Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Junior Explorers Summer Camp

This was the first year that the Port Townsend Marine Science Center hosted campers 5-7 years of age. Each day of the week had a different nature theme to it.

Monday was all about natural history and fossils. One of our volunteers and fossil expert, Roger Wilson came in and talked to our explorers about how fossils are mineralized and very old. They even got a chance to make their own fossil rubbings!

Tuesday was spent learning about invertebrates in the marine exhibit and creating hand crafted marine critters. Beforehand we learned a song about habitats going something like this: "Habitat habitat have to have a habitat, have to have a habitat to carry on!" We learned about 4 major habitats around the Washington area and got chances throughout the week to explore the ocean and forest habitats we sang about! In the exhibit the campers pretended to be an animal and find it in one of our tanks. After I told everyone to put on their imagination hats a few minutes later a kid said "Oh I forgot I had my imagination hat on, my imagine is all runned out!" It was also feeding day at the center so the campers helped feed the animals.

Learning about the chiton

Wednesday we started the day with a song about banana slugs! "Banana slug slug slug! Banana slug, ba-na-na-na-na, banana slug!" The song talked about the importance of banana slugs in our forest ecosystem. The day was spent hiking up to the forest in Fort Worden State Park to explore this habitat. Here we did two different activities about animals and their habitats. They got a chance to make their own 'micro-trail' and learned what animals need in order to survive in their habitat.  

Singing and reading about Banana Slugs!
Thursday was all about Salmon! The campers learned the 5 types of salmon and their life cycle. A stream was set up for the kids to pretend to be salmon and go through their whole life cycle. They started by hatching out of an egg, growing up to be a salmon while trying to avoid the predators and sniffing their way back to their stream to spawn. The day ended by them drawing what a healthy stream would look like and the ways that we can help salmon survive.

Learning about salmon!

Friday was the last day of camp and the campers seemed to look forward to the tidepools. We spent the day on the beach searching through tidepools to find cool animals! Camp sadly ended with some tears as kids did not want to leave!

Exploring the tide pools!

A few things that we learned while working this camp:
5-7 year olds will listen to you instantly if you start reading a story or singing a song
They love the game 'Sharks and minos'
They love to tell jokes. Here was one of the best jokes I heard during camp:
"What did the father bison say to the son bison when he was leaving? Bison! (Bye-son)"

Overall Junior Explorers was a great first success! A big thank you to all the campers for the fun week and making us laugh, and to our camp director Nancy and Aletha our counselor!

Junior Camp Counselors,
Florencia and Valerie

Monday, August 23, 2010

Marine Biology Day Camp

Twenty six marine biology enthusiasts participated in Marine Biology Day Camp August 9-13th to learn all about the marine environment and its inhabitants. Julia and Claudia worked with Nancy Israel and Cené Bryant to create an exciting week of exploring the diversity of organisms in the area with the help of Junior Counselor, Andrew. The week started with lessons on plankton and food webs to convey to the campers that even microscopic animals are important. As the week progressed, the campers studied a variety of organisms and habitats. The kids explored the rocky tide pools at Kinzie Beach where we had a spectacular day of wildlife viewing. Not only did we see tons of crabs, sea stars and chitons, but were also fortunate enough to see river otters, a bald eagle, harbor seals, a great blue heron and harbor porpoises, all within a few hours time!
Campers exploring the tidepools at Kinzie Beach

Searching the tidepools

One of the highlights of the week was a field trip to the old railroad trestle beach at low tide. Kids participated in seining, clamming, sieving for worms and using their creativity to write and draw about all these things in their camp journals. As the campers explored this sandy habitat, the low clouds lifted, giving us a perfectly sunny day.
Searching for clams

Sucessful clam dig

Lessons on fish and invertebrates were supported by real life animal viewing at the Marine Exhibit touch tanks and aquariums, which prepared everyone for arguably the best part of the week: the beach seine. This was led by Marine Program Coordinator Chrissy McLean who powered our rowboat out to set up our large beach seine (150 feet!). The kids rolled up their sleeves and used their muscles to pull it to shore. Many different marine animals were caught including lots of decorator and northern kelp crabs, tubesnouts, copper rockfish and so much more. After the campers learned about what each animal was, most were released back into the water. Shiner perch, 2 silver spotted sculpins and some tadpole sculpins were kept for education purposes in the Marine Exhibit’s aquariums.
After pulling the seine to shore

