working to advance conservation and research of Pacific Basin seabirds. Currently, as Director of the nonprofit Friends of Cooper Island, he is working to ensure the continuation of research on Cooper Island seabirds in coming decades when they will have to deal with the complete disappearance of summer ice, offshore drilling, increased shipping and commercial fishing. 

Divoky was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, has Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Michigan State University and a doctorate from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. When not in the field he lives in Seattle, Washington.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

MLK Jr. Day of Service

Please join the AmeriCorps for a community service event in honor of MLK Jr. Day! 
Make it a day on, not a day off! 

We will be pulling invasive species of Himalayan blackberry and English ivy. 
Refreshments will be provided!

RSVP to Sarah at

Share that you're going with your friends using the Facebook event HERE!

BROOKE ASKEY is the Citizen Science Educator and an AmeriCorps Member at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center

Monday, December 26, 2016

Port Townsend Marine Science Center to Host New Year’s Eve Cruise

Port Townsend, WA, December 31, 2016—The Port Townsend Marine Science Center is inviting participants to cruise with them to Protection Island aboard one of Puget Sound Express’ heated, fully enclosed whale-watching boats with 360-degree windows, wrap-around observation decks, and a cozy interior. The sail will take place on Saturday, December 31st from 1-4 pm, leaving from the dock at the end of Water Street in Port Townsend and setting off on a 3-hour adventure.
Port Townsend Marine Science Center Naturalist, Roger Risley, will be onboard to assist in wildlife spotting and interpretation, accompanied by informative Port Townsend Marine Science Center hosts.
A staple of the science center’s seasonal offerings, the New Year’s Eve cruise is wildly popular among tourists and locals alike. Participants enjoy a leisurely tour of the wildlife sanctuary and the enlightening comments from the onboard naturalist. In addition to experiencing and learning about the local marine life, participants have also gotten to witness a variety of birds while taking the cruise including loon, grebe, cormorant, merganser, duck, scoter, phalarope, tern, and puffin, just to name a few.

PTMSC Executive Director Janine Boire is confident this year will be no different. “We have been partnering with Puget Sound Express for this special holiday birding adventure around Protection Island for years,” Boire said. “It’s such a unique, special way to connect people with the Salish Sea and celebrate the holiday seasons. The New Year’s Eve cruise, in the midst of the busy holiday season, makes it particularly popular for those with family or friends visiting looking for a festive and warm way to get out on the water.”
The New Year’s Eve cruise departs at 1 pm on December 31 from the dock opposite the Puget Sound Express offices at the east end of Water Street in Port Townsend and returns to the dock at 4 pm. Tickets for the Protection Island New Year’s Cruise are $80 per person or $60 for members of PTMSC, Audubon, Burke Museum, or Washington Ornithological Society.

For more information on the New Year’s Eve Cruise, or to reserve your spot here or call (360) 385-5288.

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center is inspiring conservation of the Salish Sea. A new initiative—Gone Green? Go Blue! Support Your Local Ocean—encourages collective action and civic engagement. Located on the beach at Fort Worden, the PTMSC offers two public exhibits: the Marine Exhibit and the Natural History Exhibit. The Natural History & Orca exhibit is open Friday through Sunday, 12 to 5 pm. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for youth, and free to PTMSC members. The PTMSC also offers a wide variety of educational programs and special events. For more information, call 360.385.5582, e-mail or visit