Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sound Toxins

Today Chris MacLachlan came in to look at plankton under the microscope on her day off due to an algal bloom in the water! She, like many other Citizen Science Volunteers (well trained community members that help with scientific research), spend time helping the Marine Science Center gather baseline data for an ongoing research project to monitor toxic phytoplankton in the Puget Sound for NOAA. PTMSC has three different sampling sites: Mystery Bay, the PTMSC dock and the Maritime Center. Volunteers measure: dissolved oxygen, salinity, temperature and environmental data. From Spring to Fall our Sound Toxin volunteers look at both whole water samples and concentrated plankton net tows under the microscope to see if toxic algae are present, do cell counts and preserve samples to send for further research by NOAA. This will later get processed to see if the toxins are staying in the cells or if they are leaching out in the the water. We hope that overtime this baseline data will help show if there is a correlation between environmental conditions and the levels of toxic plankton in the Puget Sound.

Chris MacLachlan has been with the Marine Science Center for over 10 years and has been helping with the Sound Toxins project for over 3 1/2 years. She said she never considered herself an invertebrate research type of person...but PTMSC has gotten the best of her!

Thank you to all of our volunteers, we wouldn't be the organization we are without your support.

Photo by Allison Gravis

Chris MacLachlan in our Lab! Photo by Allison Gravis

Alexandrium catenella. Photo by Jan Rines.

Pseudo-Nitzschia australis. Photo by Brian Bill.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Legacy of Plastic

Over the last few weeks that the Natural History Exhibit has been open, I've heard some visitors say that they miss our temporary plastics exhibit that we had up until last fall. So, for those of you who miss the shocking message, I'm posting this video of a talk given by Captain Charles Moore. Captain Moore is the founder of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. Some of the images used in our exhibit were from his research team.

Can you think of some ways that you can reduce your use of plastic?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Orcas on Hydrophone!

I know I write about orcas on the hydrophones a lot, but... Go to right now, click on "Listen to OrcaSound on San Juan Island" (works on RealPlayer, iTunes, WinAmp), and hear some of our resident orcas! I hear at least J pod and, thanks to, the cargo ship, Star of Sawara.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

PTMSC on King 5 News

As I reported last Thursday, while teaching a class on Sound Underwater, we got a very special treat. While listening to ship noise on our hydrophone, we also heard orcas. Orcas! Chrissy McLean, PTMSC's Marine Program Coordinator, ran to confirm what we were hearing and also to call Orca Network so they could get out on the water to identify the orcas.

Last night, on King 5 News, this exciting story was reported. At the very end of the informative 2-minute segment, PTMSC was mentioned. Anchor Dennis Bounds said, "This most recent visit was first reported by a volunteer at the Port Townsend Marine [Science] Center who was letting a visiting class of third graders listen to some hydrophones when they suddenly heard dozens of approaching orcas."

To see the video, click on the image above. Thanks to blog reader Daphne for letting us know we were on the news!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Spawning of Sunflower Stars and Christmas Anenomes!!

Sunflower Stars (Pycnopodia helianthoides) in Touch Tank 4.

Notice the orange tint to the eggs deposited by the sunflower stars.

Eggs being released by the Christmas Anenome (Urticina crassicornis).
All pictures taken by Allison Gravis.

This nice week of warmer weather makes it seem like spring has come early here at PTMSC. Our tanks are swimming with potential life as the Sunflower Stars and Christmas Anemones have begun spawning! Earlier this week I was concerned about the health of one of our Christmas Anemones. While checking on the animals I noticed a milky layer in Touch Tank 4. The next day I noticed more milky residue in the tank. Chrissy and I surmised that the anemones must be reproducing! This chemical change in the water triggered other anemones in the tank to begin releasing eggs in response to the sperm. Although Christmas Anemones (Urticina crassicornis) often reproduce asexually by longitudinal fission or by pedal laceration, it appears some of the anemones in our tank are reproducing sexually!

Urticina crassicornis are hermaphroditic animals; having both male and female reproductive systems, they either produce sperm or eggs, but not both at the same time. Eggs are then fertilized in the gastrovascular cavity of the animal. This produces planula larva that is a free-swimming ciliated polyip until it attaches itself on a rock. After 12 days of settlement 8 tentacles will appear. More tentacles will grow as time passes and the anemone has a reliable food source. The anemone will be sexually mature after about a year, at 10-15mm in diameter, with 35 tentacles.

According to fellow staff members our Sunflower Stars (Pycnopodia helianthoides) did not begin spawning until last summer. After reading sources online though I found that they commonly spawn from March-July, peaking in May and June. Sunflower stars are not sexually dimorphic, meaning that we cannot tell the difference between males and females. When preparing to spawn, the Sunflower Star hoists the majority of it's body off the substrate it is attached to in an effort to release gametes into the ocean for external fertilization. Larva will then float near the surface for 2-10 weeks and later settle on the ocean floor in a planktonic form developing into a juvenile sea star with 5 arms. More arms will continue to grow as the sea star matures.

Perhaps we will see some juvenile anemones and sunflower stars in a few months...if they don't wash out our outflow grates!


