Monday, December 28, 2009

Take a ride with Adelita!

You have heard of Google Earth... now there is Google Ocean! Adelita was the first sea turtle to be tracked using satellite technology. Go to the blog below to watch videos of her travels around the Pacific Ocean. This technology will help scientists track other marine animals to better understand their behavior.

thank you !

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Flipper

The last few weeks have been filled with orca flipper field trips and adventures. My nose has become accustomed to new smells, my hands have touched pure orca flesh and my eyes have watered from the steam of flipper stew.

Up until recently CA-189's right flipper was being stored in a freezer at NOAA. Why freeze one flipper and nothing else? The reason was to have documentation of the location and arrangement of all the small bones found in the flipper. This will help greatly during articulation this spring.

Check out CA-189's right flipper x-ray and all the ladies displaying the results!

Although the bones were the main reason for the flipper freeze, it was suggested how great it would be to have documentation of the flipper itself. Measurements were taken and tracings made to document size and shape for possible future projects.

The flipper was covered with a unique variety of scratches. Many of these may have resulted from stranding, but others may have been acquired during her life. The other three AmeriCorps and I rolled up our sleeves and got down to business making a series of flipper prints.

After measurements, scans, tracings, paintings and pictures it was finally time to remove the bones from the flesh. How might one go about that? By making flipper stew of course! An old bath tub was the boiling pot and the heat of the stew removed a large portion of the flesh surrounding the bones.

All the flipper bones have been retrieved and are currently in the process of being cleaned.

Good-bye right flipper. Our time together has been smelly, messy and cold, but never greeted without a smile.

Here's to what's next,

Orca Project Coordinator

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hooded nudibranchs and their dance

Hooded nudibranchs (Melibe leonia) have been popular around our dock the last few months. Also known as 'lion nudibranch' because of its mane-like feeding apparatus. Its hood is used as a feeding tool, embracing its prey like a net, catching small shrimp or crabs. They produce a sweet watermelon smell when taken out of the water!

Check out the video below to watch how they move. Its like a beautiful dance through the ocean.


Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Grunt Sculpin eggs are hatching!

As an early Christmas present the sculpin eggs have been hatching in our tanks! We have put them in the brooding chamber with our baby octopuses. We have not successfully raised grunt sculpin eggs before but we are giving it another try with a new food source of decapsulated brine shrimp. Usually the brine shrimp have a hard capsule around them which makes it impossible for the babies to digest. Chrissy has been putting them through a bleach cycle to get rid of their capsule so that they are edible to our new babies! Check out the video of the baby below under the microscope!

Here is a video of a brine shrimp also known as "sea -monkeys." Here at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center brine shrimp is for breakfast lunch and dinner for our babies!

Enjoy the fun videos of the babies!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Grunt Sculpin Eggs!

This weekend the Marine Exhibit was busy as the Thanksgiving crowds came to visit our animals. Although some of the tanks were empty, there was still plenty of entertainment. The octopuses were out and showing off, crabs were stealing food from sea stars and the first two grunt sculpin eggs hatched.

Grunt sculpin

Grunt Sculpins (Rhamphocottus richardsonii) are squat little fish with a long snout and spiny fins. They are called grunt sculpins because they actually grunt when taken out of the water! Grunt sculpins range from the Gulf of Alaska to Santa Monica Bay, California and are found in tidepools and shallow water. They only grow to be about 8.3 cm (3.3 in) long. They aren't good swimmers so they use their pectoral fins to crawl around on rocks and the sea floor. They like to hide in giant barnacle shells and the females will trap a male in a barnacle shell until he fertilizes her eggs. Unfortunately, not much is known about the life cycle or behavior of the adorable little fish. What are their predators? Does the male or female guard the eggs? What is their population size? Maybe someday I'll study them and become the definitive expert on grunt sculpins.

Keeping an eye on the eggs

You can come see these cute fish and all our other animals December 26th and 27th and January 2nd and 3rd.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New finds!

Even though it gray and rainy outside some exciting things are still happening at PTMSC. Chrissy was teaching a NOLS class on the dock when they pulled up these two amazing critters! A Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker and a Winged Sea Slug!

These are both rare finds in the Puget Sound so we are lucky to have found them!


