Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Port Townsend Marine Science Center finds unique phytoplankton


Last week Port Townsend Marine Science Center Sound Toxins volunteers Linda Dacon and Darryl Hrenko identified the presence of the relatively rare phytoplankton species, Dinophysis tripos:

Photo of Dinophysis tripos taken by Linda and Darryl on 12/7/2011 in the Discovery Lab at Port Townsend Marine Science Center

The sample containing D. tripos was collected at the Cape George Marina in Discovery Bay of Puget Sound and was an exciting find for our Sound Toxins team. This is the first identification of D. tripos at Port Townsend Marine Science Center since the start of the Sound Toxins program (formerly known as ORHAB) in 1999.
Dinophysis tripos is a type of phytoplankton that falls under the phylum of Dinoflagellata. Some of its defining characteristics are:

  • A toxic marine species that is commonly found in tropical to warm temperate coastal waters
You are probably wondering… what is D. tripos doing in the chilly waters of Puget Sound at Port Townsend Marine Science Center?!?! We consulted our contacts at NOAA and found that as far as distribution goes, it is commonly found in warmer coastal waters but sometimes detected in Puget Sound.

  • D. tripos is found in neritic (coastal), estuarine and oceanic waters
  • It is rather large, measuring in at about 100µm in length

 This little guy (actually it is sexless but we will call it this as a term of endearment) is about 100 µm (micrometers or microns) long! To give us some perspective, that’s equal to one tenth of a millimeter! If you’re wondering how Dinophysis tripos sizes up to some other common miniatures, here are some comparisons for you:

Dinophysis tripos is…
  • About 10 times bigger than a red blood cell 
  • Only 5 to 10 times bigger than most bacteria cells

  • The Genus Dinophysis was discovered in the mid-1800s

  • D. tripos is connected to Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning (DSP)

There are many species of Dinophysis connected to historic events of DSP. DSP is one of four recognized symptomatic types of shellfish poisoning (others being paralytic, neurotoxic, and amnesic). D. tripos releases the toxin dinophysistoxin-1 (DTX-1) which is linked to DSP.

Here’s what Brian Bill, a phytoplankton expert at NOAA had to say about the finding:

“As far as toxin content or production from this specific species, not much is known. It is known to produce some amounts of Okadaic acid and Dinophysis toxins, but how much and whether more or less than other species if something we don't know. They are particularly hard to culture in the laboratory because their normal mode of feeding is preying on ciliates such as Mesodinium rubrum, which in turn prey on small cryptophytes for their nutrition. With all those levels of complexity, it's difficult to culture them and find out what conditions facilitate production and what types and ratios of toxins they produce. Hopefully in the near future we can answer some of those questions... the recall of shellfish from Sequim Bay last year and the outbreak in Canada during the same time will hopefully translate into funding so some of those questions can be answered.”

So thanks for checking in with us and stay tuned for more updates on marine science, phytoplankton, coastal issues...

Port Townsend Marine Science Center

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Necropsy Training at PTMSC!

Hello all!

Port Townsend Marine Science Center had a very exciting (and smelly) Harbor Seal pup necropsy training early last week with marine mammal veterinarians, Pete Schroeder and Betsy Lutmerding. This training was to inform our staff and stranding network volunteers how to perform a basic necropsy and collect samples/data. The purpose of a necropsy is to determine the cause of death of the animal and to collect information used for monitoring and learning about local marine mammals. During the necropsy we looked for notable wounds, unusual tissue or organs, and signs of human interaction. To search for pathogens and toxins, samples were taken of blubber, major organs, internal fluids, and stomach contents. This time collecting samples was just for the training; during future necropsies we will interpret and use the results of the analyzed samples.

Receiving Prescott Grant funding, which started in October, has made training and future necropsies possible for our stranding network. The East Jefferson County Marine Mammal Stranding Network (EJCMMSN) now has funding to install information signs at 10 beaches, create and print a brochure, improve the marine mammal stranding information on our website, plan additional trainings, and perform and analyze samples from 5 necropsies.

Chrissy Mclean (PTMSC’s Marine Program Coordinator) and I would like to thank our wonderful stranding network volunteers as well as Pete Schroeder and Betsy Lutmerding for their time, effort, and smiling faces they contribute to our stranding network. Thank you all very much!

