Tuesday, April 30, 2019

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

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 mjohnson@ptmsc.org or Betsy Carlson at bcarlson@ptmsc.org.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

A look at the Marine Mammal Stranding Network

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 cwoods@ptmsc.org 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