Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Lorna Smith awarded the 2022 Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award

Port Townsend Marine Science Center honors longtime environmental activist
Lorna Smith, recipient of the 2022 Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center has selected Lorna Smith as the recipient of the 2022 Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award. The award was announced at the annual PTMSC Stewardship Breakfast Fundraiser, held at Fort Worden State Park on Oct. 5.

Lorna (Campion) Smith started her environmental career in 1978 as a volunteer for Seattle Audubon, when she became involved in the dam proposed for the Skagit River system at Copper Creek. Her analysis revealed the environmental impacts the dam would inflict on the river, the salmon and the bald eagles that rely on them. She recommended that Seattle Audubon register its opposition to the project. The ensuing groundswell of opposition eventually halted the dam’s construction.

Smith went on to become the conservation chair and a vice president for the organization. In her role, one effort in particular affected the Olympic Peninsula and its citizens: the creation of a wildlife refuge for Protection Island, home to 70% of the seabirds that nest in Washington state's inland waters.

Smith closely coordinated with Eleanor Stopps and together the formidable duo established an extensive grassroots campaign. Working with with U.S. Reps. Mike Lowry and Don Bonker, a bill was drafted to establish the Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge. In time, the entire Washington delegation supported the legislation and ultimately the effort proved successful, resulting in one of the few federally protected marine refuges established by an Act of Congress at that time.

Smith also became involved in the campaign to halt construction of the Northern Tier Pipeline involving a proposed oil export terminal in Port Angeles. The plan called for an underwater pipeline spanning the Salish Sea (including up and over Whidbey Island) to a terminus on the mainland. The pipeline’s safety technology was called into question, as well as the environmental review process.

Smith helped mobilize an army of like-minded organizations and letter writers from the Olympic Peninsula and the greater Seattle area, and persistent grassroots opposition grew. A lawsuit to halt the pipeline on environmental grounds was undertaken and eventually the project was abandoned.

Smith's environmental and political career has spanned decades. She has served as the executive director of the nonprofit Western Wildlife Outreach, as a board member of the Washington Environmental Council and the Olympic Forest Coalition, and as a volunteer for Jefferson Land Trust and Jefferson County Conservation Futures Committee. She was appointed by Governor Inslee to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in 2020 and is currently a member of the Jefferson County Planning Commission.

“It is the highest honor I can think of, to be the recipient of the Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award,” Smith said. “Knowing Eleanor and working so closely with her makes the award particularly meaningful to me. We were a great team and achieved what many thought would never happen, when Congress decreed Protection Island a National Wildlife Refuge.

“Eleanor was, and remains my hero for her tirelessness, cheerfulness and unshakeable faith in achieving permanent protection for the tens of thousands of seabirds who nest on Protection Island,” Smith said.

About the Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award
Eleanor Stopps

From the 1960s through the 1990s, Eleanor Stopps was an active member of the Pacific Northwest conservation community. She founded the Admiralty Audubon Chapter and was a primary driver behind the establishment of the Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge in 1982. Today it is a critical habitat link in the preservation of the entire Salish Sea ecosystem, providing breeding grounds for pigeon guillemots and rhinoceros auklets, bald eagles and peregrine falcons, harbor seals and elephant seals, and myriad other species.

Stopps died in April 2012 at the age of 92.

The leadership award created in her memory is presented annually to a citizen(s) of the North Olympic Peninsula (Jefferson and Clallam counties) who has led a successful resource conservation effort that benefits the North Olympic Peninsula and its residents directly; acted as a community catalyst for programs, initiatives or ventures that demonstrate a commitment to the future of the earth and its biodiversity; become a model for future leaders in business and education; or has been an exemplary citizen or policy maker who has implemented decisions that, though they may entail risks, have helped our communities take the next step towards environmental sustainability.

The PTMSC has sponsored this annual award since 2009.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Joyfully caring for the animals in the exhibits

Volunteer Spotlight on Lori VanDeMark


 Lori VanDeMark grew up in the Olympia area and has always loved the Puget Sound. She said that even though she spent a lot of time there when she was growing up, “I didn’t feel like I knew a lot about the plants and animals that lived there.”

Lori and her husband bought a home in Cape George in 2019 upon her retirement from a career as a dental hygienist, and she began volunteering at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center that same year.


“Once we moved to the Port Townsend area and I was close to the water again, I really wanted to learn more,” she said. “I was looking for a way to volunteer and do something in the community where I could get to meet people and learn something along the way and this really fit the bill.


