Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Ways of Whales 2016

Last Saturday, January 23, I awoke to my alarm going off at 6:15 am. It was the earliest I had risen in a very long time. As I slowly climbed out of bed, I grumbled to myself and wondered why I was up so early on a Saturday. Then I remembered — it is Whale Workshop day!

All of the AmeriCorps members will be going to one of two conferences this winter. Being the Marine Mammal Stranding Educator, it was already decided that I would attend the Ways of Whales Workshop on Whidby Island. Now that day had finally arrived, so I shot out of bed, quickly threw on my clothes and was ready to go. I met up with my fellow whale enthusiasts, Betsy, Amy, Carolyn, and Sue and we got on our way.

Dr. Fred Sharpe speaking about one of my favorite creatures
The conference was held in the auditorium of the middle school, just inside the front doors. Even though the heat was broken, no one seemed to care — there was a strong line-up of speakers and everyone was excited.  Dana Lyons warmed up the crowd with a song about Granny, the oldest Southern Resident Orca (104 years old!) From there we heard from speakers such as Howard Garrett with the Orca Network, Fred Sharpe with Alaska Whale Foundation, and John Calambokidis with Cascadia Research Collective (John is the next lecturer in our monthly lecture series. Don't miss his talk on February 14!). Each one spoke passionately as the crowd stayed silent, listened intently to the research being conducted in their own waters. At the end of each talk, the crowd produced insightful questions, which at times stumped the speakers.

Carolyn and me at the PTMSC booth
When we were not in the lectures, we returned to the halls where a dozen nonprofits had set up informational booths covered with free stickers and brochures.

We had brought skulls from three different marine mammals and our Be A Toxic Free Zone pamphlets. We had visitors guess the species the skulls belonged to, and how a jar of mayonnaise would be able to protect these creatures.

Mayo anyone? 
I was happy to hear that many people already knew the importance of making the switch to more ocean-friendly cleaning products.

We introduced PTMSC in front of the entire crowd!
Carolyn proved herself an excellent public speaker,
I was so nervous!
Overall, this was a fantastic event and I am very happy that I was able to attend. At the end of the day, we were all exhausted and when I dropped everyone back off at my house they quickly slipped away with a weary goodbye.  Even with their quiet departure, I knew we all had a whale of a time.

Answers from last month’s quiz:
  1. Seal
  2. Sea Lion
  3. Sea Lions
Well done you guys! I slipped in a trick question on that last one. Now on to this month's species:

Harbor Porpoise vs. Dall’s Porpoise

A Porpoise is a type of toothed whale or Odontocete Whale. Similar in body shape to dolphins, porpoises are generally smaller, have rounded rostrums and spaded teeth. Additionally, while you will see dolphins swimming in pods, porpoises are less social creatures and will be swimming alone or in small groups. 

  Harbor Porpoise                                                                                   Dall’s Porpoise

137 – 170lbs
5 ft.
6-8 ft.
Back and dorsal is grey, their stomach and throat are white. 
Dark grey or black body with white patches on side of body and dorsal fin
Wide distribution across temperate waters. Found commonly in bays, estuaries, harbors and fjords less than 650 ft.
Found predominately in the North Pacific Ocean in temperate waters greater than 600 ft.
Their name is derived from the Latin word for pig (porcus) and are sometimes referred to as puffing pigs
Fun Fact
They are considered the fastest swimmers among the small whales. They are capable of reaching speeds of 30 knots (34 MPH) over short distances.

Identifying Dall’s Porpoises and Harbor porpoises can be difficult in the field. While you may not be able to see the color difference, look for the presence or absence of water spray. Because of their speed in the water, Dall’s Porpoises create a stream of water known as a rooster spray. Harbor Porpoises will not.  

KATIE CONROY is the Marine Mammal Stranding Educator and an AmeriCorps member serving at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Sign up for 2016 Summer Camps

Join us for a wet, sandy, adventurous, fun-filled week! Check out 2016 camps at ptmsc.org/camps.

Online Registration:
To register your child for a PTMSC Summer Camp, please click on one of the camps below. You will be directed to the online registration form. Fill out this form once for each child per camp. Payment in full is requested upon completion of the online registration form.

PTMSC members receive $10 off each registration. If you are not yet a member, we invite you to join today to enjoy this and many other members-only benefits!

Seal Pups Day Camp: 

Ages 3 - 4 | $90

Explore and learn about the beach and sea creatures. Activities will enhance the natural curiosity and vivid imagination of this age group. Campers will spend time outdoors and at the touch tanks with trained and attentive counselors.