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sea foam...What the heck is it?

Have you ever walked down the beach and all of this foam is all over the beach? I have always wondered what it was and now I know!!

If you have been listening to the news lately you will have heard that there have been massive sea bird kills from the California coastline all the way up to Washington in from September to early November. The culprit... microscopic phytoplankton in large numbers named Akashiwo sanguinea. Phytoplankton blooms are common and normal in nature when extra nutrients are being turned up. "The interesting thing about this particular dinoflagellate is that when it is churned up in heavy surf the hard outer shell breaks open releasing a surfactant that is then whipped up into essentially a coastal bubble bath" (Penelope Chilton, Research Coordinator for COASST). The bubbles make it impossible for birds to preen and soon their skin gets wet and they beach themselves and die of hypothermia. (Photo by Valerie Lindborg)

Akashiwo sanguinea (from our Sound Toxins lab) A beached loon with foam (Picture from National Geographic)

Well I hope you learned something about sea foam! People are helping locally in every way they can to help these birds and get them back into the wild check out the other news articles:

Thanks for reading!

Lab Coordinator at PTMSC
Valerie Lindborg

Friday, November 6, 2009

Our Orca Makes a visit to the Orcadontist

A volunteer sent me an e-mail with the subject line "Orcadontist". Several other volunteers thought it was brilliant and perfectly suited for this week's workshop and I agree!

This week Libby, several devoted volunteers and myself created a set of 46 false teeth for our orca skeleton. These false teeth or "orca-dentures" (another clever term toss around) will be on display in the mouth of our articulated orca skeleton due to be on display later this spring. Why false teeth instead of real ones? It turns out killer whale teeth, when dried out, become very frail. Pieces can begin to flake off and even shatter. Also, returning the teeth to NOAA allows them to be studied in further detail. Although we know "Our Whale" is a mature female, the exact age has yet to be determined; also further knowledge about her diet can be learned through teeth analysis.

photo by: David Plude

We jump started the week with Step 1- Creating tooth molds. Making a perfect mold requires skills in mathematics, combined with the ability to work with clay and most importantly a steady finger. We divided into two groups. One group was responsible for mixing a 1:10 ratio of silicone goop and catalyst, while the other group built clay pedestals for our teeth.

The final step in making the mold requires one volunteer to place a firm and steady finger on the very tip of the tooth, while another volunteer gently pours the "mold goop" until the tooth is completely submerged.

photo by: David Plude

By the time we reached the next step we had an article in the local paper and had become professional mold makers! Step 2-Teeth casting. Once our molds had set for the required 24 hour period we began the task of removing the teeth from the molds. Once teeth were removed we put on our mad scientist gear (goggles and gloves of course) and headed outside. The chemicals being used to create our casts were toxic and ventilation was a must!

photos by: Nathan Trimble

Lucky for us the epoxy used for casting only needed to sit for 30 minutes. It was great to see the results of our work so quickly. Every single mold created nearly identical casts! Results prove what great volunteers we had this week at the workshop.

By Friday we reached our final step. Step 3- Teeth painting. Painting teeth was a change of pace from the rest of the week. It allowed us to express ourselves artistically and also just enjoy talking with one another around the table.

By the end of the afternoon session Friday we had created 46 false teeth for "Our Orca". The work done this week was flawless! Several observers have already looked at the teeth and replied, "wait those aren't the real teeth? They look so real".

I want to thank everyone who came and helped out this week. The Port Townsend Marine Science Center really does have amazing, passionate and devoted volunteers! Thanks for feeding me your knowledge and welcoming me into your community.

What can I say, I've got the orca fever!

Heather, Orca Project Coordinator

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Goodbye fall, Hello winter!

Stormy weather has set in at PTMSC as if to show our loss. Jonathan and Angela, our amazing fall interns have left us, after bestowing all their knowledge to us. They taught us how to clean the tanks, cut up food, feed the animals, and open the exhibits...and so much more.

Jonathan feeding the eelgrass tank

Angela with the whale skull.

We will miss them!

Julia, Marine Exhibit Education Coordinator

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tis the season of farewells!