“And once I started looking into it shortly after we moved, everybody was so friendly and kind and positive, and I liked the mission!”


When she was asked about one of her favorite aspects about volunteering at the aquarium, Lori said, “You know, probably the proximity to Sylvia,” a giant Pacific octopus. “I know that’s not surprising, as he’s so fascinating.” 


She has since expanded on her octopus knowledge through research, as well as watching the oft-mentioned documentary, “My Octopus Teacher.” 


One notable experience as a young woman helped inform Lori’s fascination with the natural world and conservation issues in general.


“I remember noticing a beach that we went to a lot in the South Sound. All of a sudden, the sea stars were gone. I had the feeling like I was witnessing an extinction, it was so noticeable. I even noticed they were gone before I heard about sea star wasting disease, and that really kind of hit close to home and made me more focused on conservation,” she said.


Lori and her husband are the parents to two young men. The eldest is a build engineer at SpaceX in Southern California. He’s worked on the Falcon rockets and then on the Falcon Heavy and the Starship.


“He is on the development end of things and works with the theoretical designers and the actual builders to make prototypes and tests. It’s a very exciting job with a ton of hours,” she said.


Lori’s youngest son is a student of the Japanese language, whose studies in Japan were interrupted due to the pandemic. He now lives in the area, hoping to return to his studies in the near future.

Hobbies for Lori include gardening, home improvement, kayaking and knitting. She confidently assured me that she could teach me to cable stitch, a technique I’ve found too daunting to attempt!


It was so wonderful to meet this delightful volunteer and it is so gratifying to know that she is assisting with the operations of our aquarium.


Written by PTMSC Volunteer Coordinator Tracy Thompson.


Sunday, September 4, 2022

Volunteer spotlight

Patt Roche on the pier after
assisting in the aquarium. Photo by PTMSC staff.

Elephant seals and cougar encounters - exploring the natural world with Patt Roche


The wonderfully charming Patt Roche chose the Port Townsend Marine Science Center as the first place she wanted to volunteer upon her retirement. We took some time for a chat on the Fort Worden pier following her morning shift as an aquarium aide.


Patt grew up in Napa Calif., but made her way back to her home state of Washington 27 years ago when she “... loaded up a trailer and headed north.”


“I wandered into Port Townsend for breakfast one morning and before I knew it I was signing a lease on a little studio space and then found a place to live, and it all worked out.” she said.

Ultimately, Patt “opened a little arts and crafts gallery,” as she referred to it, in the Hastings Building in downtown Port Townsend. It was called the Roche Gallery & Studio and she happily operated it until 2012. The owners of the Hastings Building, where the gallery was located, made some management changes at that time and she took the opportunity to retire.


Patt’s initial involvement with the PTMSC was as a greeter in the gift shop, back in the days when the entirety of the PTMSC exhibit space was out on the pier. 


“I loved coming out here then. I remember when I first started visiting, it was all in this building (gesturing to the aquarium building behind her), it was so sweet! The little aquarium, and back in the classroom was a gift shop. Everything was contained out here,” she recalled.


At first, Patt was a volunteer in the gift shop, and also put herself on the list as a fill-in volunteer as an aquarium aide.


“I didn’t have a regular shift [as an aquarium aide], but I was on the list if they had vacancies, and they could see I was game to come on,” she said.


Patt can’t recall precisely how long she has been volunteering at the aquarium, where she has been performing the same tasks each day for years.


“I clean the four tidepools, with the same routine each day. I start out in (tidepool) #4, see how everybody is doing, and then move on down the line.” she said. 


Patt has also volunteered for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, with her most memorable aspect of that job managing the “big elephant seal that liked to go to Waterfront Pizza!” 


When  there was a moment in her life that inspired her love for the natural world, Patt instead recounted a terrifying encounter with a cougar when she was young.


“As a teenager in Napa, California, we lived in a canyon. One night, I and three of my friends were taking a moonlit stroll down to a swimming pond about a quarter mile from my house.

“For some reason, we all had hair standing up, with prickles on our neck — we were uneasy. We got down to the pond and were ready to dangle our feet in the water and hang out and then all of a sudden, something about 50 feet away from us let out a horrific scream!” she said.


“It was a cougar, apparently trying to decide which one of us it was going to have for dinner. By then we were all in the water, thinking ‘cats don’t like water.’ We were out in the middle of the swimming pond treading water when all of a sudden headlights appeared,” she recounted. Turns out, it was her mother — who had also had an uneasy feeling. She piled all the soaking wet girls in her car and rescued them from the encounter. Although the cougar was known in the area, a patron of the local gun club had taken a shot at it, injuring it and impacting its ability to feed itself.