Identifying the fish and crabs we caught

We wrapped up the week with a squid dissection and building the skeleton of a gray whale, the kids loved both! The last few hours of camp were spent building a life-size orca out of sand, which was a testament to teamwork and the relationships the kids had forged throughout the week. The outcome was an awesome orca whale, complete with a saddle patch.
Assembling the grey whale

Our completed sand orca!!

The campers and staff had an amazing week learning about the marine environment, playing games and enjoying the beautiful beach at Fort Worden.

Julia Ledbetter and Claudia Padilla

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Plankton Conference

Plankton: little is seen during the winter months in Port Townsend but when the spring and summer months arrive its a planton feast! With increased sunlight, temperature and nutrients the water turns from clear to cloudy and brown  swimming with microscopic life! 

Plankton-filled water from a plankton tow.                     A drop of water from a plankton tow.

NOAA put on a plankton identification conference where organizations and volunteers can gain a better understanding of how to tell apart different species of plankton.

Citizen Science volunteers: Dick, Stephanie and Louise look for plankton

Can you imagine looking at a tiny piece of plankton through a microscope and trying to figure out what species it is? Our volunteers at PTMSC are excellent and spend many hours throughout the year monitoring our local waters and the plankton that is present. Our SoundToxins program allows volunteers to go out weekly and collect water samples and count how many of each species is seen in the water. Specifically our volunteers are looking for the 'bad plankton.' In high numbers some plankton can make swimming or eating shellfish dangerous to human health. Monitoring plankton and looking for patterns in plankton species is an important part in better understanding the ecology of our local waters.

Stephanie and Louise checking out the plankton from Port Townsend

Beautiful plankton found in Port Townsend.
Top Left: Chiton egg

PTMSC is part of a national database for monitoring plankton abundance. This information can help scientists determine global patterns of plankton blooms based on the weather patterns, salinity, or wave action.
Visit: for more information about plankton blooms and patterns.

Plankton lover,
Valerie Lindborg

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

They're out there.... humboldt squid

On Monday, July 26th, a Humboldt squid, (Dosidicus gigas) washed up on the beach of Discovery Bay. Peter Downey, from Discovery Bay Shellfish, lugged it off the beach and brought it over to the Marine Science Center for closer inspection. 

Since we already have a specimen in our freezer for educational purposes we jumped at the opportunity to dissect this latest find!  Also known as the "jumbo squid" or "jumbo flying squid", Dosidicus gigas  remains a bit of a scientific conundrum. Since we conducted the dissection outside on the pier, we had a fairly large crowd and many on-lookers expressed shock that a squid this large was found in our local waters. This shock is well placed; the range of the Humboldt squid previously extended only as far North as San Diego but in recent years these cephalopods have been found as far North as Alaska!  The exact reason for this massive expansion in range is still unclear but researchers at the Gilly lab at Stanford University attribute this shift to climate change. Able to thrive in oxygen-poor zones, Humboldt squid seem to be benefiting from the increased numbers of "dead zones" believed to be one manifestation of climate change's effects on wind patterns and ocean stratification. 

Whatever the cause of our squid's demise, it  provided an excellent opportunity for education and discovery here at PTMSC! Thanks to Discovery Bay Shellfish for bringing it in! 

To see more photos of the squid's dissection and to learn a bit about squid anatomy, watch this cool video:

This is actually the second squid that has stranded and "visited" the Marine Science Center in the the past year (see our first blog entry to view the previous squidly visitor and to learn more about the beak of squid(

-Valerie Lindborg and Jess Swihart
AmeriCorps and Squid Mega-Fans

For more information check out these sources:

Monday, August 9, 2010

Whale Camp- Not your average summer camp

From July 11-17, 2010 campers from all over the country gathered with one common interest- WHALES. Whale Camp is a collaboration between The Port Townsend Marine Science Center and Centrum with the  idea of using science and art as an avenue for discovery.
Libby gives insight to wide-eyed campers
Photo by: Al McCleese

To say our days were busy and full would be a staggering understatement; the entire week was a whirlwind of activity, learning and fun!  Mornings were divided between art and science activities.

