Monday, May 13, 2019

Apply Now for 2019 PTMSC Anne Murphy Ocean Steward Scholarship

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center is pleased to announce the annual $1,500 Anne Murphy Ocean Stewardship scholarship for a graduating East Jefferson county senior. 
Applicants should be graduating seniors from a public or private school, or a home-schooled student who expects to complete high school level instruction by June 2019.  The person who wins this scholarship will be selected on the basis of his or her demonstrated interest in science and the environment. Having volunteered on behalf of education about or conservation of the Salish Sea is especially desirable, particularly at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. The scholarship may be used for tuition, books, or living expenses while pursuing higher education.

To apply for the scholarship, please go to and search for Anne Murphy Ocean Stewards Scholarship. Questions, please contact Liesl Slabaugh, Development and Marketing Director, at or 385-5582 x101.

Applications are due by May 22, 2019. The winner will be selected and notified by May 30, 2019.  The award will be given at the PTMSC Annual Meeting on Tuesday, July 9th.

Friday, May 10, 2019

UPDATED May 9! Two PTMSC volunteers join a NOAA Ecosystem Assessment Cruise

PTMSC volunteers Frank Handler and Melody Stewart were selected for an 11-day voyage aboard a NOAA research vessel to collect samples for marine toxins. Frank's periodic messages and smart phone images appear below, scroll to the bottom for the latest!

“I’ve always wanted to be a marine biologist,” Frank Handler once told his friend, Port Townsend Marine Science Center Citizen Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson. And yet his professional pathway took him elsewhere.
PTMSC voliunteer Frank Handler

Now, retired, Frank has the chance to fulfill a life-long dream. With security clearances, medical office approvals and bags packed, Frank and his neighbor, PTMSC volunteer Melody Stewart, arrived in Newport, Ore., on April 28 to start an 11-day voyage aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research vessel, Bell M. Shimada.

Frank and Melody will be alternating 12-hour shifts on the state-of-the-art fisheries survey vessel, collecting samples for marine toxin and harmful algal species analysis during the 2019 Northern California Current Ecosystem Assessment Cruise.

The trip came together quickly.

In March 2019, the Northwest Fisheries Science Center Harmful Algal Bloom team sent out a request for volunteers to participate in a series of cruises along the Washington, Oregon and California coastlines. The request was shared with PTMSC SoundToxins volunteers.

Melody and Frank, prepping for departure
For Melody and Frank, it was a perfect fit. Both have spent many hours looking through a microscope as part of their volunteer work with the SoundToxins project. They are skilled with plankton nets and have practice identifying plankton. So, the duo took the initiative, contacted NOAA to volunteer and were accepted!

Here is the project description sent from NOAA:
“The project will be conducting 24-hour operations, sampling stations on the continental shelf and out to 200 nm along transects from 38°N to 45.5°N [see map below]. At each station a CTD (with rosette, fluorometer and DO) and plankton nets (bongo and vertical net) will be deployed for the primary project. The NWFSC Harmful Algal Bloom team is seeking volunteers to participate in the cruise to collect samples for particulate and dissolved toxins (e.g. domoic acid), macro-nutrients, chlorophyll, DNA, and cell counts from the Niskin bottles on the CTD rosette at the stations on the map below. A hand deployed phytoplankton net tow will also be conducted at each station to collect a concentrated sample for phytoplankton ID."

News from the ship

At first, the PTMSC staff didn’t expect any news from Frank or Melody because of security concerns. So, it was a great surprise and relief when Frank sent his first message while underway. The images are small (apologies for their low resolution), so just consider this a teaser for when we can hear more about their experiences: How they adjusted to life on board, what they did, what they saw and where they went.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Stefanie Worwag and Mario Rivera: new, old hands for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network

Throughout the 2019 GiveBIG campaign, we are showcasing the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s long-standing commitment to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Plan your donation now -- we have a dollar-for-dollar matching fund of $8,000 -- to support this crucial program that is so vital to the well-being of the marine mammals that make the Salish Sea their home.

Stefanie Worwag and Mario Rivera started volunteering for the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network just over a year ago. Stefanie is a veterinarian and Mario is a retired police officer and retired military. 

“What drew us to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network is the strong desire to help animals,” said Mario, who has also volunteered for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Mario Rivera and Stefanie Worwag, right, with the northern elephant seal stranding team.
“We both have a great passion for animals, and the aspiration to learn more about marine life.”

Because Mario and Stefanie are new to the program this season, they have only responded to five or six stranding call-outs. A typical call-out can last anywhere from 1 ½ to 4 hours depending on the situation and location.

“Something we also do before responding is to do a quick research of the type of animal we’re going encounter, to have a working knowledge of the animal,” said Mario.