Not only did we have to bid adieu to our wonderful fall interns this week but we're also beginning the process of taking down the aquarium tanks! We're doing this because the Marine Exhibit is closed during the winter (except for the days immediately following Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years).

Yesterday we emptied out the eelgrass tank- it was quite the adventure! After safely removing the animals and eelgrass, we drained the water and I suited up in rain gear, climbed into the tank and carefully scooped out all the shells that had been covering the bottom. While in the tank I took a moment to imagine what life had been like for all those gunnels, pipefish and tube snouts during the long summer months. Fortunately I had less people staring at me than they did...
After the shells were all taken care of, we rinsed the walls and I set to work scrubbing out all the patches of algae clinging to the walls. Finally we rinsed the tank again, used a bilge pump to drain the remaining water and Julia mopped up the rest!

The tank looks so empty now!

In the coming weeks we'll be emptying out the other tanks in the cluster as well as the piling tank. Julia and I will be spending many hours this winter buffing out all the scratches that have accumulated during the year.

Even though our eelgrass tank is down for the season, you can still learn all about the important role of eelgrass meadows in the near-shore ecosystem on our website:

You can even download a coloring poster to decorate your wall in classy eelgrass style!

And hey- it was just one more reminder that being an AmeriCorps here at the PTMSC is pretty darn AWESOME:

Thanks for reading!

Monday, November 2, 2009

A little bit of a late bloomer...

The Marine Exhibit is now closed (except for special Holiday weekends), but exciting things are still happening in the salty water. This Dungeness crab (Cancer magister) was releasing her eggs on Sunday afternoon. Usually these crabs lay eggs between spring and fall so this one is a little late.

Male dungeness crabs only will mate with females that have recently molted, the female will keep the sperm until her eggs are fully developed. After the female releases the eggs they will go through a series of free floating planktonic stages, molting, changing and growing for up to a year, they then settle to the bottom as little crabs and begin their rough life in the ocean! At about 4 or 5 these species can weigh 2-3lbs and measure 6.5 inches across. If they can escape traps long enough they can also live up to 13 years!

Make sure to come back to the Port Townsend Marine Science Center in the spring to catch some more egg laying action by our resident crabs and other animals!

Thanks for reading!

PTMSC Lab Coordinator,


check out the resources:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

They're back and making themselves heard!

During Wednesday's satellite meeting we had a pleasant interruption; orcas were once again spotted off the pier here at the marine science center. Last time they came through I missed them and seeing them out there reminded me how fortunate I am to be working on such an important and exciting project.

Although they were off in the distance towards Whidbey Island we were able to see them clearly with the binoculars- several dorsal fins, a few breaches and even a spy-hop. While we observed we were able to listen to them vocalize on our hydrophone (underwater microphone) here at the center. If you are out on the pier go behind the center and listen to what is happening live.

You can also listen live online at Scroll down the page and click on Listen to Port Townsend Marine Science Center. Vocalizations from Wednesday should be posted soon, but you can listen to prior recordings right now!

Currently several organizations, Orca Network, the Whale Museum, Beam Reach, SMRU Ltd. and our very own Port Townsend Marine Science Center are assisting in a project tracking the travels made by the Southern Resident killer whales in Admiralty Inlet. Hydrophones are being used to record vocalizations made at different depths in the Inlet. This information assists researchers in understanding the depths orcas dive. Snohomish Public Utility District will reference data collected in this study while making decisions on a potential plan to build underwater turbines in the Inlet. These turbines would use tidal currents to produce energy for use throughout the Puget Sound. For more information on PUD's project check out their website

Seeing killer whales in the wild is such an amazing experience! The project above needs your help reporting sightings. If you are lucky enough to spot orcas please immediately call 1-866-ORCANET or e-mail sightings to You can even receive updates on sightings via e-mail by signing up at

Good Luck spotting orcas!

Friday, October 16, 2009

It's a Girl! (and a Boy! and a Girl! and a Boy! and a Girl! and a Boy!...)

One of the octopus eggs which is just about ready to hatch

As Jonathan and Julia were getting ready to open the marine exhibit today, they asked me to look at a Dungeness Crab who was laying eggs. I was curious about the crab--it seems like the wrong time of year to lay eggs. I took a small sample and put them under a microscope to see if they were developing and didn't see much.

