Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Anne Murphy Ocean Stewards Scholarship awarded to Ella Ashford

Former PTMSC volunteer plans to attend Willamette University

Port Townsend's Ella Ashford has been awarded the 2021 Anne Murphy Ocean Stewards Scholarship. Ashford intends to apply the $1,500 scholarship, which is sponsored by the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, toward an environmental science degree at Willamette University in Oregon.

Ella Ashford, age 11, with
former volunteer the late Roger Wilson in 2013

Ashford is well acquainted with the marine environment. In 2013, at age 11, she volunteered with the Marine Mammal Stranding Network to help protect a northern elephant seal pup that had come ashore in downtown Port Townsend. Ashford wrote about the experience on the PTMSC blog and the unusual story was written up in the Peninsula Daily News.

Another PTMSC project in which Ashford participated was the TEENS (Teens Envisioning and Engineering New Solutions) Camp, where a tour of the Port Townsend wastewater treatment facility served as the springboard for an air quality research project that Ashford conducted at the treatment facility.

Ella Ashford today
“I have continued to pursue my service and environmental passions through programs like the MATE underwater robotics competition,” Ashford said in her application. “I have worked closely with NOAA to facilitate the Olympic Coast MATE ROV Competition, which provides equitable STEM education for students in rural and Native American communities.

“I strive to create opportunities not only for myself, or for my peers, but also for the next generation of scientists and engineers that follow in my footsteps,” she said.

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.

For the latest information about the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, visit Also, look for @PortTownsendMarineScienceCenter on Facebook, @PTMarineScience on Twitter and @ptmarinescictr on Instagram.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Elephant Seal in the Classroom!

GiveBIG 2021 -- This year we are ThinkingBIG, as in 2 tons!

Flashback: A 14-foot long, male northern elephant seal weighing 2 tons, washed ashore on Marrowstone Island in October 2018. The PTMSC’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network sprang into action. 

The team of PTMSC staff and volunteers participating in the northern elephant seal necropsy.

The cause of death was a mystery, so a necropsy was performed. And the elephant seal’s bones were preserved so that -- like Hope, the transient orca whose articulated skeleton is suspended from the PTMSC Museum ceiling -- people could learn about the massive elephant seal’s life and death.

The skull before we started the boiling process.Photo credit: Johanna King

Fast-forward: The elephant seal’s bones are now the foundation of a new PTMSC science curriculum being taught to marine biology students to inspire conservation of the Salish Sea.

Students from Chimacum High School participating in Elephant Seal in the Classroom curriculum

Here’s a sneak peek at the massive mammal’s preserved skeleton that’s being used in the classroom. 

GiveBIG 2021 is May 4-5 and we’re giving a live Zoom update about this exciting program on Tuesday, May 4 at 2 p.m., so be sure to mark your calendars. Here’s what we will cover:
  • How the elephant seal was found;
  • Transporting its bones to PTMSC for preservation;
  • The process of cleaning the bones;
  • How the curriculum for Elephant Seal in the Classroom was developed;
  • Examples of the curriculum, and
  • A testimonial from a student.

Please GiveBIG generously this year so that we can continue to fund programs like these well into the future -- just click here.

PS -- Thanks to a challenge match from a group of donors, the first $10,000 donated will be matched dollar-for-dollar!

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Anne Murphy Ocean Stewardship Scholarship

Now accepting applications! Please share this information!

Retired PTMSC Executive Director Anne Murphy

 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 2021.  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 PTMSC. 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. For questions, please email Development and Marketing Director Liesl Slabaugh at or call 385-5582 x101.

Applications are due by May 25, 2021. The winner will be selected and notified by May 30.  The award will be given at the school’s award ceremony or another event TBD.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Mystery Bird Photographed in an Eagle’s Talons in Port Townsend

Tropical bird spotted at North Beach was far from its normal habitat

A Bald Eagle with a brown booby in its grasp. Credit: Tim Lawson

Sometimes it starts with a simple question. “What is in the talons of that Bald Eagle?” OK, maybe that’s not a simple question. Talons, Bald Eagle, what? 

Recently Tim Lawson, one of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s longtime supporters, sent us his remarkable photos, trying to confirm what he had captured digitally. He had a hunch, but the outrageousness of the idea that it may be a vagrant tropical bird needed some backup, so he asked some of the community’s leading birders for their thoughts.

This avian puzzle rippled out from local experts to regional specialists. Emails were sent, photos shared and carefully studied. Turns out, Tim’s hunch was right, it was a tropical bird that had wandered thousands of miles from its range: a Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster*).

In the Americas, you would more likely find a Brown Booby off the coast of Mexico, or flying over the Caribbean. Australia is also home for Brown Booby. But the Strait of Juan de Fuca in February is extremely unusual.

Tim described the bird as “Brown neck, mantle, back and wings. Medium to large bird. Long yellow beak, large yellow feet, long tail.” 

A brown booby (source:

Audubon’s online guide says, “In North America [the Brown Booby] is seen most often near the Dry Tortugas, Florida,” with the only currently known nesting sites in Hawaii. This bird indeed lived up to the term “vagrant” defined by Audubon, “straying well outside of regular ecological range.”