Despite their relative lack of experience with marine mammals, they have jumped in with both feet.

“On two call-outs, Stefanie assisted with performing necropsies on two mammals, one being a [northern] elephant seal and the other a Steller sea lion,” recalled Mario, who added that the necropsy of the sea lion was a memorable event for Stefanie because they determined the actual cause of death.

“A Ratfish spine had lodged in the animal’s esophagus and migrated into a large vessel in its chest,” said Mario. “He bled out and was septic.”

An unforgettable experience for Mario was the stranded elephant seal.

The team of PTMSC staff and volunteers examine the
stranded northern elephant seal. Staff photo.
“It was huge, about 14 feet long and it weighed approximately 4000 pounds!” Mario exclaimed.
The project took on added importance because the PTMSC was allowed to preserve the full skeleton as a tool for future study, education and display. 

Above: Mario in action, left; Stefanie, right, checking on the decomposition 
with with PTMSC's Citizen Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson. Staff photos.

Besides the MMSN program, Stefanie and Mario volunteer for home crew (tank cleaning), beach surveys and public events. On Sunday, April 21, they staffed a PTMSC table at the Finnriver Earth Day Expo, where community organizations showcased their programs in support of environmental protection and stewardship. About 40 people stopped by to learn more about upcoming programs, volunteering and membership. 

Staffing the PTMSC table at the 2019 Finnriver Earth Day Expo.
The PTMSC is very grateful for Mario’s and Stefanie’s support and the ways in which they have rolled up their sleeves – literally – as citizen scientists and volunteers.

“Volunteering for the MMSN is a wonderful opportunity to learn about the marine mammals in this area and possibly be a crucial link in the survivability of the animals,” said Mario. “It is a very rewarding experience.”

To learn more about the Marine Mammal Stranding Network and other volunteer opportunities at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, visit

Friday, May 3, 2019

Citizen Science Day BioBlitz 2019

On Saturday, April 20, local volunteers gathered at Port Townsend Marine Science Center to conduct the second annual BioBlitz of Fort Worden State Park in celebration of both Citizen Science Day and Earth Day.

A BioBlitz is a 24-hour intensive study that aims to document as many species as possible for a given area. Our goal was to find and identify as many plants, birds, mammals, invertebrates, fungi and more as we could during the event.

Pacific blood star (photo by Wendy Feltham)

All of this was made possible with the use of iNaturalist. iNaturalist is a social network for naturalists, and it allows its users to document and upload sightings of any living thing that they encounter in the wild. Anyone can click on these observations to view photos as well as see where and when it was observed. Other users can also suggest identifications, which is very helpful when the person uploading the observation doesn’t recognize what they saw.

Rockweed (photo by Wendy Feltham)

Using the iNaturalist mobile app, volunteers photographed, identified and uploaded every living organism they encountered in Fort Worden to our iNaturalist project page, which is available for anyone to view online here.

All members of the public were welcome to attend. This year we had 22 participants, many of which were local students from Port Townsend High School. It was wonderful to have them all become engaged in citizen science and discover more about the organisms that live in their local area.

A purple shore crab observed by
 Port Townsend High School students (photo by Claudia Garfias)

In total, our participants made 344 observations of 150 different species. Of those 150 species, the three most common groups were plants (62 species), birds (22 species), and mollusks (20 species). The information that we gathered during the BioBlitz will be especially useful to visitors of Fort Worden State Park, as it will give them an idea of what organisms they are likely to find during their visit.

A map displaying all of the observations made during the BioBlitz

Many of the organisms that were observed during the BioBlitz have yet to be identified. If you would like to help us identify these species, or simply get started on making your own observations, go to to sign-up for a free account.

Written by Michael Siddel, Citizen Science Educator AmeriCorps Member

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Marine Mammal Stranding Network - science, and a love of animals

Throughout the 2019 GiveBIG campaign, we are showcasing the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s long-standing commitment to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Plan your donation now -- we have a dollar-for-dollar matching fund of $8,000 -- to support this crucial program that is so vital to the well-being of the marine mammals that make the Salish Sea their home.

Underlying the strong commitment of volunteers to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network is their love for the warm-blooded inhabitants of the Salish Sea.

Wendy Feltham, former PTMSC Board Chair, citizen scientist
and photographer extraordinaire! Image by Champion Productions.
Former PTMSC Board Chair and longtime MMSN volunteer Wendy Feltham speaks for many when she says: “I volunteer for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network because the seals, sea lions, elephant seals, and other marine mammals need and deserve to be protected. We are lucky to live by the Salish Sea with so many remarkable animals!”

The love for marine mammals has no age limits. In 2013, Ella Ashford, then age 12, wrote about her encounter with a stranded northern elephant seal pup in downtown Port Townsend.