Perfect Timing

While teaching a Free Science Class on Sound Underwater this morning, I turned on the hydrophone so the kids could hear the sounds of Admiralty Inlet. I expected to hear the ferry and maybe a tug or cargo ship. We heard those things, but we also heard orcas! It was hard to believe that we had such amazing luck, so we wrapped up the class and headed outside to locate the orcas. Off in the distance, towards Marrowstone Island, we could see a few spouts and splashes. Even though the orcas were far off, the kids were excited to see them. And I, well, I was excited too! Seeing the kids so interested in our resident megafauna was wonderful, and reminds me of why I love sharing knowledge with others. What an inspiring experience!

Annual Meeting

Please join us this Saturday, February 21, for our Annual Meeting and the kickoff of our 2009 Lecture Series!

Festivities will begin at 4pm in building 204 (next to the commons) in Fort Worden. PTMSC Director, Anne Murphy, will briefly present an organizational perspective, looking backwards and forwards, then turn the floor over to guest lecturer, Dr. Jason Wood, who will talk about his research on WHALES AND ELEPHANTS - Using Sound to Save Species.

Members free/$5 non-members.

Monday, February 16, 2009

New Orca Calves!

I've just received word from Susan and Howard over at Orca Network that there have been two new calves sighted with the Southern Resident orcas! Here's what they have to say in their weekly report:

Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research confirmed "there are two new calves (one in J and one in L), but we are not officially specifying mums yet. We are conferring with Dr. John Ford and our Canadian colleagues before stating possible mothers. We would like to have several encounters with the babies and their mothers before assigning because grandma's may also confuse things."

This is really great news! If the calves survive, it would bring the So. Resident population up to about 85 - still way too low for this fragile, endangered population, but every new birth counts and moves this population in the right direction. It is especially good news after the loss of seven members of the So. Residents last year (which included 2 of the 3 calves born, and several reproductive age females). Let's hope the whales come back into inland waters again soon, so researchers can have more encounters and confirm who the new moms are.

I'll keep my ears and eyes open for any more news regarding an increase in our resident orca population. Until then, think happy thoughts for these whales!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Are you smarter than a 5th grader?

From Left to Right: Dave, Sonia, Chloe, Libby, Eliza, Jon and Allison.

This morning Jean and I hosted a "brown bag brunch" where volunteers worked together to assemble our Gray Whale skeleton "Spirit". This skeleton will be on display in our exhibit for the rest of the day. Jean and I decided that the alternative name for this Gray Whale class should be "Are you smarter than a 5th grader?" This alternative name seems appropriate since 5th grade classes usually work together assembling it with very little help from the teacher. The skeleton fits together nicely...almost like a jigsaw puzzle!

It was fun to watch the volunteers try to figure out the correct position of each bone while bouncing ideas off one another. The children worked well with all the adults and we had the skeleton put together in no time! We still had a small box of mystery bones that only Lee Post would be able to identify! We had to refer to Lee Post's bone building book to make sure we placed all the flipper bones in the proper position.

"Spirit" washed up on the North Shore of the Olympic Peninsula in 1999. He was only 1 1/2 years old when he died. Nearly 20 juvenile Gray Whales died in this area that year. We are not sure why so many died, though it is reported that they were much thinner than usual. PTMSC was notified about this beached whale and contacted NOAA for the rights. Once the paperwork was pushed through, volunteers helped to gather the bones. The bones were hung in a net off our dock for a few months as the flesh decomposed. Later they were moved to a greenhouse where the natural oils within the bones seeped out. The finishing touch involved painting a protective coating over each bone to help keep them from chipping. Although "Spirit" was only a year and a half old when he died, his skeleton is nearly 32 feet long from head to tail! Come to our Natural History Exhibit to check out his skull; study it to see if you can identify where his "soft spot" would have been and where his ear bones are hidden.

Above: Glen, 4 years old, helps to examine the size of each spinal cord hole.

Jon determines the exact order....what a job!

The Dawson Family thinking, "Are these in the correct order?"

All pictures taken by Allison and Jean.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Free Science Classes

Our Free Science Classes are off to a great start this winter! Liza has written the curriculum for two free classes geared toward third graders: Orca Communication and Underwater Sound. Both classes last about an hour and cover a variety of exciting topics.

The Orca Communication class, taught in the NHE (Natural History Exhibit), teaches about how Orcas actually vocalize, family groups, inherited vs. acquired traits, differences between transient and resident Orcas, and how changes in the natural environment can affect populations.

The Sound Underwater class, taught in the ME (Marine Exhibit), teaches how sounds are made by vibrations that travel in waves, that sound produced in water is louder and travels faster than sound produced in the air, that sound can be described by frequency and intensity, an introduction to hydrophones, and that underwater sound can have an effect on marine animals that rely on echolocation/vocalization to communicate.

Although our classes are full of information and cutting edge scientific data, they are interactive and fun for the children! Lucy and I spent a few days painting the life size Orca and Seals to put up in the NHE classroom.

All pictures taken by Allison Gravis.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Bring Your Bones Day 2009

Thanks to everyone who made it out to Bring Your Bones Day 2009; it was a great day full of interest and curiosity! We had at least 179 people attend, plus volunteers and staff who made it possible to handle such a crowd. To see how packed the Natural History Exhibit was, check out the video below.

We saw a ton of bones brought in by visitors and volunteers alike. Some of the bones were identifiable, like a bison skull, and others remained a mystery. Either way, seeing so many bones in one place was an amazingly unique experience!