Matt Bartels of the Washington Bird Records Committee replied to Tim’s submission, saying that it was unusual, if not as rare as it used to be, and posed the question, “Was it dead before the eagle got to it?”

Finding Brown Boobys in Washington state is fairly unusual but not unheard of. Apparently 3-4 are reported each year. One was reported in November 2020 in Willapa Bay by a crew harvesting oysters. It died with a completely empty stomach. 

Other Booby species have been recorded in Washington and Oregon. In early August 2006, a Blue-Footed Booby showed up in Skagit County, while another was retrieved a few days later from the I-5 bridge over the Columbia River in Oregon. It is now preserved in Tacoma’s Slater Museum collection.

We had experienced a cold snap the week that Tim took his photos. Freezing cold makes life for a tropical bird extremely difficult. Could that have stunned it before the Eagle hit? Or had it been a stow-away aboard a cargo ship heading this way from southern climes? We will never know.

Thanks to Tim Lawson for sharing his photos and for asking the question in the first place: What is that bird in the Eagle’s talons?

*Sula is the Norwegian word for gannet, and leucogaster is derived from the ancient Greek leuko = white and gaster = belly. Brown, masked, red-footed and blue-footed boobys are all relatives of the northern gannet and known for their spectacular, almost splashless plunge-dives into schools of small fish. None of these sulids are usually found in the Salish Sea. 

Written by PTMSC Community Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Water World Online: April 26-30


Water World Online, a dynamic collaboration between Centrum and the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, is filled with activities and projects that expand and enhance elementary students’ experience of the marine world through the lenses of both science and art.

In collaboration with artists, scientists, and peers from across the state, students integrate scientific investigations with creative writing and visual art. The result is a multi-faceted, full immersion online learning experience.

Students work in small groups that rotate through a variety of interactive classes and labs. Each day offers a mix of both scientific and artistic workshops. The group size is small to allow for maximum personal attention and engagement.

Classes will be grounded in scientific studies and current issues about the Puget Sound and Salish Sea. These place-based lessons will be used to connect students to their local ecosystems state-wide through readily applied concepts such as water quality, watershed conservation, and developing awareness of the importance of wild, undamaged habitats and how to live in better harmony with nature.

Through a combination of online classes, at-home labs and experiments, and optional local field trips, students learn to work as scientists—exploring nature outside in their own neighborhood; studying plankton and invertebrate through online lessons; and drawing and writing to keenly observe and explore fish, birds, wildlife, invertebrates, waves, wind, and other natural features.

How does it work?
For this program, student groups of 4 to 6 sign up from their school or organization. Larger groups may be accommodated – contact Becky Berryhill for more information (

Every student will receive a package in the mail before the program begins, with all of the supplies needed to participate in the classroom and at-home activities. Students will log in for two Zoom classes every day to learn about and practice marine science, writing, and visual arts. Later in the day, students will partake in at-home experiments and activities, and share their artistic creations and scientific findings with their classmates and artist faculty with daily check-ins and a private online message board. 

For more information and to register, check out Centrum's Water World website.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

FUTURE OF OCEANS Lecture Series: "What Can Puffins Tell Us About The Impact Of Climate Change On Marine Ecosystems?”

Sunday, March 14
3 pm 
via ZOOM

Lecture is FREE 


Our lecture series, The Future of Oceans, draws on the commitment of professional researchers and educators across all academic spectrums to help define and inspire the health of our oceans.

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center continues the lecture series by welcoming John F. Piatt, Ph.D. John’s talk will focus on Tufted Puffins in Alaska, how the composition of their diets reflects long-term cycles in marine climate, and how puffins and other seabirds reacted to the strong marine heatwave (“The Blob”) in 2014-2016. 

Dr. Piatt got hooked on seabirds in the 1970s while working on a large puffin colony in  Newfoundland. Following stints as a summer naturalist at a gannet colony, and surveying birds and whales off the coasts of Labrador and Baffin Island, he turned in the 1980s to studies of the ecological relationships between capelin (a marine smelt), cod, seabirds, and whales for his Ph.D. at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Lured to Alaska in 1987 to study auklets in the Bering Sea, Dr. Piatt remained to work there for 34 more years on seabirds and marine food webs and is now a senior research scientist at the USGS Alaska Science Center. His current research focuses on the overarching role of ocean climate in regulating the abundance and quality of the forage fish that support seabird populations.  

More info about the lecturer and his research program:


*Be sure to also get your ticket for a

Deep Dive Conversation with John F. Piatt, Ph.D.

A science-cafe style, moderated discussion

via Zoom

Monday, March 15 6:30 pm 

$5 per ticket - limited to 20 passes! 


Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Community Science: Why The Name has Changed

Community science in action: intertidal monitoring at Kinzie Beach,
Fort Worden. (staff photo)

Our organization prides itself on our use of science as a tool for inspiring stewardship of the Salish Sea among our community.

For years, our collaboration with volunteers in gathering data, analyzing this information, and planning new projects has been called citizen science. In fact, citizen science and the involvement of community members in the scientific process is so important to our organization that we consider it to be one of our core competencies.