One summer day while walking with her mother, the couple spotted something unusual on the driftwood-covered beach at Adams Street Park.

“Then to my surprise, one of the logs moved! That’s when I realized it was a very sandy seal,” Ashford wrote. 

A very sandy seal! Photo by Steven Urbanc.

Little did she know she was about to embark on a weeklong vigil to protect the young mammal from harm.

“I was there every day and a few nights, too,” Ashford wrote. “The community became so attached to the seal we even named him. His name is Star. I felt like the name fit, he was the ‘star’ of Port Townsend, that’s for sure.”

Star and Ashford were written up in the local newspaper and many townspeople stopped by to see the young seal.
"Star," the northern elephant seal pup that captivated downtown Port Townsend in 2013.
Casey Gluckman, an 11-year MMSN volunteer, recalled another stranding episode in downtown Port Townsend, when two several-hundred-pound northern elephant seals chose the city’s beachfront as their molting spot.

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

Marine Mammal Stranding Network volunteer Casey Gluckman
“I love helping with the stranding program,” Gluckman says today. “Every call is a different chance to learn more, and answering questions from the public is always rewarding for both the questioner and for me.”

In 2015, AmeriCorps Marine Mammal Stranding Educator Katie Conroy described her first stranding response.

“As we walked up to it, my heart started to melt,” Conroy wrote. “It was the cutest thing I had ever seen! It was not more than two or three months old and it was just resting so peacefully on the beach.”

One of the most important decisions for MMSN responders is to remember their training and give stranded animals space and time to return to their natural habitat. In fact, the Marine Mammal Protection Act protects marine mammals from any human interaction.

“My maternal seal instincts kicked in and all I wanted to do was make sure this adorable sleeping seal pup would be okay,” Conroy continued. “I wanted to protect it from any sniffing dogs and curious children. After about 30 minutes of setting up a barrier of driftwood pieces, I finally said my goodbyes and went home.

Harbor Seal pup sleeping on the beach! Photo by Katie Conroy.
“The next day I checked where the seal had been, and it was gone,” Conroy wrote. “It must have woken up from its slumber and gone back to the sea where its actual mother was waiting, too scared to come ashore.”

When describing the joys of being a MMSN volunteer, former PTMSC board member Jan North says it best.

Former PTMSC board member and citizen scientist Jan North.
“By volunteering with the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, I am constantly learning about the lives and behaviors of the seals, sea lions, harbor porpoises, and whales which share our Salish Sea waters and shores. Whether I’m ‘seal pup sitting’ in a public area or measuring and recording a deceased sea lion, it’s so much fun to share ideas with others when I'm on one of our wonderful beaches.”

Interested in learning more about the Marine Mammal Stranding Network and becoming an on-call stranding response volunteer? There are two upcoming training sessions:
  • Tuesday, April 30 in the PTMSC Museum classroom from 1-5 p.m.
  • A May training in the Brinnon/Quilcene area, time and location TBA.

MMSN training includes:
  • Marine mammal stranding network history and purpose
  • Marine mammal species identification
  • Your role as a responder to both live and dead animals
  • How to be a “seal sitter”
  • Practice responding to stranded animals

For more information, contact Mandi Johnson at or Betsy Carlson at

Thursday, April 25, 2019

2019 GiveBIG campaign supports the Marine Mammal Stranding Network!

Throughout the 2019 GiveBIG campaign, we are showcasing the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s long-standing commitment to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Plan your donation now to support this crucial program that is so vital to the well-being of the marine mammals that make the Salish Sea their home.

One of the first efforts to aid a stranded marine mammal was documented by the PTMSC in 1986, when a stranded harbor seal pup, nicknamed Itti-Vik, was cared for by a group of 20 PTMSC volunteers.
Itti-vik, meaning “spirit of the sea,” was brought to the PTMSC in 1986.
That same love for animals and dedication to science has fueled the PTMSC’s volunteer-driven MMSN program ever since.

Not all stranded mammals are found alive. But even in death, stranded marine mammal bodies can provide important information about the Salish Sea ecosystem.

Such was the case with a male northern elephant seal that was reported on Marrowstone Island on October 31, 2018.

Michael Siddel, Citizen Science Educator AmeriCorps Member, and PTMSC 
Citizen Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson examine the front flipper of the
northern elephant seal found on Marrowstone Island in 2018.
Measuring over 13 feet from the tip of his head to the tip of his tail – not counting his rear flippers – the size of the animal was impressive. In addition to collecting quantitative data, the team of PTMSC staff, AmeriCorps and volunteers sought clues for the cause of the elephant seal’s death.