It got me to thinking though. I wondered how Ruby, our little Octopus rubescens, was doing and if her eggs were viable or not. I took a quick peak at them yesterday and noticed that they were a nice peachy color. So I invaded her brood chamber and took 4 of her eggs. Right away I could see that they had eye spots and orangey-red dots on them. We put them under a microscope and could see the mantle pulsing and the chromatophores in the dots changing color. It was amazing!

Here is a short video of the larva inside of the egg.

Ruby laid her one to two thousand eggs on June 23rd and has been guarding them and blowing water on them to make sure they are well oxygenated since then. Although she came to our aquarium in March, she delayed the fertilization and laying of her eggs until she was secure and comfortable in her tank. Octopus rubescens are notoriusly hard to raise in captivity, but we will try to feed them artemia (brine shrimp) and see if we can be one of the first to raise them! I have to keep reminding myself that the reason many marine animals lay hundreds of eggs is that most of them will not make it to adulthood. Octopus are dedicated mothers and won't even eat while caring for their eggs. After she has witnessed her eggs hatching, Ruby will die.

Here is one of the newly hatched larva. This octopus hatched as I was moving the sample eggs to a petri dish. You can see the round yolk sac near the short tentacles.

We'll be sure to keep you posted on this unfolding drama. If you come by please ask us about these new babies, but remember that Ruby may still be in seclusion.

See you soon!

Chrissy McLean, Marine Program Coordinator

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Washed up Humboldt squid

Another amazing adventure today at the Port Townsend Marine
Science Center. This morning we got a call from the office saying that a squid had washed up on the Adelma Beach on Discovery Bay. Since we were unsure of its size, we got suited up with gloves & boots and got lots of garbage bags! We were told it was a Humboldt squid which can get up to 7 feet long so Jess and I were prepared for a large one! This one was pretty dense and roughly 5 feet from tentacles to the tip.

It is now being stored in our freezer for squid printing activities in the future!

This is one of its eyes:

Here you can see the beak (used for capturing and eating prey):

Since the beak of the humboldt squid is so hard (one of the stiffest organic materials in nature!) it was long a mystery how the delicate, gelatinous squids could operate their beaks without tearing their own flesh.
In a recent article from Science Daily, Frank Zok, professor and associate chair of the Department of Materials at UC Santa Barbara described this intriguing "squidly" problem:

"Here you have a 'cutting tool' that's extremely hard and stiff at its tip and is attached to a material ---- the muscular buccal mass ---- that has the consistency of Jell-o. You can imagine the problems you'd encounter if you attached a knife blade to a block of Jell-o and tried to use that blade for cutting. The blade would cut through the Jell-o at least as much as the targeted object."

THE ANSWER TO THE MYSTERY! Researchers from UC Santa Barbara found that the beak's stiffness follows a gradient: the tip is extraordinarily stiff while the base is much softer, "100 times more compliant, allowing it to blend with the surrounding tissue". However, this gradient only exists when the beak is wet- once the whole surface becomes dessicated (dried out) it attains a uniform stiffness. Thank goodness squids are marine!!

FASCINATING!!!!! And yet another reason why we LOVE marine biology....

Another wonderful day at PTMSC,

The Amazing AmeriCorps,

Jess and Valerie

source (check it out folks!):

Monday, October 12, 2009

New AmeriCorps Crew!

Hi all!

As the four new AmeriCorps members serving at the Marine Science Center, we though we'd send out our greetings to the PTMSC blogging world! We are thrilled to be beginning our 10 1/2 month tenure here! We began on October 1st and will be here until the end of August, 2010. It's been a whirlwind 12 days, packed with training, cleaning and new faces. I think I speak for all of us when I say that while I have a huge amount left to learn, not only am I excited to do so, but I know that the fantastic staff here will support and guide us along the way. We will all be posting to this blog a few times a month and you can follow us on Facebook and Twittter as well!

To put names to the faces above:
(moving from left to right)

Heather Jones- Orca Project Coordinator
Jess Swihart- Natural History Exhibit Education Coordinator
Valerie Lindborg- Lab Coordinator
Julia Ledbetter- Marine Exhibit Education Coordinator

Let us know if you have any questions or requests for blog posts. We'd love to hear from you.


