Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Coastal Explorers -- July 9-13

Attention parents and grandparents!

We’ve got the perfect summer activity for 8 and 9 year olds: PTMSC Coastal Explorer day camp, July 9-13.

During the 5-day session, campers will discover how the beach, pond, glacier, and forest ecosystems support life on the Salish Sea. 

Our skilled camp counselors will guide your child in exploring the vast and wondrous underwater world that our marine environment has to offer.

Camp is $285 ($10 off for PTMSC members).

Only a few spaces remain, so sign up today!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Best Tidepooling

When I started my service term at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, I found that I had been left a letter of advice from Brooke Askey, the AmeriCorps member in my position before me. It contained all sorts of wisdom and included one sentence in particular that intrigued me: “Salt Creek Recreation Area has the best tidepooling I’ve ever seen.”

My first view of the recreation area

So I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I have been looking forward to our Salt Creek Education Program with the Blue Heron Middle School 8th graders since my first day here.

PTMSC Education Coordinator Carolyn Woods showing off some seagrass

The Blue Heron students have been going to Salt Creek for many years now accompanied by PTMSC staff, AmeriCorps and volunteers to do a monitoring project that looks at how water quality relates to efforts to protect salmon habitat. They collect data at Salt Creek with their teachers and look at plants, animals and substrates in the intertidal zone with us.

Students surveying their plot

It was so fun to watch the students test out their scientific field surveying skills and discover their monitoring plots. Often when students first arrived at their plots they would proclaim with disappointment that there was nothing there. However, once they were encouraged to look more closely and move the top layer of seaweed, they were amazed at the beautiful world of bizarre life forms they uncovered.

We found tidepools full of juvenile sculpins darting between shadows, mating spotted leopard nudibranchs, vast swaths of mussels and barnacles, little shore crabs at every turn and the biggest gumboot chiton I’ve ever seen!

Volunteer Sue Long examining a large gumboot chiton

I can now say with confidence that Brooke was right and I will pass on this tidbit to the next AmeriCorps in my position: Salt Creek Recreation Area has the best tidepooling I’ve ever seen.

AmeriCorps James Swanson and I, clearly excited about the inter-tidal zone! 
Photo by Jo Ferrero 

Written by PTMSC AmeriCorps Citizen Science Educator Lily Evanston 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Earth Day Beach Clean Up: A Marine Debris Debrief

The beaches and waterways around Port Townsend look so beautiful and pristine, it is hard to believe they are facing some very serious threats from pollution. Especially in the Salish Sea, a unique binational estuary that is home to some very large metropolitan cities such as Seattle, Vancouver, Victoria, Tacoma, and smaller port towns such a Bellingham, Olympia, and Port Angeles.

The beaches in the Salish Sea are used for recreational, residential, commercial and industrial purposes but they are also home to many unique species.

Marine debris is one form of pollution that can impact human and wildlife health. Marine debris is defined as:

Any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment.
Marine debris may enter directly due to human action, or indirectly when washed out to sea via rivers, streams and storm drains. Marine debris has become one of the most pervasive pollution problems facing the world’s oceans and waterways.*

Some of the most commonly found marine debris items are:

On Earth Day weekend, 2018, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center partnered with Washington CoastSavers and the Port Townsend Food Coop to host a local beach cleanup to remove marine debris from our local beaches.

The day started early with volunteer divers Howard, Tim, and Tusker gearing up and heading out right under the PTMSC pier. They worked together to remove five abandoned crab pots tangled on the pier pilings. These pots were sitting on the bottom and posed a threat to animals living there (see upcoming post by AmeriCorps Emilee on derelict fishing gear).

Volunteer diver, Howard. Photo by W. Feltham
Volunteer divers, Tusker and Tim. Photo by W. Feltham

AmeriCorps member James (and PTMSC Aquarist Ali ) helped 
pull the pots up onto the pier once they were cut free. Photo by W. Feltham
Volunteers stopped by the Natural History Exhibit portico to sign in and get their beach assignments. Photo by W. Feltham

We had volunteers remove debris from North Beach, Chetzemoka, Downtown Port Townsend, Boat Haven, Fort Worden, Fort Flagler, and a few places in between.