The science looked something like this-

The group works to assemble the gray whale's vertebrae.
Photo by: Al McCleese

Heather plays the signature calls for orca pods- J,K,L
Photo by: Al McCleese

Baleen in the mouth of PTMSC's gray whale, Spirit. 
Photo by: Al McCleese
Campers were introduced to the whales of the Salish Sea in a class called "Whale Ecology", assembled a whale skeleton during "Gray Whale", listened to orcas and learned about hydrophones during "Sound Underwater", and helped solve some of the mysteries surrounding the death of transient orca CA189 during "Orca Forensics".  CLICK HERE to learn more about CA189 and PTMSC's Orca Project.

The art component allowed campers to create and become art!  Artist Deanna Pindell guided campers through creating black and white drawings of whale bones.  she also reinforced what participants had learned in the Whale Ecology course by covering the room with pictures of whales and letting them create drawings of their own.

                                                              Photos by: Deanna Pindell

Movement/Theater instructor, Christian Swenson, introduced students to the idea of using their original instruments (body and voice).  Participants learned to move in unison as a group without a leader, changing direction and speed.  The groups made up "sea creature yoga", predator/prey skits and created spontaneous sound gardens with their voices.
Campers in motion!
Photo by: Al McCleese

Photo by: Al McCleese
Most afternoons we met in the schoolhouse building and worked on constructing paper mache whales, whale puppets, or both.  I enjoyed  seeing all the creativity that emerged from our time in the schoolhouse.

Photos by: Deanna Pindell

Our first afternoon was spent working on a special once-in-a-lifetime project; each student made a cast of a real orca tooth!  Those of you who are avid blog followers or active with PTMCS's Orca Project may already be aware of how and why this was possible.  For those of you who are less familiar, learn more HERE.  The cast teeth turned out really well and each camper had one to take home with them at the end of the week.
Keeping a steady hand.  Heather helps camper, Noah, pour the teeth casting mix.
Photo by: Al McCleese

The finished product!
Photo by: Al McCleese

Each day, we finished our afternoon on the beach.  I thought of this portion of the day as "unstructured creativity time".  Some days campers created sand whales on the beach, other times were spent building and launching "art-barges", creating giant driftwood sculptures, and making up songs.  Everyone seemed t really enjoy our afternoons in the sand and sun.

Photo by: Al McCleese

Evenings were filled with exploration and experimentation.  We visited the marine and natural history exhibits, tried to create a bubble net in a kiddie pool to mimic humpback whale feeding, and played with the hydrophone off the floating dock.  I'm pretty sure none of us had problems falling asleep at the end of each day.

The bubble-netting experiement!
Photo by: Al McCleese

Our last day was spent whale-watching aboard P.S. Express's Glacier Spirit with a stop to visit The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor.  No whales were spotted during the first half of the trip, but spirits remained high.  Our visit to The Whale Museum was a personal Whale Camp highlight for me.  The head education specialist at the museum and a minke whale researcher spent time talking and asking campers to share information they had learned during the week.  I was blown away with all the knowledge they shared.  Members of our group asked insightful and thoughtful questions and I truly believe we all would have been completely content to have spent the whole afternoon at the museum!

Back aboard the boat, campers were advised to watch for clusters of birds.  A group of birds feeding at the surface of the water can indicate that a whale is feeding nearby.  Suddenly, a minke whale was spotted!  We all brimmed over with excitement.

Our last night was spent on the beach laughing and sharing stories around the campfire.  Saturday morning we gathered our works of art and said good-byes.

Five days after Whale Camp one of our campers, Ella, was visiting the Marine Exhibit when a PTMSC staff member mentioned having heard that Whale Camp was really fun.  Ella's reply, "Fun doesn't even describe it.  It was amazing!"

We laughed, learned, and made new friends all while listening, creating, and making discoveries about whales.

I wish you all could have come!

Heather Jones
Orca Project Coordinator