Killer Whale sightings from PTMSC!

It was a normal beautiful Saturday morning at the marine science center and Jess, Julia, Jon and myself were busy cleaning tanks. At about 10:30 Chrissy called us and told us that we may pick up some Killer Whales sounds on our hydrophones. So we turned up the hydrophone really loud and went back to work not very hopeful. Then suddenly we heard some whistles and pops! We all looked at each other and dropped our gloves and cleaning objects and ran out the door. There, in the distance 3-4 Killer Whales were swimming by! They had just turned around Point Wilson. After much screaming and excitement we ran inside and got binoculars and cameras! The pictures don't truly do these beautiful creatures justice but it is proof that we witnessed their passing through Admiralty Inlet.
What a lucky boat huh?

The same day the Wildlife Art Festival was happening and Killer Whales were heard and seen by many excited people. All day long people were coming into the marine exhibit and the natural history exhibit expressing their excitement about the Killer Whales. It was a very thrilling day for all of us!
Thanks for reading!
peace. love. whales.
Your New AmeriCorps Lab Coordinator,

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Can we keep her?

This afternoon while Jonathan, the Americorps and I were busy cleaning the Marine Exhibit, Cheqa ran in and asked us, "Do you guys want to see a big octopus?" So, of course, we all ran out excitedly to the dock. In one of his fish traps he had caught a big, 3-foot Giant Pacific Octopus! We put it in a bucket in hopes that Chrissy would let us keep her, at least for a little while.

In this photo she is still hiding in her bucket after we got the round tank ready for her. Pinky was curious and went to go have a look at her new friend. It took us a while to "octopus-proof" the round tank. We had to remove all the large fish and make sure she couldn't slip out the outflow tube. We fashioned a little mesh cap to put over the outflow tube so she couldn't get in there. Octopuses are extremely strong, so we had to put zip-ties around the mesh cap to make sure she couldn't pull it off!

Here she is, sitting happily in her new tank.

We determined that she is a girl, because we don't see any obvious signs on the hectocotyl tentacle, which is the third right tentacle. Males also have this arm shorter than the others.

Now we have two octopuses to name! Be sure to come see her soon in the Marine Exhibit!

Your friendly cephalopod lover,


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New Baby Pacific Giant Octopus!

Exciting News!

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center just received a baby Pacific Giant Octopus from the SPU lab at Fort Casey. She is currently a little bigger than a golf ball and settling into her new habitat quite nicely. In fact, posted below is a video of her catching a shore crab in her new tank!

The Pacific Giant Octopus (Enteroctopus dolfleini) is one of the largest octopi in the world, growing over 9 meters in length and weighing over 45kg at full maturity. Like vertebrates, octopi have both long and short term memories. They are also very smart and may learn to solve problems (like getting food out of a closed jar) by trial and error, experience, and perhaps by observational learning. Once the problem is solved they are able to solve it and other similar problems repeatedly. Another fascinating fact about octopi (and Cephalopods) is their ability to change color. Special pigment cells (chromatophores) in the skin are activated and consist of three bags containing different colors that can be adjusted individually, to change the octopus to its desired color pattern. Coloration often reflects the mood of the octopus but it also greatly used for camouflaging with its environment.

Come by the PTMSC and see her! Though she may be a little shy.

Your friendly Marine Scientist and PTMSC Fall Intern,
Jonathan Robinson

Information found from:

Friday, September 18, 2009

Crab Molt in Action

Yesterday during homecrew one of our volunteers Betty noticed a red rock crab was molting. Molting is an amazing process that enables a crab to grow larger. The molting crab leaves behind an exact copy of it's itself including the eyes gills and even the stomach lining. To molt the crab backs out through a split along the rear edge of its carapace (the large flat surface on it's back). Once out of it's old 'shell' the crab's body is very soft and it puffs up with water increasing it's size.
Below are pictures showing the molting process:

The split at the back of the carapace has just begun.

A little farther along.

The crab now has its legs out.

One claw has come out.

Almost there. . .

It is finally free! The legs were so soft at this point, they were buckling under the weight of the body!