Jen Stevens
Marine Mammal Citizen Science Assistant

(See photos from the necropsy training below! CAUTION: Photos are Graphic)

Interested in joining our team of stranding network volunteers? Contact Jean Walat at for more information!
Examining the stomach contents from one of the seal pups– all that was found were a few very small fish bones. Photo by Richard Smith

Marine Mammal Veterinarian Betsy Lutmerding measuring the blubber layer during the necropsy training. Photo by Sandy

PTMSC staff, stranding network volunteers, and marine mammal veterinarians worked together to perform two successful Harbor Seal pup necropsies. Photo by Sandy Dengler

Marine Life Trivia

Okay so here’s a little Marine Life Trivia for you…

What species…

• Lives to be somewhere between 20 and 30 years old, with the females reaching the upper limit of this range…

• Has an average adult male that can weigh up to 1500 lbs (!) with females averaging 600 lbs…

• Will regularly travel up to 250 miles to find food and as deep as 600 feet…

• Needs to eat at least 6% of its body weight each day in order to survive? Let’s do the math… average male is 1500 lbs. x 6% = 90 lbs. a day!! *

So… we’ll give you a hint… it’s a mammal!

   ** Puzzled?......

Okay, here’s another hint… Our Marine Program Coordinator Chrissy McLean and AmeriCorps Citizen Science Assistant Jamie Landry responded to a stranding of one of these guys last week! So can you guess now???

Okay, Okay, I’ll tell you!!

A Steller Sea Lion!!

PTMSC’s Marine Program Coordinator, Chrissy McLean and Artemis the male Steller Sea Lion

PTMSC's AmeriCorps Citizen Science Assistant Jamie Landry helps document Artemis' stranding

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center is part of NOAA’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network (MMSN) and responds to calls of mammal stranding on a regular basis. Last week, a local citizen reported a dead and beached Steller Sea Lion on Marrowstone Island. After collecting basic information on this endangered species, Chrissy and Jamie collected the head in hopes to get tissue samples and a fully intact skull which the Marine Science Center will use for educational purposes. We have named the male Steller Sea Lion Artemis and are looking forward to having his skull in the Natural History Museum at Fort Worden State Park. It was an exciting call and we want to give special thanks to our volunteers who participate in the MMSN and all locals who place calls to inform us of marine mammal stranding in the East Jefferson County area.

If you find what you believe to be a stranded mammal, please visit our website for more information on what to do and who to call.

* Statistics credit: The Alaska Sea Otter and Steller Sea Lion Commission
** Cartoon Credit: Mark A. Hicks

Until next time,

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What's New at the Marine Science Center?

Hi there guys and gals!  It's been a while since we've posted on the blog- partly because we wanted to let Chris' thoughts on "poop" really sink in- and partly because we've been so busy with all the transitions around here.

So what kind of transitions are we talking about? And who is "we"?

Well, "we" is the new AmeriCorps team for the 2011-2012 season!

From the left: Jamie, Elise, and Jen are getting settled in and finding their way at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.  (Clarification: Jamie doesn't actually drink the lab chemicals, Elise is not stored in the Eelgrass Tank, and Jen is not part fish.)

So here's a little bit more about these ladies and what they hope to bring to the Marine Science Center this coming year:

Jamie Landry comes to us from her hometown of Gilford, NH.  After graduating from the University of Rochester, she moved to Iceland in 2009 to pursue her Master's Degree in Coastal and Marine Natural Resources.  After spending an additional year in Iceland as a head volleyball coach, she moved back to the US to work as a naturalist and environmental educator with the Adirondack Mountain Club outside Lake Placid, NY.  Now residing in Uptown Port Townsend, she can be found at PTMSC in the Discovery Lab, around town on her early morning runs, playing volleyball with the local club, or knitting traditional Icelandic sweaters. 

Elise Gorchels is a very busy, well-caffeinated, scuba diving conservation biologist whose greatest fear in life is being boring, followed closely by being bored.  She is a transplant from Madison, WI and can most frequently be heard discussing cheese, microbrews, and Badger football.  When she isn't at work she's probably underwater photographing all the great life the PNW has to offer!  After graduating from UW Madison in 2008 she spent two seasons as an educator on Orcas Island and one year as an AmeriCorps member at a community center in Madison.

