Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Spring has Sprung!

Some people look for the first daffodil blossom. Others listen for bird song, count the hours of sunlight, or await the word of a clairvoyant rodent. Here at the Marine Science Center, we use other markers to note the beginning of spring.

These days, the winds are high but the clouds break once a day, letting us know that the seasons are changing. We hear the twittering of bald eagle pairs above the Marine Exhibit and note the movements of sanderling flocks. We watch the snow in the mountains, hoping it’ll stick around. The schools of juvenile tubesnout are back and the water is clear enough to see the river otters chasing these shimmering fish around the pilings of our pier.

The first animals to lay eggs in the Marine Exhibit were the checkered hairy snails. These spikey kleptoparasites laid tens of packets filled with hundreds of tiny, yellow eggs. Soon afterward, the Marine Exhibit was awash in new life. The anemones started to spawn; tan eggs released by the thousands. The next day I found egg ribbons from the bushy-backed nudibranchs and an egg sponge attached to the belly of a pygmy rock crab. Even the spaghetti worms are feeling the pull of the warm water! Spaghetti worm eggs are Pepto-Bismol pink and were released in gooey pulses. There are also mystery eggs galore in our tanks! Puddles of peach-colored spawn in the touch tanks, green egg spirals in a wall tank, and water that teams with twitchy larvae growing into who-knows-what.

A few signs of spring: Spaghetti worm eggs, daffodil blossoms, a rough-skinned newt,
and three checkered hairy snails with eggs. 

For the AmeriCorps team, the coming of spring means it’s time to wrap up our winter projects. Zofia has finished organizing the Citizen Science data and Carolyn is adding the final touches to some spiffy new content for the Natural History Exhibit. We have all taught our last Free Science Classes, which Katie gracefully and efficiently coordinated. And I am done buffing. Buffing is the tedious process of cleaning, removing scratches, and polishing our large, acrylic tanks. Over the course of three months, the tanks have gone from clear-as-mud to shining-like-diamonds and now they are ready to house a new batch of marine animals (not including a folded up AmeriCorps member) and ready to welcome visitors once again for Spring Hours this Friday at noon!

All the evidence points to one conclusion: Spring has sprung! It is a delight to serve at a site that encourages such a close connection between individuals and the natural world around them. As I continue to work in outreach and education, I aim to inspire conservation and increase a sense of connection between the people and the environment I serve. And every sunny day, I feel that sense of stewardship and interconnectedness growing within myself as well.

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

The Marine Exhibit opens this Friday for Spring Hours! Come say hello to the resident animals, and get ready to meet some brand-new critters! The exhibits are open Friday-Sunday, 12-5 pm.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Tides of March

The Annual Tides of March Auction is one of the highlights of the year for us at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center (PTMSC). It's an intense amount of hard work — coordinating logistics, soliciting donations from local businesses and community members, and organizing volunteers — but always deeply worth it.

On Saturday March 12, all those months of hard work finally paid off. I love the excitement that fills the air as the final preparations are completed; the last sea-star napkin is set just right, the stage lights are up and ready, and the guests begin funneling through the doors in their own whirl of exhilaration towards the registration table.

Greeting old friends I haven't seen in a while, with bright smiles and warm hugs, is one of the best parts of working at the Marine Science Center. The people make this event what it is — the people who give their time and money to support their values, showing their dedication to our mission of inspiring conservation of the Salish Sea — they are the ones who inspire me.

This year was simply amazing. It was our second year coming back "home" to the Fort Worden Commons, which continues to prove itself the right choice. Guests were delighted with a scrumptious dinner of smoked salmon pasta or a mushroom lentil dish created by Fort Worden Catering.

The items up for bid ranged from trips to the Caribbean and bottles of wine donated by our Board Members, to beautiful handcrafted items such as quilts and jewelry.

The room was decorated beautifully with green and blue ceiling lights, fishbowl centerpieces with floating candles, and napkins folded into the shape of sea stars, transforming the room into an "Undersea Spree."

Oh, and the desserts! They were wonderful! The Dessert Dash was a mad rush to get the "best" desserts even though every single one was incredible. (The chocolate raspberry cheesecake was my personal favorite.)