Thanks so much to all of the PTMSC volunteers who enthusiastically 
ran the check-in station, helped sort debris, fill out data cards, and 
connect the clean up with the significance of caring for the Salish Sea.
What a great crew! Photo by W. Feltham

Beach Clean Up volunteers embark on their beach walk, scanning the ground for man-made debris while also enjoying the beautiful weekend day.
Photo by W. Feltham

Over 130 people volunteered their time to clean up Port Townsend’s beaches. Many were locals but we also had participants visiting from Seattle and elsewhere.

Photos by W. Feltham
Once volunteers returned with their loot, the debris was weighed and sorted. We threw on gloves and dug into the garbage to document and itemize our findings. We recycled cans and bottles and completed a Washington Coast Savers data sheet so we could track what we were seeing.

Photos by W. Feltham
We saw a lot of cigarette butts, straws, bottle lids, shotgun shells, plastic food wrappers, rope bits, and construction debris. All of this debris can be harmful to wildlife and humans.

Plastic is especially dangerous. As it sits in the water, it breaks into smaller and smaller pieces and begins to absorb pollutants in the water, becoming extra concentrated with contaminants. As it degrades, it becomes harder to remove. 

Plastic can also begin to take on a fishy smell as it sits and absorbs toxins and collects marine life. It is easily mistaken for prey and ingested by marine animals. Once consumed, this debris can cause illness from toxins or can block digestive pathways causing starvation. Plastic has been found in the bodies of small bait fish (a staple of marine food webs), seabirds, whales, and a plethora of other animals. It has even made its way into shellfish and fish markets for human consumption. Gross huh?

There is an unimaginable amount of marine debris in the world’s oceans and the Salish Sea. Beach clean ups are a great way to remove what washes ashore. But what if we could prevent human debris and plastics from entering our waterways in the first place? One way to do this is to stop supporting the creation of single-use plastic products by:
  • supporting reuse 
  • considering the lifespan of the products we are buying 
  • seeking out products with little or no packaging 
  • saying NO to straws 
  • considering where you are creating waste and try to reduce it 
Collectively, during this clean up, we removed 659 lbs of garbage from Port Townsend beaches!

Thank you so much for all of the attention to detail and love you brought with you to clean up our beaches! What a great way to appreciate this amazing ecosystem we all call home!

All photos by PTMSC volunteer (and past PTMSC Board President) Wendy Feltham -- Thank You Wendy!

* U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Report to Congress: Impacts and Control of Combined Sewer Overflows and Sanitary Sewer Overflows” August 26, 2004, (EPA Publication 833-R-04-001), http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/cso/cpolicy_report2004.cfm

Written by AmeriCorps member Mariah Vane

Friday, May 18, 2018

Spring Off The Pier

Coming from the Midwest, my experience of spring has been a bit different from the way it is out here on the Olympic Peninsula and the Salish Sea. I figured it would be fun to share a few of the new things I’ve encountered so far this spring at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.

Since spring is in the air, many animals have been feeling frisky. The kingfishers have been out and about chattering away with each other. I’ve even witnessed them diving for schooling fish under the pier a few times.

There is always something new to see when looking off the pier into the water below. Since April has started, this is especially true. Jellyfish and ctenophores are frequently visible. On first glance I only saw a few, however when I focused more I noticed hundreds of them. I have never seen so many live jellies in the wild before, so this really was an experience.

Ctenophore caught off the pier.

Each of these jellies was about the size of a quarter.

Large schools of sand lance, tube snout, and herring (known as bait balls) have been coming into the pier for its sheltered waters. These large schools sparkle and shine in the water due to their counter shading. Counter shading is a technique used to disorient their predators. It looks like an underwater light show! 

The plankton we’ve sampled in the last few weeks have had a lot more activity in them. Baby barnacles, crabs, copepods and more were common in our samples. This increase in plankton has to do with sunlight being stronger and nutrient availability greater than in the winter months.

Even the animals in the aquarium have got more energy. Over the winter, most of their appetites were reduced, but in the last couple of weeks everybody is eating a lot more food. Many have been spawning, including the invertebrates that are broadcast spawners. This means they release their sperm and eggs into the water, hoping they mingle and fertilize. This makes for some murky water conditions in the tanks when it happens.