PTMSC is very grateful to our dedicated aquarium aides who help keep the tanks clean, and the animals fed.


Patt’s favorite aspect of volunteering?


“It is always an interesting experience! she said. “I like keeping weekly tabs on Sylvia (the great pacific octopus) to see how she is doing. And just being on hand when something interesting happens.” she continued.


Thank you Patt for all you do for PTMSC!


Written by PTMSC Volunteer Coordinator Tracy Thompson.


Saturday, August 27, 2022

Looking for harmful algae blooms

Jo Ferrero peers through the Zeiss microscope in the PTMSC "labacita" scanning for harmful phytoplankton. 
Photo by PTMSC staff.

Jo Ferrero’s Monday morning starts out on the pier at Fort Worden, where she pulls up a sample of the Salish Sea for her role as a SoundToxins (a Puget Sound phytoplankton monitoring program*) volunteer for the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. She then brings the sample back to the “labacita,” the compact laboratory located in a portable building behind the museum, to peer at the samples through the Zeiss microscope. She is looking for evidence of harmful algae blooms – any of the harmful phytoplankton whose presence can affect humans and sea life.

Self-identified as a science “nerd,” Jo has enjoyed the work of looking for problematic phytoplankton since 2017. She and her husband, PTMSC board member Rich Ferrero, moved to Port Townsend in 2016 after living in Edmonds for many years. With a background as a registered nurse in an otolaryngology (the study of diseases of the ear and throat) practice at Group Health, she is comfortable peering through a microscope and enjoys the time spent in the lab during the spring and summer months.

Jo’s first volunteer role at the PTMSC was in 2016, as a docent in the aquarium, and she has also assisted with tasks for the fundraising auction. This summer she began a new volunteer role as well, stepping in to help as a Puffin Cruise host.

“Oh it’s been fabulous,” she said about hosting the bird and marine mammal watching cruises that travel to Protection Island on Puget Sound Express vessels.

Jo enjoys pointing out the many birds to the avid bird watchers and this summer there have been an abundance of marine mammal sightings, as well. A detour to observe a humpback whale in Discovery Bay was a highlight. Her husband Rich noticed the cruise boat from their home in Cape George and was delighted to see the humpback following behind the Express boat as it left the bay!

Back in the labacita, Jo follows a grid pattern to locate the various phytoplankton and records the pseudo-nitzschia and noctiluca she sees on the form provided. Later, the data will be added to a SoundToxins computer database, where the information will be aggregated in order to mitigate harm from algae to residents and sea life.

Jo says she is grateful to have an opportunity to monitor and document phytoplankton for this project, and to do “whatever we can to try to keep things together for the environment.”

*SoundToxins, a diverse partnership of Washington state shellfish and finfish growers, environmental learning centers, Native tribes and Puget Sound volunteers is a monitoring program designed to provide early warning of harmful algal bloom events in order to minimize both human health risks and economic losses to Puget Sound fisheries.

Written by PTMSC Volunteer Coordinator Tracy Thompson.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Nominations now open for the 2022 Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center is seeking nominations for the 2022 Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award. 


Eleanor Stopps
This prestigious honor recognizes significant contributions to the protection and stewardship of the natural environment of the North Olympic Peninsula. The award pays tribute to Eleanor Stopps, whose vision, advocacy and determination exemplify the power and importance of citizen leadership.

The nomination form can be downloaded at https://ptmsc.org/about/eleanor-stopps-award or by calling (360) 385-5582 to request a form. 

Nominations can be submitted by email to info@ptmsc.org or hand delivered to the PTMSC office at Fort Worden State Park. All nominations must be received no later than 5 p.m., Aug. 25.

The recipient will be honored at the annual PTMSC Stewardship Celebration at The Commons in Fort Worden State Park in mid-October.

About Eleanor Stopps
From the 1960s through the 1990s, Stopps was an active member of the Pacific Northwest conservation community. She founded the Admiralty Audubon Chapter and continued the work of Zella Schultz to protect the habitat for 72,000 pairs of seabirds nesting on Protection Island. 

Stopps was also a tireless educator and recognized the need to protect the vast and delicate ecosystem of the Salish Sea. With no dedicated political base or influential financial backers, she worked with groups of students and Girl Scouts to raise environmental awareness, eventually forming a coalition of grassroots advocates who labored to marshal public support and push for legislation to preserve Protection Island and the surrounding marine waters. 

