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.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

2015 Marine Science Center Annual Report

Change and growth were significant themes for the Port Townsend Marine Science Center in 2015. An updated website, new logo, and a number of new staff members were welcomed this year.

In this report, you'll see exciting stories of the people and programs making the Science Center's growth a reality and highlights of 2015 accomplishments.

Check it out, and let us know what you think in the comments!

CELEBRATE FATHER'S DAY with free admission to our exhibits and a lovely afternoon on the water cruising to Protection Island and Rat Island in one Puget Sound Express' comfortable vessels and enjoying wildlife interpretation from our onboard naturalists. Become a member to save $20!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Pollock in the Night

Last week, two intrepid NOAA researchers came to collect fish in Fort Worden. Mara Spencer and Scott Haines have been collecting walleye pollock off the Fort Worden floating dock for the past 20 years. After collection, the fish rest in the Marine Exhibit Lab before the long trip back to Newport, Oregon, and the Hatfield Marine Science Center, where Mara and Scott are based.

One tiny walleye pollock in his new home
The walleye pollock fishery is one of the largest in the world, with over 3-million tons harvested each year. The NOAA team is investigating the effects of global change on these and other arctic fishes. They use a collection technique I’d never seen or heard of, so I practically begged to tag along to watch the fish-trapping spectacle.

In the dark of night, Mara lowered a bright light into the calm, black water. At first, all we saw was blue water and the glare from a huge net lying in wait below. Then, there was movement. A small gray speck squiggled towards the light. It was joined by another and another until there was a thick swarm of crab larvae following the light. Next came the fish. Juvenile walleye pollock, some only a few centimeters long, began to creep towards the center of the net. Bright green and orange gunnels slithered passed, pipefish effortlessly floated by, and tadpole sculpin frantically swam in the midnight sun. Like flies to a porch lamp, the life in the eelgrass bed below was inescapably drawn towards the glow. Undulating shadows signaled the arrival of more mysterious creatures. Bizarre polychaete worms squirmed and burrowed into the net, a solitary squid jetted away, and kelp isopods flew by, silhouetted like bees in the sun.

Fish in the exhibit: Walleye pollock, shiner perch (giving birth!), and a painted greenling
Just when I thought I knew this ecosystem fairly completely, it threw a few more surprises my way. Just a friendly reminder from this stunning planet that mystery abounds and adventure is out there. As I grow as a naturalist, it can be frustrating to encounter new organisms I can’t identify. I must remind myself to see the phrase “I don’t know” as a puzzle, not a failure. Surprises like a squid under a light are what make fieldwork so fun and the Marine Exhibit such a joy.

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.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Announcing Winner of Anne Murphy Ocean Stewardship Scholarship!

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center is pleased to announce the winner of the Anne Murphy Ocean Stewardship scholarship.

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center awards this $500 scholarship annually to a graduating East Jefferson county high school senior who embodies the values that Anne Murphy lives: curiosity, wonder, and love of the marine environment.

Anne Murphy served as Executive Director of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, pouring her heart into growing an organization that would nurture exploration and discovery of our local shores and waters. She retired after 24 years, leaving behind a vibrant community treasure that has profoundly affected thousands of people.

Anne Murphy
The winner of this year's award, Chloe Dawson, is no stranger to the Marine Science Center. Chloe has given hundreds of hours in volunteer service to the Marine Science Center.

As part of the Plastics Project, Chloe spent years peering through a microscope dissecting seagull boluses and sifting through sand looking for tiny plastic pieces. As part of the Orca Project, she cleaned, measured, and restored the bones of Hope and then articulated the skeleton of a seal, which we now have in the Natural History Exhibit. Finally, she did a settling plate study and assisted in seal necropsies.

Chloe dissects seagull boluses, 2009
The selection committee was impressed and inspired by Chloe's future plans. She said in her application, "I am intrigued by the place where environmental science meets with computer science." She did a coding workship that changed her life. Now, she said, "when I feel the small wriggling bodies of the salmon smolt in my hand at a restoration site, I can see the code I would write to create models that predict salmon populations and aid in restoration." Chloe plans to pursue a double major in Environmental Science and Computer Science.

Chloe on a recent NOAA cruise
Finally, the selection committee was moved by Chloe's statement, "I have loved the Port Townsend Marine Science Center since I was a small child. Growing up, it was inspiring to be part of a community of volunteers who cared about our ecosystem. As I move on to college, I greatly appreciate the financial support of this scholarship so I can pursue my dreams of being a scientist who can contribute to the health of our planet.

We wish Chloe calm seas in this next chapter of her education!

Don't forget to join us this Saturday, June 4, at 9 am for a guided low tide walk! We're expecting to have great weather, so if you haven't ever participated in one of PTMSC's low tide walks, this would be a great weekend to grab your brand-new PTMSC hat and come out to explore!