We also have been collecting animals lately to add to the exhibits. Recently we netted some eelgrass right off the pier. Babies critters were everywhere: juvenile flounder, gunnels, crabs, and sculpins were coming up in the net. This was so exciting to see since eelgrass beds are nurseries for juvenile fish. That is one of the reasons we have two tanks dedicated to eelgrass because it is so important for the early life stages of certain species, especially salmon.

Two juvenile flounder hiding in the sand of the eel-grass tank.
(There is also an orange-tipped nudibranch hiding in the back)

There is too much for me to mention in one blog post, but not being from the Northwest and witnessing all this going on I can only think one thing: The Salish Sea is one productive body of water, especially this time of the year. The PTMSC Aquarium and pier here are the perfect place to showcase that richness!

Written by AmeriCorps Marine Science Educator James Swanson.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Explore the Salish Sea: Joe Gaydos Beach Walk and Book Signing

Image courtesy Little Bigfoot Books
Saturday, June 2

Orca Exhibit Classroom

Joe Gaydos, VMD, PhD
photo by Wendy Shattil
Lead scientist for the SeaDoc Society Joe Gaydos, co-author of "The Salish Sea, Jewel of the Pacific Northwest," wildlife veterinarian, self-proclaimed science nerd and wildlife fanatic has just published the much anticipated "Explore the Salish Sea, A Nature Guide for Kids."

In this special meet-the-author family event, Joe will be giving a short kid-friendly presentation in the Museum classroom based on his book before leading a beach walk here at Fort Worden. Copies of both books will be available in the Gift Shop, or bring your copy for a signature.

The talk is most suitable for children over 8 years of age. The program and beach walk are free with admission to PTMSC on a first-come, first-served basis. Space is limited.

Reservations are encouraged -- Click here to RSVP!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Low Tide Walks

Join us for a guided walk at low tide and meet animals living on the beach!

We have three dates for low tides walks this summer:
June 16
11:30am - 1pm

July 14
10:30am - 12:30pm

August 11
9:30 - 11:30am

Meet at the Museum portico entrance for a guided Low Tide Walk on the beach with PTMSC naturalists. Explore tide pools and learn about how marine organisms are adapted for the challenges of living in the intertidal zone. We recommend weather-appropriate clothing and shoes with good traction for moving around on wet slippery rocks.

$5 adults, $3 children over 5, includes admission to the Marine Science Center.
PTMSC members are free!

This event is family-friendly; children under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

RSVPs are appreciated but not required.
To RSVP, contact Carolyn at cwoods@ptmsc.org or 360-385-5582 x109

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Marine Mammal Stranding Network Profile: Casey Gluckman

Throughout the 2018 GiveBig campaign, we are sharing the inspiring stories of the PTMSC’s support for marine mammals. Plan your donation now to support place-based, people powered, hands-on learning at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. Knowledge is power, and together we can inspire even more people to conserve the Salish Sea!

PTMSC Marine Mammal Stranding Network volunteer Casey Gluckman.
 If you think Port Townsend Marine Science Center volunteer Casey Gluckman’s involvement with the Marine Mammal Stranding Network is a random act of serendipity, think again! Indeed, her story is one of a lifelong call to action to protect marine mammals and ocean habitat.

After completing her master’s degree in geology at the University of South Florida, Casey met her future husband, David. She says that partnership “redirected her life,” leading her to pursue a law degree.

Casey and David then opened their law firm, focusing on environmental and land planning law.

“We also lobbied the state legislature and state and regional agencies for environmental groups and public interest health care organizations,” Gluckman says.

Gluckman was soon offered a job as the director of the Division of Resource Management in the state Department of Natural Resources. Among her many responsibilities was oversight of the state manatee protection program.

“I learned a lot about marine mammals and the coordination between federal, state and local governments, plus encouraging volunteer efforts by corporations and individuals,” Gluckman explains.

When the often-searing heat of Florida summers posed a health challenge, the Gluckmans packed up and headed north to the Olympic Peninsula, where they had visited several times.