Continuing the tradition, our AmeriCorps team also developed an awesome opening skit to kick-off the live auction. In this skit, they transformed themselves into creatures from the Marine Exhibit, and wanting to experience freedom, they escaped from the tanks away from the AmeriCorps members (as portrayed by yours truly, and Maintenance Coordinator, Phil Dinsmore), only to discover their dream was not as they hoped. The Salish Sea was filled with toxic chemicals, plastics, and Canadian poop (eh?), and they decided their rightful place was back in the exhibit to educate visitors about protecting the environment.

The Make-a-Difference portion of the evening is always a humbling, heartfelt experience, in which two outstanding youth members of our community share stories of their involvement with PTMSC. Linnea Harrington, grand-niece of the late Eric Harrington, shined as she told the story of her parents meeting at PTMSC, forming her connection and desire to learn right there from the start. And Tusker Behrenfeld delighted us with humorous stories of his love for grunt sculpins and seeing orcas up close.

Stories like theirs are the reasons we do what we do; these children are the future, and they have the power to make change. That night, as part of Make-a-Difference, we raised an astonishing $60,000 to continue supporting our education programs (a 50% increase over last year!). Those two students deserved their standing ovation!

Overall, it was an incredible night. The combined efforts of all our amazing staff and volunteers helped us make this year a record-breaking success. Our grand total reached $126,000, shattering our previous record by 14%! Wow!

We could not have done it without the support of our incredible PTMSC community. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, to our dedicated volunteers (in no particular order):
Pete & Alexandra ter Horst, Alan Rammer, Anne Murphy, Ashley MacKenzie, Kate Marshall, Lucas Hart, Wilma Hackman, Carla Vander Ven, Betty Petrie, Jan Mier, Sally Davis, Claude Manning, Davis Fogerty, Megan Veley, Diane Baxter, Wendy Nordquist, Judy D'Amore, Gabriele Sanchez, Kateri Schmerler, Nan Toby Tyrell, Katherine Jensen, Rob Wamstad, Dan & Soozie Darrow, Megan Addison, Nathan Trimble, Noreen Parks, Patrick Colleran, Sue Long, Tina Scheufler, Nancy Jamieson, Linda Heuertz, Jenifer DeWolf, Mallory Wilmot, Linda Martin, and Gordon James.

Check out all the photos from the evening on Flickr!


Photos by Amy Johnson 

AMY JOHNSON is the Volunteer Coordinator at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. Interested in volunteering? Learn how you can get involved!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Washington SeaGrant Green Crab Team

If we haven't had the opportunity to talk about my research interests, you may not know that I have a particular affinity for invasion ecology. (Fun fact: so does Rebecca, who will be starting work on her PhD in invasion ecology at Oregon State University this fall! CONGRATS SMARTY PANTS!)

Last month, Rebecca and I attended a mini seminar here at the Marine Science Center on a new citizen science project, which studies the invasive European green crab (Carcinus maenas).

Washington SeaGrant (WSG) coordinates the "Crab Team", a volunteer-based early detection and monitoring program to improve our understanding of native salt-marsh and pocket-estuary organisms, and how they could be affected by green crabs. 

Tomorrow, Friday, March 18, 9 am - 3 pm, WSG will be at the Northwest Maritime Center for a volunteer training workshop. If you want to join the Crab Team register for the FREE training. If you are simply interested in learning more information about the project, visit the Crab Team website to learn some facts about the green crab.

We hope to see you tomorrow at the Northwest Maritime Center for the training.

ZOFIA KNOREK is the Citizen Science Educator and an AmeriCorps Member at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Low Tide Walk at Night

As a marine educator who employs mostly inquiry-based curricula, I ask a lot of questions. Paired with my natural draw toward scientific reasoning, it turns out I spend the majority of my time wondering. The ocean is my greatest source of wonder, and therefore, inspiration.

What's going on down there, anyway?