In fact, Stopps was a primary driver behind the establishment of the Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge in 1982, one of the few federally protected marine refuges established by an Act of Congress at that time. Today it is a critical habitat link in the preservation of the entire Salish Sea region, providing breeding grounds for Pigeon Guillemots and Rhinoceros Auklets, Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons, Harbor Seals and Elephant Seals, and myriad other species.

About the Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award
The Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award is presented annually to a citizen of the North Olympic Peninsula (Jefferson and Clallam counties) who has:
- Led a successful resource conservation effort that benefits the north Olympic Peninsula and its residents directly;
- Acted as a community catalyst for programs, initiatives or ventures that demonstrate a commitment to the future of the earth and its biodiversity;
- Become a model for future leaders in business and education; or 
- Has been an exemplary citizen or policy maker who has implemented decisions that, though they may entail risks, have helped our communities take the next step towards environmental sustainability.

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center is pleased to sponsor this award and invites nominations so that citizens who have demonstrated positive leadership for the environment can be recognized.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Summer Fundraising Campaign Honors 40th Anniversary


One of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s core values is multi-generational learning. Our 40 years are a testament to that.


Quinton Coley at age 5
with his grandpa Peter Badame 

Take Quinton Coley. He began exploring the Salish Sea with his grandpa, Peter Badame, who
was one of the first PTMSC staffers. Quinton, now 12, has attended summer camp every year
since he was five.




Quinton Coley (age 12) this summer, learning
about the Salish Sea at PTMSC's Marine
Biology: Afoot and Afloat camp  





“I have seen my grandson develop his skills of observation and deduction,” says Peter. “I’ve witnessed his increasing curiosity, and his respect and joy for the mysteries and interconnectedness of the natural world. The PTMSC connects youth like Quinton with the Salish Sea, which is so important for our shared future.”


















Betty Petrie, former PTMSC board member

Then there’s former board members Johanna King and Betty Petrie were involved in flensing a gray whale found on the beach near Middle Point over 20 years ago. Little did they know how many generations would benefit from their discovery.


“It was a messy, smelly job flensing that whale,” says Johanna. “But it was well worth the effort when I see the next generation of marine scientists being inspired by these bones and the story of ‘Spirit’ the gray whale.”





Bee Redfield, PTMSC's Executive Director
Today, under the leadership our new executive director, Bee Redfield, we are poised to expand our mission to inspire conservation of the Salish Sea. Bee has been meeting with stakeholders since she started in April. A recurring theme is concern about climate change and its impact on the ocean and on sea level rise. 

“At the same time,” Bee says, “there is great excitement about how our new facility on Water Street is an opportunity to reach so many more people with the story of how we can powerfully respond to these big challenges.”




Please join us as we strive to inspire even more ocean stewards.

Your donation funds efforts such as:

  • Citizen science projects like the Dungeness crab larval study and the clam shell ocean acidification study to better understand current ocean conditions.

  • A program for 5th and 6th graders that includes a town-hall simulation teaching civic dialogue on issues such as a carbon tax to address ocean acidification.

  • Exhibits of Salish Sea habitats in our aquarium, the threats they face, and the solutions being created by scientists and advocates today.

 


Be part of the solution!  
Inspire more generations of ocean stewards like Quinton, Peter, Johanna and Betty by donating today.  


Double your money by taking advantage of a challenge match of $8,500 by August 31.  







Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Local Earth Day 2022 beach cleanup sets records

2,100 pounds of debris removed


This was our first year loaning out 
wood-framed sand sieves, which were 
popular with families with small children 
for recovering microplastic debris.
On April 23, in honor of Earth Day, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center held our biggest beach cleanup ever, setting several records. Our sponsors included the Port Townsend Food Co-Op, Olympic Disposal, and the Washington State Department of Ecology, which provided funding.
The afternoon was sunny and cool. At 1 p.m., 134 volunteers began arriving. They continued to show up throughout the day, full of enthusiasm, with some joining the effort just an hour before our 5 p.m. wrap-up. Some people could only spare an hour; others spent the entire afternoon walking the beaches, crawling over rocks, and scrambling up and down banks.

They came singly and in teams, including children and senior citizens, high school and college students, families with toddlers, and groups from civic organizations. We loaned out work gloves, bags, and pickup sticks. This year we included mesh sand sieves for the first time, which allowed volunteers to isolate microplastics—an activity especially popular with families including young children. 

