Monday, April 26, 2010

More spawning!

Visitors this week at the marine science center got a treat when multiple species decided it was the right time to spawn. Our mussels, sunflower stars, blood stars and sea urchins all started releasing sperm and eggs. Visitors stared, mesmerized at as the creatures shot out hundreds of eggs into the water. With any luck the eggs will become fertilzed. Most of our invertebrate species go through a planktonic stage of life before settling and metamorphosing into what they will become.

Hugging sun flower stars

Green sea urchins spawning

Sun flower star spawning

Mussel spawning, look at all the orange eggs!

Look at all that!

Yay Plankton!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Homecrew Excellence

If you spend any time at all around PTMSC you will no doubt hear mention of our fabulous “homecrews”. This refers to the saintly group of volunteers that clean all of our tanks in the marine exhibit. These lovely folks cheerfully donate 3 hours a week to duties that are frequently smelly or tedious. Whether they are vacuuming up animal waste with siphons or twisting like contortionists to scrub algae off the plexiglass walls; they are indefatigable and we are inexpressibly grateful for all of their hard work.
Louise Walzack, scrubber extraordinaire, cleans the round tank

Recently, during a Thursday homecrew (during the winter we have three separate crews), we had the collective realization that doing Homecrew leads to the acquisition of a rather remarkable suite of skills not used in every-day life. Sometimes I take a mental step back during a Homecrew task, realize what I’m doing and have to chuckle. Picture this; a group of three adults, all bent over a plastic siphon tube, banging it with great force against the wooden floor while muttering under their breath “Out cursed blockage, OUT!!” This may or may not be followed by a vigorous stomping on said “blockage”.

The following list is an attempt to share the “Homecrew” world; a magical mystical place where your happiness is dramatically affected by the bowel movements of invertebrates. I’m thinking of this blog post as a work in progress so if you are a current or past homecrew member and can think of anything to add, PLEASE TELL ME and I’ll write it in! ( or leave a comment on the blog)

You know you’re a seasoned PTMSC Homecrew Volunteer when:
• You brim over with self-satisfied pride when you make it through 3 hours of cleaning without a single siphon-clog.
• You use a turkey baster…. to dust rocks….

Mary Jo Nichols demonstrates the acclaimed "turkey-baster" technique

• Your motto for the day is “Only suck once”
• You heart sinks a bit when a storm brings high winds and rough waves… because you know how this is going to affect the cleanliness of the tanks.
• It’s immensely cathartic when your entire siphon goes black with dirt… and you immediately scrounge around for more pockets of filth

Nathan Trimble using the gravel tube attachment to siphon a jewel tank

• You’re able to distinguish between normal and abnormal quantities of California sea-cucumber poop.
• You’ve considering offering kaopectate or Immodium to a California sea cucumber.
• After you realize you have fish juice in your hair you have the subsequent realization that this doesn’t really faze you.
Joe Ryan, famed caretaker of Touch Tank 4

• You’re willing to withstand freezing cold water and ice-cold hands because those animals just gotta get fed!!
• Your heart gets all fluttery when a new, gorgeous animal shows its face for the first time when you’re cleaning its tanks (even if this new animal doesn’t have a face).

Thank you to all of our wonderful homecrew volunteers! You all are fabulous!
And for all those out there who have yet to join up, we can always use more help! You too can dust rocks with kitchen implements!!
-Jess Swihart
Natural History Exhibit Education Coordinator & Homecrew Mega-Fan

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Spurting Love!

In early spring, many of our Pacific Northwest marine invertebrate species begin to reproduce. Many of them use a process called broadcast spawning, where both sperm and egg are released into the water and external fertilization takes place. Most species will coordinate with the lunar cycle and all start releasing sperm and eggs at the same time; which can be a nice snack for other marine creatures feeding in the water column. Broadcast spawning can be advantageous because it overwhelms the waters guaranteeing that many fertilized eggs will make it to adulthood. Species that broadcast spawn do not have to compete with their offspring for food or space because the currents may carry them many miles away before they even become fertilized.

Viewer Tip: Look out for broadcast spawners on the beach in early spring; you may see some cloudy waters in tide pools from sea anemones, sea stars, or urchins. The Port Townsend Marine Science Center reminds you to use gentle, wet hands if you touch anything and leave tide pool animals where you find them. These simple steps will reduce any stress or impact to the animals.

Plume worms spawning

A Short video of a few broadcast spawners in our tanks at the PTMSC.


Modes of dispersal of clonal benthic invertebrates: consequences for species' distributions and genetic structure of local populations.

Fertilization in broadcast spawning marine bivalves is a small scale process: the Baltic clam Macoma balthica.

Invertebrate lover,

Valerie Lindborg
PTMSC Lab Coordinator

Monday, April 5, 2010

Buffing and Gluing and Seining, Oh My!

After months of polishing tanks, designing exhibits and collecting animals, the Marine Exhibit is finally open!!

The month of February and the first week of March were spent slowly buffing scratches out of the inside of the acrylic tanks using 6 different grits of sandpaper and two different liquid grits. This was a slow process; each scratch can take up to an hour, depending on its size and depth. Since these scratches were inside the tanks and weren’t all at eye level, it took some creativity to get a correct position and a good view of the scratch.
Jess and I buffing the piling tank

Jess curled up in the cluster tank to be at eye level with the scratch

After all the major scratches were buffed out, we used a special attachment on a power drill to polish the inside and outside of the tanks to give them a finished look. Once the acrylic was done, we moved onto the stainless steel bases of the tanks and, with the help of two awesome volunteers, buffed all the rust off the steel using synthetic steel wool and a liquid grit.
Using the power drill to polish the inside of the piling tank

Heather, Jess and I then designed habitats in our newly finished tanks using rocks, wood, superglue and wood pilings. The challenge with designing exhibits is that you want them to be visually appealing, but also stable enough to allow us clean without causing them to fall apart. With the wood we used, we had to make sure it wouldn’t float when water was added. It took some trial and error, but we eventually mastered those designs!
Jess and Heather carefully stacking basalt rocks

Jess and I supergluing clumps of mussels onto the pilings

Finally, it was time to collect animals and start filling these shiny tanks with water! We used several different collection methods including snorkeling, pulling mussels off docks, seining, and tide-pooling. From these methods we collected mussels, crabs, sea cucumbers, tube worms, tubesnouts, pipefish, sticklebacks, clingfish, anemones, hermit crabs, nudibranchs, sea stars, several species of sculpins and more. The animals were placed in their new habitats and we were finally ready to open.!
Valerie, Jess and I getting ready to snorkel under the pier

A longfin sculpin we collected at the marina

Thanks to the 366 people that visited on Opening Weekend, especially those who braved the wind on Friday to come on Opening Day!

Come check out our new animals Friday-Sunday, 12-4pm.

Marine Exhibit Education Coordinator

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Free Science Class Highlights

Kids from all over the Puget Sound area came to the Port Townsend Marine Science Center in January and February to participate in our Orca themed Free Science Classes. Lots of preparation went into getting these classes going. We contacted local schools to get people interested, created props, teaching materials, wrote and edited the curriculum. The classes really came together in the end. There was lots of learning and laughing done by the kids that came (and for the staff too!)

Previous blog posts gave you an idea of what was taught in each class. Here is a video that was put together to show the kids learning, teachers teaching, props, games and quotes from the kids! This gives you an inside peak into the classroom. Enjoy!

Farewell Free Science Classes it has been fun!

Valerie Lindborg
PTMSC Lab Coordinator