Thankful for my fellow Bendy Bunch partners-in-adventure! 
During the first half of my service term, I've learned so much — from how to decipher the mood of invertebrates to how to most effectively nurture the curiosity of nine-year-old students. However, throughout my educational career, if there's one thing I've learned, it's that there is an arduous amount of information I don't know, and likely will never know simply because I don't have the capacity to know it. From this idea stems my inherent joy for teaching. Over the past five months, I've teamed up with Port Townsend Marine Science Center (PTMSC) volunteers, partners, visitors, and staff in numerous capacities in an attempt to reveal a truth or two. My favorite way to go about answering this existential ecological question is to go out and explore!

Did you know that over half of the American population lives within 50 miles of the ocean? As Port Townsend residents, we are lucky enough to live directly on the coast. Much of our local peninsular coast is also relatively undeveloped, providing us with infinite opportunities to grow as naturalists by getting outside. It is easy to get caught up in the routine hustle and bustle of life and forget that we are continually surrounded by endless natural beauty; of this, I am sometimes certainly guilty. Every time I enter the wilderness, I am re-shocked by the sheer existence of it all. Regardless of whether or not I am physically or emotionally present, Nature steadfastly is (though in an increasingly industrialized world, this will soon be an even more distant reality, but that's for another blog post).

Lest we forget to treasure what lies below our flippers and boots.
Pictured: one of the two blood stars that were spotted during the walk.
We were thrilled to only see healthy sea stars!
Despite such a large proportion of our fellow humans living in such close proximity to the ocean, most don't often have the opportunity to directly interact with ocean inhabitants. To some extent, the ocean is intrinsically difficult and dangerous to access and explore. Other factors limit, though, propel the inaccessibility: socioeconomic standing, physical ability, culture, etc. At PTMSC, we use the Marine Exhibit as an vector for safe human-ocean interaction. For this ability, I consider us most fortunate. However, there's something exceedingly special about physically immersing ourselves in a marine habitat. The intertidal zone confers us with the ability to do just this — explore an exposed ocean. Throughout the year, PTMSC offers Low Tide Walks in an effort to foster this type of immersion. These programs are equitable — free and open to the public. By offering these types of hands-on learning experiences, we empower our neighbors and friends with the ability to be informed citizens, agents of change, and stewards of our shared natural world.

Needless to say, it was inspiring have 40 people brave a particularly chilly February evening in the pouring rain for PTMSC's first Low Tide Walk at Night of 2016 at North Beach.
Katie Conroy, our Marine Mammal Stranding Network AmeriCorps,
points out a sculpin to a low tide walker.

Why explore the intertidal zone at night?

When we see them at low tide, many organisms look drastically different than they do underwater. At night, though, we can see some animals that we wouldn't normally see during the day at all because they are nocturnal, or spend the daylight hours in deeper ocean zones. Moreover, some animals like crabs become more active during the night because they are less likely to be eaten by a predator. Thus, tide pooling at night allows people to see animals or behaviors they might literally never see otherwise.

There are few things as fitting to illustrate the importance of being physically present and always open to discovery as nighttime tidepooling. Something about stumbling around with flashlights in the dark makes every animal, from anemone to sculpin, a treasured find.

A beautiful sculpin. Sculpins belong to
the diverse Family Cottidae, which has 200 species in Puget Sound alone!
I spotted a bonus science angel(!): Rebeccca, our Marine Exhibit
AmeriCorps and naturalist extraordinaire, looks at a sample of seawater
swarming with zooplankton.

ZOFIA KNOREK is the Citizen Science Educator and an AmeriCorps Member at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Free Science Classes

At the beginning of November, I had my first meeting to begin organizing the 8th annual Free Science Classes. I had heard a lot about this program, but it seemed always so far in the future. Finally the day to start planning arrived, so I jumped right in.

Free Science Class is a program started to provide schools that have a large percentage of their students on free or reduced-cost lunches the opportunity to learn about marine biology outside of their classroom. After months of emails, organizing with schools, and making sure everything was up to date, the day has finally arrived to start teaching.

