Saturday, January 23, 2021

Gray Whale Unusual Mortality Event Update

Gray whale mother and calf. Drone photo from NOAA.
Gray whale mother and calf. Drone photo from NOAA.

In January 2019, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared a gray whale Unusual Mortality Event (UME) based on the large number of gray whales washing up along the west coast of North America from Mexico to Alaska.

UMEs require a higher level of communication and each month NOAA organizes a call for coordinators involved with the gray whale UME. The Port Townsend Marine Science Center is one of these groups.

On the call are representatives of organizations from California to Alaska and include updates from Mexican and Canadian colleagues. The information shared helps keep track of the migration and stranding patterns of the Northeast Pacific grays.

UME Update

As of Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, Mexico reported gray whales in the bays and lagoons where they go to birth, rear their young and mate. Southern California described animals transiting south along the shore at Palos Verde, south of Los Angeles. And Washington has one lone "Sounder" who swam in to feed along Whidbey Island. This one arrived earlier than usual.

For 2020, the number of stranded dead gray whales was lower than in 2019.

The Gray Whale Migration

Gray whales make one of the longest migrations of any mammal, traveling 10,000 - 12,000 miles round trip. They begin their northern migration in February, heading toward Alaska from birthing lagoons in Mexico.

Gray whale migration. NASA image, NOJO graphics.

March and April are a good time to look for gray whales along Washington's outer coast and for a subset, known as the Sounders, who wander into Puget Sound to feed on ghost shrimp and other bottom dwelling invertebrates along the shore of Whidbey Island and at the mouth of the Snohomish River near Everett.

Gray Whales and the Port Townsend Marine Science Center

The PTMSC has been involved with gray whale strandings a few times. Spirit, the skeleton used with school programs, landed on the shores between Cape George and McCurdy Point during the last gray whale UME declared in 1999.

Articulation of Spirit, in the Gray Whale class at PTMSC.

In May 2016, a gray whale died mid-shipping channel and was towed to Indian Island where we worked to sink it and retrieve the carcass months later.

And, in the spring of 2019 during the most recent UME, Gunther, a large male gray whale, washed ashore near Port Ludlow and was towed to decompose on a private beach in Port Hadlock (making international and local news in 2019 and regional news 2019 again in 2021).

You can find more information about the UME at:
2019-2021 Gray Whale Unusual Mortality Event along the West Coast and Alaska - NOAA
Wildlife officials in Washington seeking homes for rotting whales - King 5 News
A Beached Whale Needs Somewhere to Rot. How About Your Place? - New York Times

Friday, January 8, 2021

MLK Day Socially Distanced Beach Clean-Up

Monday January 18th, 2021
Collecting 10AM - 3PM 
Museum Building Portico at Fort Worden 

Port Townsend Marine Science Center and friends invite you to a Beach Clean-Up on Monday January 18th, 2021 in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

We'll be collecting at Fort Worden from 10AM - 3PM but you can join in whenever suits your schedule! You can meet us at Fort Worden State Park in the Museum building portico to pick up supplies and drop off debris, or clean up another local beach! For more information and to RSVP please use this link:

Monday, December 28, 2020

Resolutions for a Healthier Salish Sea

Here at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center we're getting ready for the new year by sharing our resolutions. Year-round, we commit to making the Salish Sea a healthier and happier place for all to experience. Whether you are a curious human or a hungry octopus, the Salish Sea should be ready for you to enjoy! Do you have a New Year’s resolution for the Salish Sea? Share it with us by emailing it to Meghan Slocombe, the Citizen Science Educator AmeriCorps member, at Read on for a glimpse at what our staff are doing this year…

Reduce, reuse (and reuse again), recycle

The order of those words are important and our staff are not losing sight of that. First, we are finding ways to reduce the resources we use. Then we are reusing the items we do have. And finally, when we’ve exhausted all reuses of an item, we are recycling them! Sure it’s a process, but who doesn’t enjoy getting creative and finding new uses for that stained t-shirt (turned cropped tank turned rag)?! Our staff are committing to buying less, buying more sustainably, and using things until they can be used no more.

To find more ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle check out these resources:

Here are some ways our team is planning to reduce, reuse, and recycle: 

Molly Shea, Museum Educator AmeriCorps member, is going to use less plastic by making her own soaps, cleaners, and makeup
Molly Shea, Museum Educator AmeriCorps member, is going to use less plastic
by making her own soaps, cleaners, and makeup. 
Betsy Carlson, Citizen Science Coordinator, plans to use less plastic this year. 
Diane Quinn, Program Director, is going to use less water every day. 
Carolyn Woods, Education Coordinator, plans to find  more reusable items. 
Erin Merklein, PTMSC Intern, is going to upcycle more. 
Brian Kay, Marketing and Development Coordinator, is going to skip fast fashion this year. 
Deb Diner, Administrative Specialist, is going to buy an electric car. 
Dorit Nowicki-Liss, Aquarium Educator AmeriCorps member,
is going to go zero waste and offset her carbon. 