In the past, cleanup registration has been at Fort Worden State Park, and volunteers have been sent to a couple of spots in Port Townsend. For Earth Day 2022, people spread out over five official cleanup sites, each with its own registration station, located at:
  • Everyone returned with interesting items and a smile.
    Who knew picking up trash could be such a delightful task.
    Cape George Colony Beach
  • Fort Worden State Park
  • Downtown Port Townsend
  • Indian Island County Park
  • Shine Tidelands State Park
In addition:
  • The Jefferson County Trash Task Force cleaned up Flagler Road along the entire length of Indian Island.
  • A group of homeowners hauled in debris from their private beaches on the far side of the Hood Canal Bridge.
  • Two teams scoured several miles of beach in the remote locations of the southern tip of Marrowstone Island and at Hood Head.
  • Volunteers brought in debris from an unofficial cleanup at North Beach.
All this activity made for a grand total of 10 areas cleaned up.

What Did We Find? What Didn’t We Find!?

I arrived for my afternoon shift prepared to help volunteers weigh their hauls and sort their items for recycling, reuse or the dumpster. There were only a few bags and loose items piled in one corner of the gargantuan dumpster at 2 p.m.

Soon people began arriving and dumping out their reusable trash bags. We used a luggage scale and found most loads in the range of 1.5 to 5 pounds.

I didn’t think we’d be able to fill up the gargantuan
dumpster in a mere four hours, but I was wrong!
Then the first big load arrived, 125 pounds of debris from North Beach, brought to us in the back of an SUV because it didn’t fit into the cans provided there. Then a pickup truck arrived, and then another, both brimming over with several hundred pounds of debris. Word came that two more trucks were expected. In between unloading the trucks, more volunteers arrived with their reusable trash bags.

They dragged back everything from microplastics and aluminum cans to old tires, lost traffic cones and wayward construction materials. An entire fiberglass dinghy, rolled up carpet remnants and throw rugs, a three-legged plastic chair and PVC pipes of all sizes ended up in the dumpster. In went hoses, golf balls, scraps of fishing gear, buckets, shattered ceramic dishes, tile, plastic food wrappers, pieces of foam and many lengths of weathered lumber—complete with rusty nails sticking out!

Trash hauled off the beach came in by the
truckload in the late afternoon.
 
Beside the dumpster we piled a couple dozen plastic shellfish grow bags, which we hope to return to their owners. Volunteers took home several of the dozen-or-so styrofoam crab pot buoys to use as space-fillers under the dirt layer of large pots for plants. Everyone was enthusiastic about saving the collection bags, which were repurposed from originally holding bird seed or agricultural materials.

For those who were interested in a detailed analysis, a printed form helped us tally their takes. A 5-year-old volunteer named Ellie and I dumped out her small bag of trash, and she carefully counted out microplastics (20 pieces), bottle caps (3), straws (1), rope (1), bottles (1), pen-cap (1), and cans (1). Like everyone else who helped out on our Earth Day cleanup, Ellie took great pride and pleasure in her work that day.

PVC pipe, buckets, and hoses were also
common in the debris recovered.
Olympic Disposal, who generously donated their services, recorded a final whopping 2,100 pounds of debris removed!

My spirits were uplifted for days afterwards. I can’t wait to do dumpster duty again in September, when we’ll participate in International Coastal Cleanup Day. I hope you can join us, stay tuned for the date by checking out our Coastal Cleanups webpage here.

By Jenna Kinghorn, PTMSC Volunteer




Monday, June 13, 2022

Elio Wentzel awarded Anne Murphy Ocean Stewards Scholarship

High school senior to attend Yale University
Elio Wentzel, recipient of the
2022 Anne Murphy Ocean Stewards Scholarship.

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center announces that Elio Wentzel has been awarded the 2022 Anne Murphy Ocean Stewards Scholarship. The $1,500 scholarship will help Wentzel (who uses they/them/their pronouns) in their study of foreign languages and architecture, interconnected by environmental studies, at Yale University.

"We are thrilled to be able to help this exceptional young person take their passion for the Salish Sea out into the world and make a difference," said PTMSC Executive Director Bee Redfield.

“Throughout my entire life, my wonder for the natural world has driven my passion for protecting it,” Wentzel said. “Linguistics provides me with a precise approach to studying language and, in turn, humanity. These ideas of communication connect to an interdisciplinary approach to environmental studies.