Jen Stevens is originally from Minnesota and has a Bachelors Degree in Marine Zoology from The Evergreen State College in Olympia. She spent time doing husbandry and research of sea turtles at Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida and recently worked as a zoological aide at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. Jen’s main objective at PTMSC is the East Jefferson County Marine Mammal Stranding Network and lately has been helping run seal necropsy trainings. When not at PTMSC she can be found exploring downtown, hanging out with her two felines, or playing Dungeons and Dragons with her friends in Olympia.

So there you have it!  These three vivacious ladies look forward to working with all of our wonderful volunteers and inspiring future Marine Science Center visitors with their enthusiasm and passion for the magnificent Salish Sea.

Aaaaannnnd... we have more exciting news! Some of you might recognize this lovely lady...

You may have recently seen former PTMSC 2010 Summer/Fall Intern, Claudia Padilla around a bit more than usual. After spending last winter and spring working various jobs around town and traveling, she's back as staff through October 2012. She will serve as the Education and Volunteer Program Organizer to assist with a variety of tasks such as working with the volunteer program, writing education curricula, organizing and planning Free Science Classes, and helping to maintain the NHE among many other responsibilities.

Claudia is originally from Pennsylvania where she attained her Journalism degree from Penn State. She served as an AmeriCorps as part of the Maryland Conservation Corps, before moving to Washington, DC in 2006. After a few years in DC at different non-profits, she was ready for career shift, starting with PTMSC in June 2010. Being in the Pacific NW has rekindled her love of the outdoors and educating the public about the environment. Swimming, cooking, exploring the Olympic National Park and reading are some of her favorite things to do.

So, stay tuned for more updates and thanks for reading!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Boy, am I pooped...

Hey all,

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center? Education, you might say. You would be pretty spot on, I think. Maybe...citizen science. Another good call on your part. What about marine ecosystems? I would say that is a pretty obvious answer, but nonetheless, a good one.

Well, for the entire month of August, and some of September, I had a completely different answer in mind...

Lets play a game. I will show you a picture, and you tell me what you see. here is the first one:

A rock. That is what you are thinking. I was a psychic in a past life. Here we go again:

This sentence is an independent claws.

A crab molt. 2 for 2 here. Excellent. Now here is the last one:

How much for dinner!? Ehh, just put it on my bill.

A sea bird, and a terrible pun. Yep check, and check. You are good at this! But, wait.

What if I told you that there was a common theme between all of these pictures? Something underlying, and slightly insidious. Something that really ruins these pictures. A party pooper if you will.

So, some of you have probably guessed what I am talking about, but for those who have not...I am talking about feces.

The word feces is derived from the latin faex (sediment, dregs). It is also known as poo, doody, poopy, dookie, doo doo, or any combination of p's, o's, and d's. It is the commonly accepted way in nature to rid oneself of waste. It is comprised mainly of food byproducts, some nitrogenous waste, bile, and bilirubin (deceased red blood cells). The bile and bilirubin give poo its rather bland, brown appearance.

The characteristic odor of scat comes from compounds produced by the individual animal's gut flora. These bacteria produce aromatic aromatics, such as indole, skatole, and thiols, butt thats not all. The main offender of our noses is our good buddy: hydrogen sulfide. That is right, the rotten egg smell.

So, why all the talk of poo, you might be asking yourself? Well, good question.

When the weather started getting warmer, and drier, here at PTMSC a strange thing happened. A large flock of Heermann's gulls started to reside on our roof. That is not particularly strange in itslef, but then a terrible smell started to infiltrate the Marine Science Center. It smelled like a mixture between my worst nightmares and a petting zoo. What was happening was a phenomena I will call Armageddung! Due to the dry, hot conditions the gull guano (guano is the the commonly accepted term for seabird feces) started to pile up, superheat, and practically weld itself to our roof. It was a scatastrophe. Look for yourself:

The white color of this guano comes from crystals of uric acid in the waste. Birds only have one all purpose shute, the cloaca, so everything has to come out together.

In the end, one enterprising ranger, and some extremely helpful rain, removed most of our pesky poo problem. However, one guy was probably sad to see it go:

He filled the ecological niche of looking like poop.

Although you know what? All this talk of feces really has me down in the dumps (pun intended). I think we need some comedic relief to juxtapose with this gross subject matter. Here is a picture of a spiny lumpsucker riding an umbrella crab. Enjoy.