Eat more sustainable (and tasty) food!

At PTMSC we know that our environment is more connected than ever. That means that even what we eat impacts the Salish Sea. Many of our staff have decided to begin a culinary adventure this year by committing to eat more local food and less meat. 

Interested in starting your own journey towards becoming the Top Chef of sustainable and local food? Check out these websites:

Eat Local First, a map of Washington state’s local farms, shops, and markets 

New York Times, 51 quick and easy vegetarian recipes

Happy Cow, this website helps you find local restaurants with vegan and vegetarian options. Sure this doesn’t require you to cook, but who doesn’t love supporting local restaurants?

Gabriele Sanchez, Volunteer and Programs Coordinator, is going to join a Community Supported Agriculture program.
Liesl Slabaugh, Marketing and Development Director, is going to eat less meat. 
Holly Weinstein, Volunteer Program Educator AmeriCorps member, is going to eat more vegan and vegetarian meals. 

Let’s talk wildlife!

PTMSC staff never stop thinking about our wildlife. (We’ve got some pretty cute reminders in our aquarium. *cough* Juvenile pinto abalone. *cough* Tiny the giant Pacific octopus. *cough* ALL the fish.) So some of us decided that we’d spend the year caring and learning for the wildlife of the Salish Sea.

If you’re also looking to get a bit more wild...or at least connect with more wildlife, check out these sites:

iNaturalist, a website where you can log your own animal, plant, and fungi observations and explore what others have seen nearby.

An Encyclopedia of Salish Sea and Puget Sound species, this site is maintained by the University of Washington and the Puget Sound Institute and contains all sorts of information on the critters of the Salish Sea.

PTMSC’s YouTube, missing all your PTMSC aquarium buddies? Swing through our YouTube page and find videos of some of our fan favorites.

Meghan-Grace Slocombe, Citizen Science Educator AmeriCorps member, is going to learn to identify more animals and plants of the Salish Sea.
Phil Dinsmore, Facilities Coordinator, is going to help keep our aquarium critters happy. 

We hope our New Year’s resolutions have inspired you to think about taking action to help conserve the Salish Sea this upcoming year. From all of the staff and critters at PTMSC, we wish you a happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

FUTURE OF OCEANS Lecture Series: "What Eelgrass and Other Marine Vegetation Can Tell Us about the Future of the Ocean"

Dr. Ronald Thom
Staff Scientist Emeritus
Marine Sciences Lab,
Pacific Northwest National Lab
Sunday, January 10
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 Dr. Ronald Thom, Staff Scientist Emeritus of the Marine Sciences Lab, Pacific Northwest National Lab.

Using eelgrass as an indicator, the presentation will evaluate the theme of net ecosystem improvement (NEI) in the face of historical, present and future threats such as climate change on the ocean ecosystem. The presentation will cover topics including conservation, restoration, resilience and an evidence-based analysis of cumulative effects of multiple actions on ecosystem condition.  

Dr. Thom has conducted applied monitoring and research in coastal and estuarine ecosystems since 1971. His research includes coastal ecosystem restoration; adaptive management of restored systems; benthic primary production; ecosystem monitoring; climate change and adaptation; carbon storage in restored coastal systems, and ecology of fisheries resources. Ron has led, or shared leadership of, approximately 200 multidisciplinary projects. He has worked on ecological systems in California, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Nebraska, and Alabama. Ron was invited to China and South Korea several times to collaborate with scientists there on estuarine restoration. He served on the National Academy of Sciences committee on monitoring the recovery of the Gulf coast following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. He has published ~100 peer reviewed papers including five invited book chapters, and hundreds of technical reports and conference abstracts. He is Staff Scientist Emeritus at the Marine Sciences Lab, Pacific Northwest National Lab, Sequim, WA. Ron is immediate past president of the Washington State Academy of Sciences, served as a Governor’s appointee to the Northwest Straits Commission for six years, and presently is the Senior Science Advisor to the Puget Sound Partnership. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

A Giant Named Tiny: Rearing a Giant Pacific Octopus

This blog post adapted from a presentation by Ali Redman, Aquarium Curator.

It all started out with the “Light Trap.” So I must begin this story with how we came to have a light trap and why. 

This past spring we joined the Pacific Northwest Crab Research Group, which is a diverse collaboration of crab researchers and managers who monitor larval recruitment of Dungeness crab using light traps with the goal of producing a sustainable Dungeness crab fishery. 

diagram of Light Trap used 
to count Dungeness crab larvae

The light trap is composed of a float attached to a 5-gallon water bottle with a light inside. Zooplankton enter through funnels, attracted by a light inside the water bottle. 
This past spring and summer, PTMSC staff and interns regularly counted the number of Dungeness crab larvae that were in the trap and reported that to the research group. Not surprisingly, lots of other kinds of zooplankton were also found in the trap. See the chart below for an idea of the diversity of “bycatch.”