“Architecture can be a conduit for environmental policy, serving my passions for math and design while allowing me to make a real impact in people’s lives as I endeavor to make spaces that are intentionally equitable and accessible, as well as beautiful,” they said.

As a youth, Wentzel attended the PTMSC’s Junior Explorers summer camp. In high school, they participated in the Students for Sustainability (SFS) and Youth Environmental Stewards (YES) clubs. SFS was instrumental in the passage of the city council’s ordinance to ban plastic straws – a source of marine pollution – that was enacted in January 2021.

“I have conducted regular beach clean-ups for the Salish Sea and been a student representative with our local chapter of the Sierra Club, which often discusses action items to help solve marine environment injuries,” Wentzel said.

“Another issue close to my heart is sustainable farming and food production practices, which also affect our sea and other nearby environments. Through YES, I leaned into the education portion of activism, volunteering my time to create a Fort Worden plant guide full of photography and easily accessible information,” they said.

Laura Tucker, mentor to the Students for Sustainability, says "It’s students like Elio that are going to change this world for the better."

About the Anne Murphy Ocean Stewardship Scholarship

The PTMSC awards the Anne Murphy Ocean Stewardship Scholarship annually to an East Jefferson County student or graduate who embodies the values that Murphy demonstrated in her 24 years as the organization’s executive director: curiosity, wonder and love of the marine environment.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Volunteer Interest Meeting


Thursday, May 26 ,4-6 p.m.

... at the PTMSC Museum at Fort Worden

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center invites you to explore opportunities to promote conservation of the Salish Sea!

Tour the aquarium at Fort Worden and learn about becoming a docent
Explore Citizen Science opportunities: the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, larval crab study, SoundToxins research

Discover ways to educate and engage visitors through conservation and marine science advocacy

Questions? volunteer@ptmsc.org

Saturday, April 30, 2022

An Homage to Cephalopods

The author spending some quality time with Sylvia, PTMSCs current octopus on exhibit

To all the disenchanted tide poolers out there, I have a message of hope for you: The cool stuff from your guidebooks is out there! You can stumble across something so sensational that you would give up every creature comfort to stay squatting in a 45 degree puddle of seawater for just five more minutes in its presence. So it went one fateful night last fall, and I do not exaggerate when I say I haven’t been the same since.

There’s nothing glamorous about tide pooling during Pacific Northwest winters. When the best low tides occur between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. and the weather conditions are stuck on a pleasant cycle of cold and/or wet, it takes a potent concoction of peer pressure and nothing interesting on the Netflix queue to inspire you to pull on your three layers minimum and get down to the beach.

These are times to dredge up some enthusiasm for stumbling around on algae-slick rocks with your neck craned at a 30-degree angle for 2-plus hours. Sure, that thing you’re squinting at could be the rare nudibranch you’ve been hankering to find, but odds are high it’s just another shrimp: low expectations paired with fervent, inexplicable optimism is a critical mindset should you choose to play the game. In other words, keep manifesting that an orca will breach right in front of you on the perfect moonlit night, but you had best be cultivating a bottomless passion for marine snails at the same time.

While I’ve yet to develop a particular fondness for periwinkles, thinking this way did keep me coming back to comb the Washington shorelines where I was born and raised for years. Tide pooling was my happy place, and so what if the coolest thing I ever found was a half-eaten flounder? I’d made my peace with intertidal mediocrity.

It should thus come as no surprise when I say that the night we found the giant Pacific octopus at a negative 1-foot tide foiled everything I’d concocted to keep myself content.

Octopuses were my gateway drug to all things under the sea. I can’t even remember when I started loving them with the fierceness of a horse girl; looking back on my childhood, it seems there was never a time when octopus paraphernalia wasn’t draped over my bed, walls, and for at least five Halloweens running, my person. There’s something about the obvious otherworldliness of their trailing suctioned arms and undulations that draws us in; their mirrored interest in us when we stare at them has a humanizing power to transform them into inimitable creatures often as unsettling as they are mesmerizing.

For the giant Pacific octopus, being in the spotlight is hardly novel: as the largest octopus species in the world, researchers, fisherfolk, and casual beachgoers alike have been drawn to their many-armed mystique and compellingly (if misguided) eerie narrative for centuries. Wander through almost any coastal community and you’re guaranteed to find art, lore, town flags, and at least one shop selling ironic t-shirts that reflect a long history of pride in and love for the deep blue spaces in our backyards. The PNW does a particularly savvy commercial job of grafting the iconic image of eight swirling arms and a wary horizontal pupil to our regional identity, and as the proud owner of one ridiculously plush stuffed octo larger than my head (his name is Alan), I can’t say I’m mad about it.