Who sucks now?

Thanks again for reading!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Fog Blog

Have you missed us?
Sorry we've been out of touch.
I guess we've been lost in the fog.

My experience with sea fog was minimal before moving to the Pacific Northwest.  Now the presence of it almost feels comforting.  In the morning when I hear the fog horns out over the water while I lie in bed, I await the call from my rowing friends to let me know it is too foggy to go out.  For me, fog feels like an opportunity to slow down and become more intrigued with my surroundings.  Everything looks much more mysterious in the fog.

Photo by: ellieericsonphotography
Why do we experience fog in Port Townsend? 
Where does the fog come from?
Most of the fog we see in PT is a form of advection fog that occurs at sea (more commonly known as sea fog).  Advection fog forms when air travels over a surface with a temperature below the dew point of the traveling air.  Here in Port Townsend this occurs when warm air on land (when we have warm air on land) moves out over the colder ocean.  This is the reason we see fog during our warmest months (typically July-September).

As we rapidly transition into the Fall, we say, "hello" to the rain and "good-bye" to the fog.

We'll be in touch soon,

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

So long, farewell...

Reflecting on our past two years here in Port Townsend we came up with some 'secrets' that we would like to share with our blog followers. These are things we have learned about ourselves, about each other and fun sayings that got us through the day. 

"Port Townsend helped me heal in more ways than one."

"I don’t know which smell of death is worse… mammals or inverts."

"Sometimes I think in tweets and facebook status updates."

"Is afraid of being forgotten."

"I thought I didn’t need any more friends before I came here. I couldn’t have been more wrong."

Sometimes you just need to take a break and go “collect some eel grass”

"Every once in a while you just need to go have a cry on the dock."

"This year has been completely different than last year."

"One of the funnest things about new friends is the things that rub off on each other."

"The act of killing encrusting tunicates and barnacles has become disturbingly satisfying for all of us."

"You know it’s been a long day when you start sassing the hydrophone."

"Port Townsend has made me realize I am stronger."

Our last attempt to leave our prints at PTMSC

Farewell Port Townsend, all the wonderful people, amazing animals, and beautiful scenery. We take with us a strong sense of community, lasting relationships and the strength that we have found within ourselves.

Thank you for all your comments and love Blogger family!

The Sanderlings
2009-2011 PTMSC Team

*Inspiration comes from Post Secret (

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Coastal Explorers Day Camp: Saving the Best for Last!

Coastal Explorers day camp was the last camp of the season for us here at PTMSC. It was sad to end such a fun summer, but we truly went out with a great group of kids, so all is well that ends well. It is kinda hard to justify complaining about camp ending, anyway.

"AAARGH! Really! I just had a BLAST with multiple groups of engaged, knowledgeable, interesting, and exciting children. And I have to stop?! What did I do in my past life to deserve this!"

So, to recap Coastal Explorers camp for those of you who were not lucky enough to be there, I will give an overview of each days activities. A few pics are included to make you extra jealous.


We started off camp like most activities with 8-12 year olds start: running around.

Pictured above: running around
Then we got down to business, and started creating our journals for the week. We also had a natural history game show, hosted by yours truly. Then a trip to the beach was in order, for a little scavenger hunt and group photo:

See if you can find me. I am the one in the red shirt.


We started Tuesday off with our favorite activity: running around. Not wanting to be outdone, I had to get into the action, and channel my inner 10 year old. Unfortunately, my inner 10 year old self played too many videogames.

Me tagging* the campers.
 *No "tagging" actually occured. Who invented tag anyway? Probably a fast 10 year old.

After the not-at-all-tiring tag session we went to the Marine Exhibit and fed some of the animals. I was pleasantly suprised at how respectful and gentle the campers were with the animals. If everybody cared about animals as much as some of these children do, this world would be a better place.

Then we had lunch. You might be asking youself "But Chris, why are you blogging about lunch? Lunch happens every day, camp or not." Ahhh, you would be correct. However, after lunch we had my favorite activity. Quiet Time.

Pictured above: not running around.

So, after lunch we went into the forest and had a great afternoon learning about ecological niches, catching aquatic invertebrates, and visiting the chinese gardens. I particularly enjoyed the chinese gardens portion of our adventure, because it is an area with some interesting ecological and cultural history (which Jess so kindly explained very ellequantly to the group).