Permission to conduct a necropsy (an autopsy performed on an animal) was given by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a team was immediately assembled under the guidance of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The scientific value of a necropsy is indispensable in the evaluation of an animal’s life cycle as well as its death.*

As an added benefit, the PTMSC was allowed to preserve the full skeleton as a tool for future study, education and display.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Low Tide Walk

Sunday, June 16th

9:00am - 11:30am

PTMSC Museum Portico

Free with price of admission
(members always free)

Meet at the Museum exhibit 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.

Please RSVP to Carolyn Woods at or call
(360) 385-5582 x 109

Friday, April 19, 2019

Celebrating Our Volunteers - Sue Long

In celebration of National Volunteer Month, we are focusing our blog posts on recognizing our incredible volunteers that make everything we do here at PTMSC possible. 

Sue Long has held numerous roles in her time here at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. Beginning as a volunteer with our annual auction and the eelgrass re-planting project, she eventually realized she didn’t really know very much about marine life. So she decided to put herself out there and become an aquarium docent. 

Sue Long alongside another volunteer, Karen DeLorenzo, while helping with the annual Party on the Pier. 

Sue explained that this was a huge deal for her back then because the field of marine biology can seem overwhelming – it is definitely a huge field and there is so much to learn.

Hard at work drilling bones for Hope's articulation!
Sue really became involved with the skeleton articulation of Hope the orca. As a trained radiology tech, she just had to step in when the PTMSC was getting x-rays of Hope’s flippers. Sue knew how we could do it better, and she began what became a major role in the project. 

Sue’s favorite part of volunteering is working with such a wide variety of ages. As an aquarium docent, Sue especially loves when individuals with absolutely no background knowledge of the ocean come in. Just like she once was, these are people who don’t know much about the grand underwater world of the Salish Sea and are afraid of touching the animals. Sue gets to help change that.

Sue with fellow volunteer, Dana Africa, cleaning the baby abalone tanks.

Sue is always doing something for the PTMSC and she always has a wonderful smile on her face!

Written by Mandi Johnson, Volunteer Educator AmeriCorps Member

Friday, April 12, 2019

Celebrating Our Volunteers - Toni Davison

In celebration of National Volunteer Month, we are focusing our blog posts on recognizing our incredible volunteers that make everything we do here at PTMSC possible.

This week I have the honor of introducing another of our fabulous museum docents, Toni Davison. Toni began volunteering at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center in 2014, and has since volunteered over 700 hours of her time with us. She is a powerhouse of both our public and private education programs, and can frequently be seen docenting in our museum—tablet in hand, ready for the next round of visitors.

Toni in her element during her docenting shift. 
When asked what she enjoys most about volunteering at PTMSC, she says that her work here gives her hope for the future. She looks forward to engaging in a two-way conversation with our visitors: One where Toni can learn something from one of the many places our visitors come from, and our visitors can leave feeling more connected to life outdoors.

Some of Toni’s favorite moments as a docent have been working with our younger visitors as they use a microscope for the first time. She treasures that “aha!” moment where they really get it and are amazed by what they can see—and the natural curiosity boost that follows.

It’s clear that our visitors value the care and thoughtfulness that Toni brings to her shift each week. It’s not just the visitors, either! I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve found myself in deep discussion with Toni about everything from the plight our local resident orcas to concerns over southeast Louisiana floodplains.

From all of us at PTMSC, thank you Toni, we are so lucky to have you!

Written by Ellie Kravets, Natural History Educator AmeriCorps Member

Friday, April 5, 2019

Celebrating Our Volunteers-Denis Keyes

In celebration of National Volunteer Month, we will be focusing our blog posts on recognizing our incredible volunteers that make everything we do here at PTMSC possible.

This week, we would like to recognize one of our wonderful docents, Denis Keyes! Denis began volunteering as a docent in our aquarium in 2012, and since then has volunteered just under 1800 hours. Currently, he works as a docent in our museum building.

Denis during his shift as a museum docent. Staff photo. 

When asked what he enjoys most about volunteering at Port Townsend Marine Science Center, Denis replied that he loves working with kids and being able to share with them the wonders of the Salish Sea. He also enjoys the opportunity to share his passion for the southern resident killer whales and spread awareness about the threats they currently face.

Working with Denis is nothing but a treat. He’s helpful, loves to tell jokes, and can tell you some fascinating stories from when he was a diver. Plus, he makes a delicious blueberry pie!

If you ever get the chance to see Denis in action as a docent, you will see that he is passionate, kind, and incredibly knowledgeable. We are very lucky to have him!

Thank you Denis!

Written by Michael Siddel, Citizen Science Educator AmeriCorps Member

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Earth Day at PTMSC

One Earth, two events!
Join us on this special day to encourage environmental stewardship for our only planet.
Remember: Earth Day is Everyday.