From January 25 through February 26, my fellow AmeriCorps members and I taught over 600 third- and fourth-grade students about crabs and the marine birds of the Puget Sound. For children of such a young age, I was very surprised and impressed by how much these students already knew. Without any prompting, they brought up words, like "exoskeleton," that I did not learn about until college. I found there were few times that my questions went unanswered and many times students wanted to share a personal story or just about any thought that ran through their head. “I wish I could unzip MY spine and just walk backward out of it! I would leave my old body there, just like the crab," said one student. What was most memorable was when the children’s eyes grew wide with excitement as they learned something new, or when they could not control their embarrassed laughter as I told them a gross-but-cool fact about the creatures we were studying (one of my favorite things to do).

We teach the inquiry method, asking more open ended questions instead of overloading with facts. When a child learns this way, not only do they retain the material better, but it teaches them to think and figure things out on their own. I have been teaching in this style for almost two years now and it is always so wonderful to see that moment when a student connects the dots. It is also satisfying and very amusing when they continue to figure things out on their own. We had one student whose interaction with one of our volunteers was an example of a child working things out on his own, but also of some of the great quotes one hears when teaching.

This was during our class on crabs, when the students explore the touch tanks to find all the different crabs we have — a crabenger hunt as I like to call it. One child took it upon himself to identify some of our other animals in the tanks based off of the interpretive signs lining the exhibit. The child then approached our volunteer:

Child: "Can you eat the sea peach?"
Volunteer: "You can, but it wouldn’t taste like a peach. But you know, some people eat sea cucumbers." (points at sea cucumber close by)
Child: "Yeah, but I bet it doesn’t taste like a cucumber."

By the end of the program, I was able to notice a difference not only in myself as a teacher, but in the other AmeriCorps members as well. With each class, our confidence in ourselves as teachers grew. We have become more comfortable in front of a classroom and are now ready for all the teaching opportunities that lie ahead.

This has been an amazing journey for all of us, but we would never have been able to accomplish such a successful program without the help of our volunteers! Over the course of five weeks, we had over 600 students from 13 different schools walk through our doors. Our 10 wonderful volunteers put in a total of 162 hours to help with everything from setting up the classroom to breaking it down at the end of the day. We wouldn't have been able to do it without you guys! 

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

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

How to tell the difference between California Sea Lions and Steller Sea Lions

California Sea Lion

Steller Sea Lion
Males: 800lbs Females: 250lbs
Males: 2200lbs Females: 800lbs
Males: 8ft Females: 5ft
Males: 8-11ft Females:6-7ft
Dark brown coat. Females and juveniles may have a lighter coat. Beige or brown whiskers
Light tan to gold or reddish brown. No markings, pale whiskers.
Vancouver Island, BC to Southern tip of Baja California
Steller sea lions are found in coastal waters of the North Pacific Ocean from Japan to central California.
California sea lions may hunt continuously for up to 30 hours, with each dive lasting three to five minutes.
Fun Fact
Steller Sea Lions swallow stones up to 12 cm—and no one knows why!

Male California Sea Lion 

California Sea Lion:

  • visible sagital crest
  • large, wing like fore flippers
  • short hairs all over body
  • California Sea Lion Calls (From Macaulay Library at Cornell University)

Male Steller Sea Lion

Male Steller Sea Lion:
  • blunt face and boxy, bear like head
  • no visible sagital crest 
  • bulky build
  • very thick neck
  • thick coat of hair on neck
  • Steller Sea Lion Calls (From Marine Mammal Center)

In the News: 

Researchers are breaking down the science behind how a Sea Lion propels itself in an effort to apply similar mechanics to an underwater robot. After hundreds of hours of video the researchers at George Washington University noticed a distinct propulsion system. "First the animal collects water in its fore flippers, and then quickly scoops the water in toward its body. Then it claps its flippers against its torso, pushing the water toward its rear flippers and propelling it forward in a glide."

also in the news:

The other week, a Sea Lion pup was found sleeping in the booth of a popular seaside restaurant in San Diego! I guess the food was so good, he didn't want to leave.

Did you know: 

Sea lions are the first non-human mammal that we know of that has the ability to keep a beat, suggesting that rhythm may be more common in the animal kingdom than we thought.

And remember!!

If you see a stranded marine mammal, call the PTMSC Marine Mammal Hotline
360.585.5582 x 103

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