Once settled, they began to pursue volunteer opportunities.

Marine Mammal Stranding Network volunteer Casey Gluckman on the
beach near the Port Townsend Marine Science Center's Marine Exhibit.
“Marine mammals continue to draw me, so working with the stranding program was a natural choice,” Gluckman says.

It has been 10 years since Gluckman joined the PTMSC’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network volunteer corps. Her only regret is that she cannot devote more time to the effort.

Indeed, ask MMSN volunteers why they do what they do, and a common theme begins to emerge.

Gluckman explains: “Every stranding is a different story. Some are hard work, some are funny, some are sad. But each presents a teaching and a learning opportunity.”

Indeed, anyone who has ever gazed into the inky eyes of a harbor seal pup knows it’s often a case of love at first sight. They are among the most common of the marine mammals in the Salish Sea. But every hour spent guarding these precious pups is also an hour of unparalleled first-hand observation. In fact, many of the MMSN efforts relate directly to protecting seal pups during the busy summer tourist season. 
Harbor Seal Pup #007 stranded. Photo courtesy of Michael Tarachow

“The harbor seal pups present a great opportunity to interact with and educate the public while I keep learning,“ Gluckman says. “Last summer, a mom left her seal pup on the beach by the pier to the PTMSC marine exhibit during one of the busiest weekends of the summer. The little one created a ‘circus,’ interrupting many swimmers, walkers and boaters, especially when it decided to nap on the boat ramp!”

Several years ago, two several-hundred-pound elephant seals chose the downtown Port Townsend beachfront as their molting spot. 

“They kept us hopping,” remembers Gluckman, “especially the one that went for a stroll in the middle of Water Street and had to be ‘encouraged’ back to the beach!”

Northern elephant seal, "Buddy," in 2013, one day after hauling out to molt.

When asked why she thinks people love volunteering for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, Gluckman answers without hesitation: “Who wouldn’t want to spend a couple of hours enjoying the beach while helping marine mammals at the same time!”

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Marine Exhibit Docent Training (2 Sessions)


Saturday, May 12
9 am - Noon (Part 1)

Thursday, May 17
6 - 8pm (Part 2)

Aquarium Classroom

Would you like to be a volunteer with the Marine Science Center? Have you been wondering how you can share your Salish Sea enthusiasm with our visitors this summer? It's time to be a Docent in the Aquarium. Learn about local marine animals and their nearshore habitats in the aquarium and touch-able tide pools, explore ways to engage visitors of all ages, and be an ambassador for the work of the PTMSC. 

Part 1: Focusing on the science content, this session is for new Docents and returning Docents who may have missed earlier training.

Part 2: Focusing on exhibit interpretation and the nuts and bolts of docenting. Required for all new Docents, current Docents welcome.

The exhibit is open from 12-5 pm until Memorial Day. We fill 4 shifts on each day: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 12-2:30 pm and 2:30-5 pm.

Beginning Memorial Day we are open Wed.-Mon. (closed Tuesdays) from 11am - 5pm. At that point we need to fill 24 slots each week in the Aquarium alone.

For more information or to sign up, contact volunteer@ptmsc.org.

Marine Mammal Stranding Network Responder Training

photo by Steve Jurvetson, Flickr
Two Free Trainings:

Wednesday, May 9th
1 - 4 p.m. Museum,
Port Townsend Marine
Science Center

Tuesday, May 29th
2 - 5 p.m.
Laurel B Johnson
Community Center,

Please join us to learn about local marine mammals, why they strand, and the amazing network of volunteers that come to their aid, collecting data and monitoring their health. Become part of our network and receive training on stranding response. No previous knowledge of marine mammals or data collection required.

Please contact Mariah Vane 360.385.5582 ext. 116 or mvane@ptmsc.org with questions or to register.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s marine mammal programs in 2018

Throughout the 2018 GiveBig campaign, we are sharing the inspiring stories of the PTMSC’s support for marine mammals. Plan your donation now to support place-based, people powered, hands-on learning at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. Knowledge is power, and together we can inspire even more people to conserve the Salish Sea!