Junior Explorers Day Camp: 

Ages 5 - 7 | $150

Spend a week exploring and discovering marine and coastal life, animals, plants, and secret spots. This half-day camp is all about fun, with activities in and around the Marine Science Center. It’s a great program for the younger camper who loves marine animals and exploring on the coast.

Coastal Explorers Day Camp:

Ages 8 - 10 | $275

Ready, set, explore! Examine the varied coastal environments of beach, glacial bluff, forest, pond, and meadow. This is the perfect camp for nature-loving kids who want to explore it all! Using observation skills, campers discover how these places support life in the coastal ecosystem.

Marine Biology Day Camp:

Ages 9 - 13 | $275

Immerse yourself in Marine Biology! Campers engage in exciting classes, labs, and field programs. A few of the many captivating activities include: sieving through goopy sediments looking for brittle stars, pulling a seine net through eelgrass beds to learn where young fish hide and using microscopes to observe the plankton that supports all life in the sea.

Marine Biology Afoot & Afloat:

Ages 10 - 13 | $400

Calling all budding Marine Biologists! This camp takes marine biology skills to the next level through hands-on activities. Students sail aboard Northwest Maritime Center vessels while doing scientific investigations. Ashore, students participate in intertidal surveys and labs in the touch tanks and exhibits. Campers work together as a team while learning to be stewards of the marine environment.


If you have questions about any aspect of camp, please email us at camps@ptmsc.org or call us at 360-385-5582 ext 104.

Scholarships are available to those who qualify.

PTMSC Cancellation Policy for Day Camp:

In the event that you can’t make it to camp, PTMSC is happy to refund 75% of the full cost of camp retaining a 25% cancelation fee provided the cancelation request is made at least 30 days prior to the start of camp. After that date, no refunds are made.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Connecting With Nature Through Art: Nature Journaling Tips for Beginners

Staff and volunteers head out on the beach to find subjects to draw and enjoy the sun
What is nature journaling and why would anyone want to do it? Last week, a group of volunteers at the Marine Science Center got a chance to connect with nature through our Brown Bag Lunch Volunteer Lecture Series on a rare sunny day out on the beach.

“Nature journaling is the process of keeping a place-based, personal record of events, observations, and experiences in the outdoors.” Kate Hofmann and Joe Passineau, A Nature Journaling Guide: Fostering a Naturalist Outlook

A nature journal is more than just a sketchbook, and the process of nature journaling goes beyond simply making art that is nice to look at. An important part of the process is making careful observations about what you are drawing, and asking questions about what you see. Nature journaling can be a great way to make deeper connections with the world around you, to become a better observer, and to learn more about plants, animals, geology, or any other natural science subject you're interested in. The best part, of course, is that it's lots of fun! You get to decide what approach to take, and what you want to get out of it.

“One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, ‘What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?” —Rachel Carson

After creating art my entire life, I have recently started exploring nature journaling as a way to improve my skills, productivity, and the level of meaning in my work. I shared my philosophy and a few practical tips to help volunteers get started. These tips are also great to keep in mind for anyone who wants to pick up a pencil and some paper and head outside, regardless of your skill level:

  1. Accuracy is more important than aesthetics 
  2. Record basic info like the date, location, and weather to help capture the moment. 
  3. Detailed labels and notes are key! 
  4. Don't be afraid to write on your drawings 
  5. Make it personal — add your thoughts and feelings 
  6. Respond to what you are seeing — ask questions 
  7. Try to fill a page each time you go out 
  8. Nature is all around you — journaling can happen anywhere!
Wendy and Katie investigate a bird on the beach
Once you are comfortable with a basic approach to journaling, there are many ways to extend the scope of your work and get even more value out of it. You can make a species study, examine the life cycle of a plant or animal in your backyard, examine the geology of a nearby bluff, create a diagram of an object or a map of the vegetation in your backyard, etc. In addition to providing valuable personal enrichment, nature journaling can also be a conservation or science-education tool. The possibilities are up to you!

Roger journals on the beach

CAROLYN WOODS is the Natural History Exhibit and Volunteer Educator and an AmeriCorps Member serving at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Sea Star Wasting Monitoring: Countdown to Low Tide

Most regular people spent the evening of Tuesday, November 24th preparing for Thanksgiving. People all over the country made pumpkin pies, baked casseroles, and picked squashes. Some people went on long runs to increase their appetites and others ate big meals to stretch their stomachs in preparation for the big night. However, a small, nerdy handful of people did none of those things. These intrepid adventurers got ready for Thanksgiving by braving the wind and the cold to count sea stars. I was lucky enough to be one of those nerds, and below is the story of that adventure.