Earth Day Beach Cleanup 2019
Saturday, April 20
9:30 am - 1:30 pm

Meet at in the PTMSC Museum Portico

Help us collect and sort debris as we contribute data on our findings to the Ocean Conservancy’s international database. This clean-up is listed as part of WA CoastSavers annual clean-up with registration run through their site.
Sponsored by the PT Food Coop―get a $5 food gift card to participants and help with promotion. Olympic Disposal provides free trash and recycling service for this event.

Citizen Science Day Bio-Blitz
Saturday, April 20 
9 am

Meet at in the Museum Classroom

Join us in a Bio-blitz! Using the iNaturalist app we’ll conduct a Bio-blitz at Fort Worden. Use your smartphone to record all living things you see in Fort Worden over a 24 hour period.
Instruction on how to use the app will be provided at 9am at the Museum classroom. Anyone can participate at anytime in the 24 hour period. We’ll show a live feed in the museum to track the number of species identified.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Aquarium Docent Trainings

Interested in helping visitors to the Port Townsend Marine Science Center explore the aquarium and learn about the wonders of the Salish Sea? This is the first of a two-part series for new docents, knowledgeable guides who can guide visitors through our exhibits.

Volunteers need to attend both Part A and Part B. It's best to take them in order and in the same month, but we understand that it won't fit everyone's schedule. The dates are:

May 13: Part A
May 20: Part B

Both sessions are 9 a.m. - noon

If you are brand new to volunteering with the PTMSC, you will also attend a volunteer orientation. More information about volunteering, as well as an application, can be found in the volunteer section of our website.

Upcoming dates for volunteer orientation are:

April 16: 4-6 p.m.
May 14: 4-6 p.m.

Please contact Ali Redman for more information: or 360-385-5582 x122.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Pinto Abalone Release

Graduation time has come!

The time for our baby abalone has come. They have grown big and strong. They have officially graduated! And they are on mark to be released...

Volunteers measured and counted the abalone monthly in order to monitor growth. Photo by Wendy Feltham.

Many of you know by now that for the past year, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center has been collaborating with the Puget Sound Restoration Fund on raising a cluster of pinto abalone to be released once they are a bit bigger and they are more likely to survive. This project hopes to aid in replenishing their decreasing populations in the Salish Sea.

"Tagging" the abalone so that once released scientists can continue to measure their growth and success. 
Staff photo.

Morgan Adkisson (l) from the PSRF, PTMSC Aquarist
Ali Redman (lr) and volunteers 
Sue Long (r) and Dana Africa
(rr) retrieving abalone. Photo by Lee Merrill.

Last week, Lily Haight at The Port Townsend Leader reported the story and explained why this work being done by the PSRF is so vital.

Cheers to all the work volunteers Sue Long, Dana Africa, and Lee Merrill have put in this past year to care, feed and count our beloved babies. And another big thanks to the guidance and oversight of PTMSC Citizen Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson and PTMSC Aquarist Ali Redman!

Abalone Crew featuring PTMSC Citizen Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson (rr) and volunteers (l-r) Dana Africa, 
Sue Long and Lee Merrill. Photo by Wendy Feltham.

Written by AmeriCorps Volunteer Program Educator Mandi Johnson.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Enchanted Salish Sea Dinner & Auction raises $142,000

$72,000 raised for the Make-a-Difference Fund

Hundreds of PTMSC supporters attended the 2019 "Enchanted Salish Sea" Dinner & Auction!

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center extends a big "Thank You!" to the hundreds of people who attended the 2019 “Enchanted Salish Sea” Dinner & Auction on Saturday evening, March 16. A new record was set, with $72,000 raised for the Make-a-Difference Fund, which supports youth programs and scholarships to inspire the stewards of the future.

Overall, the event raised $142,000 to fund youth camps, exhibits of marine flora and fauna, educational and historical displays, citizen science programs and community-based lecture series.

Presenting sponsor Kris Nelson's much-loved eateries!
Without the generosity of its supporters, the PTMSC simply could not exist. In addition to the funds raised, 16 sponsors and business partners provided much-appreciated underwriting and over 50 volunteers contributed hundreds of hours, both before the event and on the day of the auction, to make it all possible. Their names appear below.

A special thanks is extended to artist Timbul Cahyono, who created the kelp forest artwork that appeared in this year’s printed program and was on display throughout the venue. (See more of his art at the Response/Ability exhibit at Northwind Arts Center, where he won a Juror's Choice Award!)

Friday, March 15, 2019

Taking Advantage of the Sunshine

As spring looms on the horizon—and with it the promise of warmer, sunshine-y days—AmeriCorps Volunteer Program Educator Mandi Johnson and I took advantage of the balmy weather last Sunday to get outside (and get some work done, too!).