Libby Palmer and Judy D'Amore at the Aquarium, circa 1983.
Since its founding in 1982 by Judy D’Amore and Libby Palmer, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center has been actively involved with the creation of programs that foster the health and well-being of marine mammals. In 2018, that commitment takes many forms.

Perhaps the best-known program supported by the PTMSC is the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration following the passage of the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, the MMSN program is robust and boasts support from many citizen scientists.

The PTMSC-supported MMSN covers over 100 miles of Washington shoreline from Brinnon to Diamond Point. A stranded marine mammal may be dead onshore or floating in the water, alive but injured or unable to return the water, or alive but unable to return to its natural habitat without assistance. Staff and volunteers respond to stranding reports phoned in to a hotline, keeping shoreline users at a safe distance and collecting data from dead animals. 

Statistics for 2017 are still being assembled but the network received 141 calls in 2016, and a record of 192 calls in 2014. (The number of calls does not match the number of strandings because multiple reports can come in for one stranded animal.) The highest volume of calls occurs during July and August. Harbor seals account for approximately 3/4 of reported strandings and, of those, 70 percent are seal pups. (In the wild, only 50 percent of harbor seal pups survive.) More information is available here.

The PTMSC’s established role and capacity in the MMSN was responsible for the organization’s involvement in the 2016 effort to recover the skeleton of a female gray whale. PTMSC and AmeriCorps staff and a number of volunteers assisted in the subsequent necropsy and prepared the carcass for controlled decomposition. The skeleton will be articulated for educational use in PTMSC classes and exhibits, providing insights into the environmental threats affecting gray whales. 

PTMSC staff, AmeriCorps and volunteers hard at work preparing the gray whale carcass. 

Harbor porpoise monitoring is another citizen science program supported at the PTMSC. The second smallest porpoise in the world, harbor porpoises were once considered the most commonly spotted cetacean in Puget Sound. Their numbers dropped dramatically and by 1970 the species had all but disappeared. In 2015-16, the PTMSC teamed up with the Pacific Biodiversity Institute for an acoustic monitoring study, deploying a crew of volunteers to count the number of harbor porpoises and boats seen off of the Fort Worden pier. Spotting data is currently being correlated to acoustic data and, while final results are not yet available, preliminary findings suggest that fewer harbor porpoises are observed when motorized boat traffic is present. 

Harbor porpoise monitoring

The PTMSC maintains an active education effort about marine mammals, starting with its website where seals, sea lions, porpoises, whales and otters are described. And the “Toxics Project” provides online education and resources explaining how chemicals, some of which have been banned over 30 years, are still present in the marine environment and causing great harm, particularly to apex predators. The Story of Hope, a female orca whose articulated skeleton now hangs in the Museum, was the genesis for this project.

Classroom instruction and field observation are also taught in PTMSC school programs and at youth summer camps.

“Introduction to Marine Mammals” is a 90-minute program offered to youths in 4th grade and above (including adults). The class defines characteristics of marine mammals and investigates marine adaptations using photos, videos, bones, and pelts. Working in small groups, participants examine, make observations and sketch multiple marine mammal skulls.

The “Gray Whale” class, offered to the same age groups, teaches students about the biology and adaptations of gray whales. Participants learn about the gray whale’s life cycle, natural history, feeding behavior and migration route north and south along the West Coast. Students also assemble the complete skeleton of a juvenile gray whale recovered by PTMSC volunteers in 1999.  

PTMSC lecture-series speaker Dave Bonnett,
"The Sonic World of the Amazonian Pink Dolphin."
The PTMSC lecture series, “The Future of Oceans,” offered in the fall and winter, also advances marine mammal education in the community. During the 2017-18 season, attendees learned about “The Sonic World of the Amazonian Pink Dolphin.”

Finally, while wildlife cruises to the federal Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge spotlight breeding populations of seabirds and shorebirds, it is common for participants to view elephant seals and sea lions basking on the island’s shoreline. Harbor seals also depend upon the island for a pupping and rest area. Naturalists who accompany the cruises provide expert commentary on the habits of these marine mammals and their importance on the island’s ecosystem. 