Sample of diverse bycatch from the light trap

Even on the very first day, we found pelagic (floating in the water column) paralarval octopuses, both red Pacific octopuses and giant Pacific octopuses (GPOs). Raising octopuses from a paralarval stage in captivity is notoriously hard to do, and has only been done twice successfully. Keeping a pelagic paralarval octopus alive requires a kreisel or “jellyfish tank.” So we were not planning on collecting any octopuses from the light trap.

However, on June 10, we noticed an octopus zooplankton that was different. This female GPO was benthic, which means that she attached to things and crawled. We thought perhaps we could raise her without a specialized tank. We named her Tiny, because, well, she was tiny!

octopus as a pararval zooplankton!


During phase 1 of raising Tiny, we used a “muck tub,” a piece of aquarium equipment used for larval fish rearing. It had fine mesh covering the drain and a lowered water level to keep her from climbing out. And because octopuses are so intelligent, we kept the tub stocked with a variety of decorations to stimulate her natural curiosity. Tiny ate a diet of wild caught plankton (zoea and other tiny crustaceans), and enriched brine shrimp.

Tiny the octopus started out in this muck tub!
When Tiny got big enough, we began weighing her weekly. We were very excited to see steady and vigorous growth. Her average growth rate was 2% of her body weight each day! 

Finally, when she was big enough (but still tiny, of course) she was moved to a tank in the aquarium exhibit. Astroturf around the rim and a weighted lid is now required to deter Tiny from wandering.

Here are a few fun facts about octopuses.

GPO vs red Pacific:

2 rows of dots on tentacles=red Pacific

1 row of dots on tentacles=GPO

Sexing Octopuses

Male octopuses have a hectocotylus, on the tip of the third right tentacle.

Tiny doesn’t have a hectocotylus, therefore Tiny is female.

Check out this video titled "Tiny over Time" which documents Tiny's growth during her stay with us here at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center:

Donate to our GivingTuesday campaign TODAY!

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

FUTURE OF OCEANS Lecture Series: "Immersions in the World of Kelp"

Betsy Peabody
Puget Sound Restoration Fund
Sunday, December 13
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 Betsy Peabody of the Puget Sound Restoration Fund.

Puget Sound Restoration Fund has been steeped in kelp work for the last decade.  This presentation will delve into the results of the Hood Head seaweed investigation, R&D underway to restore bull kelp forests, a newly launched underwater kelp ecological survey program, and an upcoming 2021 kelp expedition.
Betsy Peabody is founder and executive director of Puget Sound Restoration Fund (PSRF), a nonprofit organization founded in 1997 to restore marine habitat, water quality and native species in Puget Sound.  She is also President of the Pacific Shellfish Institute.  In 2012, Betsy served on the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification, and continues to be actively involved in efforts to mitigate the effects of ocean acidification.  In 2013, she collaborated with NOAA to establish a conservation hatchery at NOAA’s Manchester Research Station dedicated to restoring native shellfish and other living marine resources.  Betsy has a bachelor’s degree in English from Stanford University – and a strong appreciation for the role that marine resources play in our human story.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Creating Community Through Science

Hello everyone! Meghan Slocombe here, the new Community/Citizen Science Educator. 

I have been blown away by the science community we have built at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. In my first month, I have worked with our volunteers to find safe ways for them to continue collecting and processing water samples for our SoundToxins program. I’ve seen vets and community members assess stranded marine mammals, and joined individuals in the aquarium to monitor the growth rates of our pinto abalone. Yet, as winter closes in on us and COVID-19 continues to make it difficult to meet in person, I know many are having trouble finding ways to continue to connect with our science community.

Well lucky for you, I’ve found some great online opportunities for contributing to science. (These online programs have clear instructions on how to help, so don’t worry if you do not have experience with the program beforehand.) Now just because you’re conducting science online, does not mean you’re in it alone! We want to hear from you about what projects you’re contributing to.

Zooniverse is an online citizen science platform with projects in all sorts of topics!

Tell us about the fish you’ve recently identified in the waters off of the Hawaiian islands through the OceanEYEs project.

Or send us pictures of the invertebrates you’ve catalogued for the California Academy of Sciences Invertebrate Zoology Collections.

Better yet, report back on the history of Daytona Beach’s fisheries operations after identifying fish from old photographs.

Fish aren’t your cup of tea? How about you help identify plankton off the California coast. Who knows, it might give you something to talk to our SoundToxins volunteers about!

For those still looking to brave the winter weather, check out the King Tides from November to January. Visit a site before and after the highest tides of the year. Just make sure to be careful!

The point is, while winter may limit our ability to meet in person we are still a community. (And a strong one at that!) My hope is that we can continue to make our community stronger and larger by contributing to the science of other communities. If you want to share with PTMSC your experience with community science or some pictures of your most recent beach walk or winter paddle, email Meghan Slocombe (Community/Citizen Science Educator) at