Drumming up erroneous myths of krakens and looking cute and cartoonish on logos is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the goodly contributions octopuses have made. Boasting the largest body mass to brain ratio, these enigmatic invertebrates came into focus in the marine sciences as “model organisms”1 due to their high level of cognitive-behavioral abilities (eg. tool use) and remarkably evolved sensory organs. Accounting for their ability to learn, memorize, and problem solve, their biology can serve as a sort of guidebook for understanding non-human intelligence. Unfortunately, their masterful camouflaging makes witnessing this innate cleverness in the wild very challenging for those of us who aren't regularly donning scuba gear or studying them in a lab.

While octopuses are intertidal creatures and known to travel relatively high up the shorelines to hunt, they are also crepuscular invertebrates (most active during dawn and dusk). Add to the mix their generally shy nature, and the challenges of searching for an animal that can change its color and texture to match its surroundings and travel across a beach by slipping through 2-inch rock crevices rise to daunting heights. Nevertheless, we had the dream, the drive, and a small collection bucket- and we were not giving up without a fight. With the winter low tides occurring later at night, we had high hopes that this drizzly November venture would be our lucky break.

My head was hung and my mind was planning a midnight snack as we trudged back towards our cars, when what should appear in the yellow column of my headlamp but two long, pale, suctioned arms sticking out from beneath a rock (see image 1). It was unrequited love at first sight. Beckoning the others over in a voice far more casual than what I thought I’d be capable of whilst reaching nirvana, we carefully lifted the rock the arms had retreated under- and behold! Out it came! Like a pink and white marbled piece of flotsam, this deflated bag-looking thing soundlessly flowed over the ground. We looked at it. It looked at us. We freaked out in barely contained whisper-shouts. It suddenly transformed into an old man with seashells tangled in his long white beard in a spray of sea foam, claimed it hailed from Poseidon’s court, and told us it would grant us three wishes.

Just kidding. Can’t have more than one dream come true at a time. Aside from the fact that we’d rudely busted into it’s hidey-hole, I’m fairly certain it didn’t care about us or the momentous encounter that was taking place one way or another. Hoping to get in its good graces after gently replacing the rock, we caught a shore crab and placed it outside its hiding spot as an offering. We watched for signs of life for another good 10 minutes (none were seen other than the sacrificial crab scuttling away), then left content in heart and mind, if rather damp in boot.

I regret to say that Lucky the octopus has not been seen since, despite revisits to the auspicious rock where it all began. But if there’s anything the years of fruitless searching for intertidal cephalopods have taught me… it's that getting a job at an aquarium is a great Plan B.

1 Nuwer, R. (2021). A Model Octopus. Scientific American, 324(8), 12-15. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0321-12.


Photoshoot with wild giant Pacific octopus found on Kinzie Beach, dubbed 'Lucky':


Image 1: The first sighting!

Image 2: What an octopus looks like in 2 inches of water


Video of octopus moving around 









Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Port Townsend Marine Science Center welcomes new executive director

Bee Redfield officially takes the reins on April 1


Bee Redfield, PTMSC Executive Director, effective April 1, 2022

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center is pleased to announce that Bee Redfield will join the organization on April 1 as its new executive director. Redfield replaces Janine Boire, who announced her departure last fall following an 8-year tenure.

“Last year, the board embarked on an intensive search for a new leader who would build upon and advance the extraordinary work done by Janine Boire,” said PTMSC Board of Directors President Ellen Hargis. “We identified four key areas where our next leader must excel: leading people, leading change, exercising business acumen and building coalitions.

“We are thrilled to welcome Bee Redfield. She has the nonprofit leadership experience, science expertise and commitment to conservation that meets those requirements,” Hargis said. “The Board has great confidence that Ms. Redfield will strategically guide the organization forward and develop rich and meaningful relationships with all our constituents.”

“I am so excited, grateful, and so incredibly blessed to be joining the Port Townsend community as the new executive director of the Marine Science Center,” Redfield said. “To have been chosen to help lead this organization into the future is such an honor. I will put my heart and soul into providing support and leadership towards the conservation efforts for the Salish Sea that we're working so hard to achieve.”