Wildlife cruises to Protection Island offered in partnership with Puget Sound Express.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Citizen Science Day Success

April 14 was Citizen Science Day. It was a day to celebrate all things citizen science, and this year, we at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center decided to celebrate with an iNaturalist BioBlitz at Fort Worden State Park.

Photo by Wendy Feltham 

iNaturalist is a social network for naturalists, a crowdsourced species identification system and an organism occurrence recording tool. It is a great application that can be used for citizen science projects, to generate species guides, and to help people learn more about -- and connect to -- the natural life they encounter every day.

Photo by Wendy Feltham 

A BioBlitz is an intensive 24-hour study of biodiversity in a specific location. On Citizen Science Day, we spent the day outside around Fort Worden State Park looking for and recording birds, mammals, fish, invertebrates, trees, flowers, grasses and more.

Photo by Wendy Feltham 

We invited the community to come join us, and about 40 people showed up to the event. For folks that couldn’t make it out in person, we also needed help identifying the species we observed. So far, 65 people have helped us identify our species online on iNaturalist. We have made 713 observations including 178 different species. The species number will continue to change as additional IDs are made.

Photo by Wendy Feltham 

As the event organizer, one of my goals for the event was engaging new people who may not have an interest or the time to be involved in our ongoing citizen science projects. With this in mind, I reached out to a few high school groups.

Brandi Hageman, a science teacher at Port Townsend High School, encouraged her students to participate in our BioBlitz and 26 of those students ended up attending. I was very pleased with this turn out because I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to engage high school students in citizen science during my time as the AmeriCorps Citizen Science Educator.

Some of our participants brought bags to get garbage off the beach
Photo by Wendy Feltham 

Citizen science is an empowering experience and an iNaturalist BioBlitz is an excellent activity for people of all ages. It is an appealing excuse to look closer at the natural life around us and can hold the attention of folks who are socially and/or technologically oriented.

Photo by Wendy Feltham 

Personally, the BioBlitz helped me learn a lot about the plants and animals around Fort Worden, including afterwards while looking at all the organisms that were observed. If you are interested in learning more about what we found, you can check out our project page at

One of the special things participants observed were these by-the-wind sailors 
Photo by Betsy Carlson
Now that Fort Worden is a designated place on iNaturalist, we can continue to add to the species guide we began on Citizen Science Day.  So, it’s not too late to create an account and get out there and make some observations yourself!

Written by PTMSC AmeriCorps Citizen Science Educator Lily Evanston 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Magnificence of Marine Mammals, Part 2

Throughout the 2018 GiveBig campaign, we are sharing the inspiring stories of the PTMSC’s support for marine mammals. Plan your donation now to support place-based, people powered, hands-on learning at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. Knowledge is power, and together we can inspire even more people to conserve the Salish Sea! Read Part 1 here.

Throughout the 1990s, whales generated increasing interest among the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s members and supporters. In the Fall 1997 Octopress newsletter, docent Chuck Louch contributed a fascinating account of humpback whales lunge feeding in Frederick Sound during a boating trip he took along Alaska's Inland Passage. One year later, Louch wrote an informative essay about the echolation patterns of resident and transient orcas.

Echolation patterns of resident and transient orcas,
Fall 1998 Octopress

In the Fall 1999 Octopress, PTMSC Volunteer Coordinator Anna Bachmann described the organization’s first foray into flensing (the practice of removing tissue from the skeleton of a carcass). A deceased 25-foot gray whale had washed ashore on a beach facing Protection Island on July 5. It was one of dozens of gray whales that washed up on Puget Sound beaches that summer for reasons unknown.

On Aug. 8, with the permission and supervision of the appropriate state and federal agencies, a crew of 20 volunteers, swathed in rubber gear and armed with an assortment of carving knives -- even a machete -- made their way to the young whale's remains. Their mission was to remove and bag up all the bones for further cleaning. The whale was so advanced in its decay that the bones were almost falling out and, in just five hours, the primary job was done.
The bones were then sown into net bags and submerged to allow shrimp, crab and other detritus eaters to clean the remaining flesh away. After coating the bones in a protective “glue,” they became an integral part of the PTMSC’s classroom display in the Museum, where they are still used today in for education purposes.