The third Tuesday in November was the seasonal survey of our long-term sea star monitoring plots at Indian Island County Park. The PTMSC has monitored these plots four times a year ever since the 2013 Sea Star Wasting Disease outbreak. We are partners in a West Coast monitoring program coordinated by the Multi-Agency Rocky Intertidal Network (MARINe) designed to monitor the health of sea star populations and severity of disease outbreaks. 

Tuesday afternoon I packed a backpack with all the necessary supplies. Data sheets, check. Bleach solution, check. Tiny tape measures, check. As I gathered the equipment and chatted with volunteers, I felt the familiar buzz of fieldwork anticipation. At 3:30 pm, I was set to go. Only five hours and seven minutes until low tide. When searching for sea stars, it’s best to wait for the water level to drop.

I popped into the staff meeting and the mood was excited and interested. Everyone was anxious to hear how our local stars were faring. The wind picked up outside, but I didn’t think anything of it until the lights flickered and went out. And stayed out. 20 minutes later, I was still tapping my foot, willing the power to come back on. At the Marine Science Center, no power means no pumps. When the pumps go off, the fish and invertebrates in the aquarium get understandably unhappy. If the power stayed off, it would be time to bust out the backup generator for the second time this month. I already had a long night ahead of me and was not quite ready for that. Just before 5 pm, the lights flickered back on and I raced out to the Marine Exhibit. With the pumps whirring and the alarm reset, I was ready for dinner. Three hours and sixteen minutes until low tide.

Kitz, planning his next bit of mischief.
I walked in my front door to find my (saintly) housemate and AmeriCorps teammate, Zofia, cooking spaghetti for dinner. And there was my (notably less saintly) cat, playing with a toy in the living room. But on second glance, it wasn’t a toy. It was a real live mouse. After one failed attempt to sh(r)ew it out the door, I gave up. “Kitz,” I said sternly to my cat, “You brought that mouse into this house and it’s your job to take it out.” Then I stomped off to put on as many layers as I could. Arm movement comfortably impeded, I sat on the couch and tried not to imagine the next time I’d see my new furry housemate. Two hours and forty minutes to go.

The view between the boulders.
The wind buffeted the car on the ride to Indian Island. There were downed trees and branches all along the road. Earlier, I had consulted the other members of the Sea Star Monitoring Team and we had decided that the conditions might be uncomfortable but were unlikely to be dangerous. Carolyn, Zofia, Betsy, and I arrived at the pitch black Indian Island County Park where we met volunteers Dennis and Howard. Two hours until low tide and we needed to relocate the survey markers that denote the corners of our plot. 

Good thing we arrived early. It took forty-five minutes, but we managed to find all the requisite survey markers. We even had a few extra minutes to collect burrowing sea cucumbers. These orange, squishy creatures are aptly named. They burrow into sand and wedge in between boulders to protect themselves from wave shock and predation. They also happen to be the favorite snack of our Stimpson’s sun star and it was time to stock up for the winter. One hour and seven minutes.

Howard Teas teaches the group about mottled star identification.

Toni and Rich, two more dedicated citizen scientists arrived to help with the survey. Once they were suited up, we got rolling. In pairs, we surveyed parallel transects through our two adjacent plots. We needed to check in every crevice and under every rock. However, to reduce the negative impact of the monitoring on our study site, we do not turn over rocks in search of stars. Instead, we crawled along the ground, bent over rocks, lay on our bellies and struck all manner of undignified poses (we aim for every stone unturned)! We found a wonderful assortment of amazing organisms under those rocks —white sea cucumbers, coralline algae, and chitons galore — including a handful of healthy sea stars. As 8:37 pm came and went, the tide went slack at -1.48 feet, and we started to wrap up. Within our plots, we saw large and small healthy ochre, mottled, and six-rayed sea stars. We even saw a large blood star just outside of our study area. Each of them gave us a little bit of hope that sea star wasting might be waning once more. Although this disease will likely be present for years to come, it bolsters my optimism to see resiliency in this wild population we love so much. 

Here are a few photos from our survey: 

A healthy mottled star
A healthy blood star
A healthy ochre star
The crew surveys plot 2.
Zofia lies down for a better look at this ochre star. 

REBECCA MOSTOW is the Marine Exhibit Educator and an AmeriCorps member serving at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.