Since October, Mandi, Citizen Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson, and a crew of our awesome volunteers have been hard at work coordinating the recovery, decomposition, and skeletal preservation of the northern elephant seal found washed up on Marrowstone Island last Halloween. You can learn more about the recovery process in Mandi’s blog posts here and here.

Five months later, some of the bones are ready to begin the final process of drying out and whitening (to make them more appealing for display). To do this, the bones need open air and sunshine—and a few hours of cooperative weather. Sunday afternoon looked like it was going to provide that opportunity. So, Mandi and I went out to the field in front of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center Museum, armed with a plastic tarp and a bucket full of seal bones.

Letting the bones soak up the sun is a great way to get  the moisture out of the bones after the decomposition
process. (Check out the size of the stubby rib in the center  of the picture!)

Sunning the bones ended up being a fantastic way to talk to other Fort Worden visitors who were also taking advantage of the weather. Lots of people stopped by to ask about the bones, and their curiosity led to some great discussions about the role these collections can play both in education and future scientific research.

It’s exciting to think about the learning opportunities these bones will continue to provide in the months and years to come. For now, I’ll have to be satisfied knowing more than a few people were shocked to see that a 14-foot-long animal could have stubby ribs shorter than the length of my hand (indicative of the impressively thick blubber layer these animals build up throughout their lives). At least one young visitor was surprised to see that the elephant seal’s humerus was probably shorter than her own!

The seal bones weren't the only ones enjoying the sunshine. 

Mandi and I eventually decided to wrap up Sunday’s sunning session as the light started to fade and the winds began to pick up. As we packed the bones away again—waiting for the next few sunny hours—it was pretty incredible to reflect on how far the cleaning process has progressed since Mandi, AmeriCorps Marine Exhibit Educator Marley Loomis, AmeriCorps Citizen Science Educator Michael Siddel, and I first responded to the elephant seal stranding call all those months ago.

And it turns out that—just like an elephant seal rib—sometimes a few hours in the sunshine does an AmeriCorps good, too.

Written by AmeriCorps Natural History Educator Ellie Kravets.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Annual SoundToxins Gathering 2019

Earlier this week, I attended the annual SoundToxins gathering in Seattle. This event, held across two days at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Montlake, brought together people from NOAA, Washington Sea Grant, the Washington State Department of Health, and citizen science volunteers (including a handful from the Port Townsend Marine Science Center) who work collaboratively on the SoundToxins program.

For context, the SoundToxins program serves as an early warning system for harmful algal blooms. Citizen science volunteers collect water samples from sites all across Puget Sound, and look for the presence of four particular species of phytoplankton (Alexandrium, Dinophysis, Pseudo-nitzschia, and Heterosignma). These phytoplankton produce toxins which can make their way into shellfish, and eventually into humans when we consume them. If we can spot any of these phytoplankton ahead of time, then the public can be notified it is not safe to eat affected shellfish.

The first day of the gathering served as an information session for both new and returning volunteers. We went over the four harmful algal species that we monitor for, the toxins they produce, and the effects they have on people. Then, we were given the chance to sharpen our identification skills for the large number of other species of phytoplankton that we find in Puget Sound.

The SoundToxins annual meeting attendees
(Photo credit:Teri King)
We even got to look under a microscope at a recently-collected water sample and see living examples of these other phytoplankton species! This was particularly helpful for me, as I haven’t been able to see what many of these phytoplankton actually look like under a microscope.

The second day of the gathering focused more on important news, updates and interesting developments in the realm of harmful algal blooms. To begin, the Washington Department of Health gave a presentation about how they monitor for the toxins themselves in the tissues of shellfish across the state, and talked about their concerns about high levels of Alexandrium, the algal species known for producing a toxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning.

Next, we learned about three other phytoplankton species (Akashiwo sanguinea, Protoceratium reticulatum, and Phaeocystis) that have been connected to shellfish mortalities. All SoundToxins volunteers were asked to keep an eye out for these species to hopefully prevent the loss of additional shellfish stocks.
Vera Trainer, a supervisory oceanographer at NOAA, gives a talk at the annual meeting
(Photo credit: Teri King) 
We also got to hear about the development of a remotely-operated aquatic glider that is able to collect water samples for monitoring.

All in all, I had a great time at the gathering. For me, getting to hear all the different stories and perspectives from the individuals involved with SoundToxins reinforced how truly important this program is.

Written by Michael Siddel, Citizen Science Educator AmeriCorps Member.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Northern Elephant Seal - Skeleton Update

Since November, the remains of our northern elephant seal have been naturally decomposing underneath our pier. Open-water maceration is one of the easiest methods for an organization like the Port Townsend Marine Science Center to manage an animal of this size. This allows the microorganisms in the ocean to “clean” the bones for us and keeps things like the smell to a minimum. However, this option can take a fair amount of time. So, I have been patiently waiting…

Curious why we have these remains? Read more on how and why we obtained them by clicking this link to a previous blog post.

