Monday, August 1, 2016

Learning From The Story of Hope

Can skeletons talk?

If someone had asked me this question before I came to the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, my answer would have been “of course not!” But after serving for ten months as the Natural History Exhibit AmeriCorps member at the Marine Science Center, my answer is a little different.

Of course, a skeleton doesn’t have vocal cords or a mouth to talk with, but there are other ways to make yourself heard.

"Hope" the female orca skeleton
Hope is a 22-foot-long female transient orca whale who stranded near Dungeness Spit in 2002. You can read more about her stranding and the events that followed on our website.

Through studying her bones and tissues, scientists learned more about the challenges faced by marine mammals living in the Salish Sea. In addition to an infection of brucellosis, Hope had the highest levels of PCBs (a toxic man-made contaminant) ever recorded in a marine mammal.

After her bones were carefully cleaned and articulated by a team of Marine Science Center staff, Hope was moved to her new home in our Natural History Exhibit. Since the exhibit opened in 2012, thousands of visitors and students have come to view the skeleton and learn about orcas.

Over the course of my time here, I’ve spent countless hours in the Natural History Exhibit. In that time I’ve seen Hope speak to students, tour groups, and families, including visitors from other towns, states, and even other countries. Hope speaks to people through the power of her story and the passion she inspires in our staff and volunteers.

Volunteer docents attend a training to learn about the Story of Hope

I have seen Hope’s story inspire people to think differently about their connection to marine ecosystems. For some, it’s the first time they’ve realized that human actions on land — even far inland — can have an effect on the ocean and the animals that live in it. For others who have seen orcas in the wild, it’s a chance to learn more about what it’s like to be a marine mammal in the Salish Sea. Hope’s story also speaks to the importance of continuing scientific research to foster a better understanding of ecosystems in the Salish Sea.

Hope has spoken to me about the positive impact that environmental education and scientific communication can have in connecting people with the world around them. Her story is an encouragement to keep working hard and to try to reach out to new people every day about their role in conserving the Salish Sea.

Can skeletons talk? I think the answer is yes, as long as we listen carefully.

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

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.

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