During the 2012 rollout of “The Story of Hope,”described in Part 1 of this blog, the PTMSC launched “Whales of the Salish Sea,” a 3-day education program piloted with Port Townsend School District 5th graders in 2011, and still offered today as part of the Maritime Discovery Schools initiative. The Winter 2012-13 Octopress explained:

Students were immersed in orca education for three days, learning about plankton, marine food webs, orca communities, marine mammals, and more. Students engaged in classes which pushed them to think differently, ask questions, and form conclusions, much like real scientists. In the program’s final day, students used forensic techniques to determine the demise of PTMSC’s orca “Hope” and participated in a mock town hall meeting about tidal turbines in Admiralty Inlet... The experience equips students to participate in important decisions about their local environment and seek careers in science fields.

Winter 2012-13 Octopress

In that same issue, Octopress editors took pride in announcing that, for the seventh year, the “Free Science Classes” program would be offered to cash-strapped schools to bring a total of over 700 students to thePTMSC for hands-on, interactive, place-based science education to help students meet the state’s learning standards. The class topics in 2012-3, thanks to generous donors and sponsors, were: “Marine Mammals: Form, Function and Food” and “The Diverse Ecosystems of the Salish Sea.”

If it seems the PTMSC cannot get enough of whales, look no further for validation than the most recent skeleton articulation project on tap. In April 2016, a juvenile female gray whale in distress was repeatedly sighted in central Puget Sound and eventually died. The whale’s carcass was towed to a site on Indian Island provided by the U.S. Navy. PTMSC and AmeriCorps staff and a number of volunteers assisted in the subsequent necropsy and prepared the carcass for controlled decomposition. The PTMSC plans to articulate the skeleton for educational use in its classes and exhibits, providing insights into the environmental threats affecting gray whales.

2016 Gray Whale Project
Today, ocean debris – particularly plastic – is a major focus of marine conservation efforts around the world. PTMSC was a front-runner in this effort, already calling out this emerging issue, as noted in the Spring-Summer 1988 Octopress edition. Titled “Trash in the Ocean,” the feature said:

The litter of plastic trash, becoming commonplace on even our most remote beaches, poses a serious threat to wildlife, which fortunately is gaining some much-needed attention. Heartbreaking images of birds and mammals entangled in our familiar misplaced trash are beginning to reach us all, reminding us of the tragic effects of our society's carelessness with its wastes... Our recent love affair with cheap, convenient, non-recyclable products has had enormous unseen costs, only one of which is the problem of the pollution of the marine environment.

The newsletter noted that nearby residents are already taking positive steps.

Locally, the City of Port Townsend and Jefferson County sponsored a Spring Clean-up Rally from April 16-31st. Volunteers of all ages from numerous community groups hit the roads, parks and beaches with trash bags, in what will hopefully become a yearly event.

Indeed, the event is now part of the annual Port Townsend Earth Day Beach Clean Up, sponsored by the PTMSC and Washington Coastsavers in support of International Coastal Clean-Up Day.

Harbor seals and elephant seals were the focus of a newsletter feature written by Addington-MacDonald in the Summer 1995 Octopress. Noting that harbor seals are year-round residents of the Salish Sea, she wrote:

Last year, however, we were visited by two migrating Northern Elephant seals... Elephant seals molt every summer. They haul out (come ashore) to shed skin and fur in patches. They do not eat during the molting, which takes about three weeks. The ill look is normal. They rest on shore and cool off in water. Water quality and biological conditions may cause a molting Elephant seal to haul out in unusual places. It was remarkable to see one hauled out at Ft. Worden since they generally prefer more remote islands and the outer coast. A very young seal, like the one we observed molting here, may not know the rules yet.

Northern elephant seal, "Buddy." 

While unusual, there would be more opportunities in the coming years to educate Port Townsend’s residents about elephant seals. Danae Presler, the AmeriCorps MMSN educator working at PTMSC in the spring of 2013, described how residents of a downtown apartment complex were startled to find a 400-pound seal on their back patio, in this PTMSC blog posting.

The episode was also artfully documented in the video “Port Townsend Marine Science Center - The Link to Action.”