We wrapped the skull in netting during the boil process
to help keep the bones from falling out of place.
Photo credit: Johanna King
The skull before we started the boiling process.
Photo credit: Johanna King

Vertebrae boiling in one of the pots. 
Finally, in late December, we decided to pull the bones up from underneath our pier and see how far the decomposition had progressed. To our surprise, we found some of the bones in an advanced state of deterioration and ready for the next stage.

There are a few steps involved in processing bones for display in our exhibits. First, we must boil the bones as a way to cleanse and begin the degreasing procedure. Marine mammals tend to have especially oily bones, so the second step continues with a technique specifically designed for degreasing the bones.

Lastly, we will soak the bones in a hydrogen peroxide solution to whiten the bones for display. The flippers have not quite finished decomposing, however, so they were sent with volunteer Howard Teas to spend some time in his compost pile. Once they are ready, they will go through the same process for cleaning and aesthetics.

Mandi Johnson showing off a vertebrae in the steam. Photo credit: Johanna King

As you can see, this is a lengthy process!

PTMSC Citizen Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson and I started our boiling procedure on a beautiful sunny day in late January and had quite the setup. Volunteers Anne Seeley and Roy Clark loaned us two propane burners and three large pots, allowing us to have several sets of bones boiling at once.

Just behind our museum - our bone boiling work station!
Because we planned to boil these bones for several hours, this was an all-day ordeal. I even moved my “office” outside so I could keep an eye on the bones, answer questions from people passing by (asking why it smelled so bad), and get work done.

In my opinion, I couldn’t imagine a better workday!

Written by AmeriCorps Volunteer Program Educator Mandi Johnson

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

(RESCHEDULED!) The Future of Oceans Series Lecture


Bob Boekelheide: Seabirds and Marine Mammals of the Protection Island Aquatic Reserve

Sunday, March 24

3 pm

The Fort Worden Chapel

Admission: $5 (students, teachers FREE)

Bob Boekelheide's lifelong interest has been in the ecology of marine vertebrates, particularly birds and mammals. Bob has an M.S. in Ecology from UC Davis and participated in several marine research projects to the Arctic, Antarctic, across the Pacific, and in California, including seven years as a biologist on the Farallon Islands. While in California, he coauthored a book and several papers about the marine ecology of nesting seabirds and marine mammals. A certificated teacher, Bob taught science and math in WA public schools for 13 years. He is the former director of the Dungeness River Audubon Center, a community nature center in Sequim, WA. As Bird Count chair for Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society, he has compiled the annual Sequim-Dungeness Christmas Bird Count and the Clallam County International Migratory Bird Count for over 20 years, along with helping to organize several other citizen-science projects on the north Olympic Peninsula. He enjoys spectacular areas of the Pacific Northwest and lives on the shores of Dungeness Bay with his wonderful wife Barbara.


This is the fifth installment of The Future of Oceans lecture series.

This event is offered with generous support from the Darrow Family.

Assisted Listening Devices available

Saturday, February 23, 2019

2019 Protection Island Wildlife Cruises

photo by Mike Reudink
You'll have many opportunities to enjoy a 3 hour cruise around the Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge, but don't delay! Our trip dates are just around the corner and will book up before you know it.

Check out our Cruises page and learn more about our ongoing trips through Protection Island Aquatic Reserve. You'll find this year's dates here--click "Book ONLINE" to reserve your spot before it's gone!


Friday, February 22, 2019

Low Tide Walk at Night

We identified 32 different species of animals and algae -- all in just a couple of hours. 

On Monday, Feb. 18, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center held a low tide walk at North Beach County Park to see what intertidal creatures get up to after dark. The event was a smashing success with the help of six wonderful volunteers.

There were 51 participants who showed up to explore the beach at night. As they arrived, attendees were split into smaller groups of around 10 people and then sent with one of the volunteers to walk along the beach.

Low tide walks and tide-pooling are especially interesting because at low tide, a special group of organisms becomes visible. The usually-rocky area that one walks along at low tide is called the intertidal zone: The area that exists between low and high tides. It is underwater at high tide, but exposed at low tide. Because of the variability in water coverage, the animals that live in this zone must have adaptations that allow them to survive both in and out of the water (or in small tidal pools left behind a high tide) without drying out.

The volunteers guiding the participants in Monday’s event found many different and interesting creatures. As a group, we identified 32 different species of animals and algae -- all in just a couple of hours. The list included small decorator crabs, clingfish, tidepool sculpins, lots of sea stars, and even a small octopus.

Northern clingfish (Gobiesox maeandricus). Photo by Katie Arbuckle.