Redfield possesses over a decade of experience leading non-profit operations at the director-level, including at a wildlife center in Illinois. She holds a master’s degree in conservation biology from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, with a focus on bringing conservation programming and awareness to communities. In addition, she holds a second master's degree in human resources management and is currently finishing her Ph.D. in quantitative ecology.

“For the past 10 years, I've held leadership roles with nonprofits in the areas of community engagement and organizational operations,” Redfield said. “I've been really lucky to work with some amazing conservation organizations all around the world. I've gotten to conduct research in the Hawaiian Islands and off the coast of California in the Channel Islands. I've taught undergraduate ecology and ornithology classes at Purdue University in Indiana, and I have done hands-on work with many different animal species at zoos and aquariums.”

Hargis and Boire will host an introductory session with Redfield via Zoom on Friday, March 25 at 2 p.m. The session is open to the public; a sign-up link can be found on the PTMSC website.

In addition, Redfield will meet many of the PTMSC’s ardent supporters at the organization’s annual fundraiser on April 16 at the Fort Worden Commons. “You, Me & The Salish Sea” will feature both a live and silent auction and a 40th anniversary celebration. Online registration is available at https://ptmsc.schoolauction.net/ptmscauction2022/register/ticket_sales.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Port Townsend Marine Science Center debuts new exhibit space at Flagship Landing

Downtown location opens to the public on March 4


Left-to-right: Judy D'Amore, PTMSC co-founder; former PTMSC Executive Director Ann Murphy; PTMSC Executive Director Janine Boire; Libby Palmer, PTMSC co-founder

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center gave its supporters and the media a sneak peak at Phase 1 of a new exhibit space and store in downtown Port Townsend on March 2. The exhibit and store will open to the public on March 4.

In August 2021, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center made a big announcement: The non-profit purchased the Flagship Landing Building at 1001 Water Street. The acquisition was the result of the organization’s in-depth search for a new facility that will eventually house its aquarium, exhibits, store, labs and offices.
Interior display at Flagship Landing


Phase 1 serves as an introduction to the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s programs including community citizen science, life-long education programs and exhibits, and a store for unique marine-friendly products. The organization is also celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2022.

“What better way to celebrate 40 rides around the sun for this collaborative community committed to inspiring conservation of the Salish Sea,” said Janine Boire, PTMSC executive director. “One of our primary goals with the Phase 1 space is to share our vision and invite people to visit our aquarium and museum spaces at Fort Worden.”

Fort Worden State Park has been the home of the marine science center since 1982, when founders Libby Palmer and Judy D’Amore marshaled support to build an aquarium exhibit in the wooden building on the pier on Battery Way.

Ellen Hargis, the PTMSC board president, spoke to the future vision for the organization. She emphasized that the non-profit organization is not leaving Fort Worden.
Interior of gift shop at Flagship Landing

“The aquarium will continue to operate until the pier is removed by Washington State Parks in the coming years,” Hargis said. “And the museum building will eventually become an environmental field station and lifelong learning center.”

Another space in the back of the Flagship building has already hosted a traveling photographic exhibit that opened in mid-December: “We Are Puget Sound."

Hargis said that Phase 2 of the building’s renovation will begin in the coming years following an extensive planning and permitting process that includes working with current tenants, as well as conducting a capital campaign. Retrofitting for seismic preparedness and measures to mitigate the effects of sea level rise and weather extremes are also being planned. The entire project is expected to span 5 years.

Port Townsend City Manager John Mauro and Jefferson County Commissioner Kate Dean reflected on the PTMSC’s history, expressed enthusiasm about the organization’s growing influence and stature in the environmental community and praised its positive contributions to the city and county.

Beginning March 4, the new facility will be open to the public Friday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Plans are underway to open six days a week beginning in May. For the latest information, visit https://ptmsc.org/left-menu/visit-us.

Ellen Hargis, PTMSC Board President
Hargis said that Phase 2 of the building’s renovation will begin in the coming years following an extensive planning and permitting process that includes working with current tenants, as well as conducting a capital campaign. Retrofitting for seismic preparedness and measures to mitigate the effects of sea level rise and weather extremes are also being planned. The entire project is expected to span 5 years.

Port Townsend City Manager John Mauro and Jefferson County Commissioner Kate Dean reflected on the PTMSC’s history, expressed enthusiasm about the organization’s growing influence and stature in the environmental community and praised its positive contributions to the city and county.

Beginning March 4, the new facility will be open to the public Friday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Plans are underway to open six days a week beginning in May. For the latest information, visit https://ptmsc.org/left-menu/visit-us.