Brittle star (Ophiuroidea sp.).Photo by Katie Arbuckle.
Blood star (Henricia leviuscula). Photo by Katie Arbuckle.

See the long, narrow, pink octopus tentacles under the rock?
(Species unknown). Photo by Katie Arbuckle.

PTMSC will schedule another low tide walk once the weather warms up a bit, and the low tides move to daylight hours.

Written by AmeriCorps Aquarium Educator Marley Loomis.

Friday, February 15, 2019

The Hidden Gems of Student Surveys

What are the things a student does, or will do, to protect the Salish Sea? 

With the weather outside being what it is (hello, record-breaking snow!), the Port Townsend Marine Science Center has been a little sluggish over the past few days. What better time than now for me to pull out some hidden gems from our Free Science Class surveys? And to quiz you... (How many ways can YOU spell “recycle?”)

Like Marley Loomis mentioned in her last blog post, we set out to harness each group’s critical thinking skills when designing this year’s FSC curricula. This emphasis is especially apparent in comparing the students’ pre- and post-class surveys. The last question in both surveys asks about the student’s level of engagement in Salish Sea conservation: What are the things – if any – that the student does, or will do, to protect the Salish Sea?

That last question is one of the ways we track where we’ve made a meaningful difference with our students. Frequently, their first answer is hesitant or vague: “I recycle” or “I try not to litter” or sometimes even “nothing.” By the time they fill out their post-class surveys – after a full day of FSC programming – their answers are clear, specific, and more often than not reflect some of the concepts they’ve been wrestling with during their classes.

Hesitant pre-class answers often sound more confident after a day of PTMSC programming! 

A common pre-class survey answer is that our students protect the Salish Sea by not throwing trash directly into our waters:
  • “What I do is I never throw trash in the ocean, only in the trash.” 
  • “I don’t throw stuff in the ocean.” 
  • “I do not throw garbage in the Salish Sea.” 
One of the big focuses for our TownQuest class, then, is to show students that trash can enter our waterways from any point within our Salish Sea watershed. Reducing marine debris in the Salish Sea means changing our behavior everywhere, not just on beaches and shorelines.

And, so, in the post-class surveys, we get a slightly different spin:

  • “[I won’t] litter on roads, at beaches, and at places where it might get in the ocean.” 
  • “I will always search for trash cans.” 
  • “I will make sure that [I] pick up any garbage that [I] see.” 

One of my favorite responses. #2 ("stop spilling trash when I take it out") and #3 ("take trash out when it is not windy") show great understanding of the pathways that trash can use to get from our homes to our waterways. 

Another big point we make sure to emphasize is that recycling is not the be-all, end-all solution for preventing marine debris. The phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” is in order of importance and overall impact. So, in our pre-class surveys, we see a lot of students saying:
  • “I try and keep the ocean clean by recycling.” 
  • “I recycle trash.” 
  • “I put things in the trash or recycle when I use it so it doesn’t get wasted.” 
And afterwards, the emphasis skews strongly to the reducing/reusing side of the three Rs:
  • “[I] will reuse all of the stuff that [I] can. [I won’t] use plastic bags when [I’m at] the check-out of a store.” 
  • “I will reuse my trash and reduce.” 
  • “I will try not to use plastic as much.” 
The last big point we emphasize is that conservation actions do not happen in a vacuum. The easiest way to magnify one’s impact is take action with other people.

For the most part, this isn’t something our students are thinking about when they walk through our doors. Many of the “green” actions that get drilled into us are framed as individual actions: You should recycle. You should pick up trash, and limit your consumption of single-use plastics.

But research shows us that people are much more likely to stick to a new behavior if they have a group of people holding them accountable to it.

This concept is frequently echoed in their post-class surveys:

  • “[I will] gather a group to pick up trash.” 
  • “I will help people and let them know to not litter.” 
  • “I will try not to litter and if I see someone drop something, I’ll tell them.” 

This response is worth it just for the drawings. But also worth noting is the call to group actions: through education (signs), and talking about these issues with your friends. 

As an educator, it’s incredibly rewarding to see these points hit home with our students!

At the end of each program, the AmeriCorps staff will gather together and “grade” the day’s surveys. (I use the term “grading” loosely here: right and wrong means less to this process than demonstrated improvement.) It’s one of my favorite parts of the program: A chance to self-reflect as a teacher coupled with the opportunity to see the evolution in each student’s thinking.

With just about a month left for this program, I’m looking forward to seeing where the next round of surveys take us. And - because you have to take some joy in interpreting elementary school handwriting - I’m looking forward to seeing how many more ways our students can spell “recycle” before time runs out!

Right now, my very unscientific list is at 35... (Current favorite: Reslacool.)

Written by AmeriCorps Natural History Educator Ellie Kravets.