I was really excited about Wednesday, because I was teaching a lesson on insects, and we were gonna get some nerdy, awesome, microscope time.

But first, we had a few options to start the day off with. We could either:
A) Sit quietly and reflect on our previous night's dreams
B) Have a calm, measured conversation on local politics
C) Listen to some light Jazz, with a spot of tea to warm us up on this chilly, foggy morning
D) RUN AROUND! A LOT! and laugh at slow counselors who try and catch us.

The Jazz was a close second.

Luckily, afterwards we were able to get down to SCIENCE! Insect class went really well with almost all of the campers interested in the anatomy portion of the class.

Sorry to bug you guys, but sit up straight and bee attentive

But the real stars of the class were the microscopes. The kids absolutely LOVED them!

Then we went up to the top of the bluff, played an epic game of camoflauge, and learned about some history of the bunkers. It was a tiring, yet rewarding experience.


I don't remember exactly how we started Thursday off, actually, maybe if I see a picture it will jog my memory. Wait was last sentence a run-on?

The campers standing still are actually lying in wait
for some unwary counselor to try and catch them...

Today we did what was probably the most popular activity among the kids: assembling "Spirit" the grey whale's skeleton. Aside from putting smiles on the campers' faces, this activity taught teamwork, deduction, and respect for the rules. The campers had to hold the bones very carefully, and keep an open dialogue going about the placement of each bone. They performed these tasks with ease.

And here is the "semi-finished" Spirit:

I have a bone to pick with those kids about that rib placement.

Next we went out to the beach for some fun time, and we also made some beach art.


The last day of camp arrived with all of the usual running around, but on this day we actually cut the running aound short (GASP!) so we could get out to Kinsey beach for some exciting tide pooling. We ended up having a very successful trip, with a large Gumboot chiton, and a massive Sea lemon as our prizes to bring back to the exhibit.

Then we ended the week with a bang, literally. We made volcanoes on the beach. Each camper, or team of campers, tried to create the largest sand volcano. Then they chose their favorite lava color, and we erupted them one at a time (for optimum destruction, of course). One camper even stopped his volcano building for a seconed to inform Jess and I that he was, in fact, a sand-building champion. He went on to tell us that he was going to have to win this competition to help pay his mortgage!

I am really going to miss the camp season, and I had a great time. There are so many stories to tell, and even more memories to enjoy. If the campers had even 1/10th of the fun I did, then I bet it was the best thing they did all summer.

Summer Salutations,

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Junior Explorers 2011- A Photo and Video Essay

 Junior Explorers is a half day camp for children ages 5-7.  This blog's intention is to give you a little visual insight into some of our adventures.  Enjoy!


Singing about a gray whale and making orca noises!


Before we visited the touch tanks, Valerie told us about some of the animals
we might see.  In the picture above we are all pretending to be crabs that just molted
and are waiting for their new shells to harden.

Heather encourages Campers to touch!
We explored and learned about animals that live under the floating dock.


The woods are always full of surprises.  During camp we observed deer, birds,
bugs, a banana slug, and even a family of river otters!


We became salmon and went on a journey.  In the top photograph we began life as an egg.  We grew larger and stronger and eventually headed out to the open ocean.  There we faced many obstacles, including a dam and predators (bottom photograph).  Eventually, we returned to our native stream where we laid eggs and died.

Salmon depend on a healthy stream at the beginning and end of their lives. Above are 29 interpretations of what a healthy stream should look like. What might a healthy stream look like to you?


Our time of Friday was devoted to the tidepools. 
We strapped on our boots (many of us still managing to get wet) and EXPLORED.
 Just a little glimpse into our Summer,
Heather and Valerie

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Marine Biology Day Camp

Thirty-one budding marine biologists participated in Marine Biology Day Camp July 25-29th. Chris and I, along with Nancy Israel, Claudia Padilla and counselors Duncan and Andrew worked to create a fun-filled week all about the marine environment. Campers learned about local marine invertebrates and fish, the diversity of plankton in Puget Sound, the effects of plastic on the marine environment, orcas families and how they communicate and so much more.
Campers learned about echolocation and experienced the
difficulty of catching prey by sound, not sight.
Although some of our time was spent inside, we spent a lot of time outside exploring! The lessons were mixed with a beach scavenger hunt, a beach walk and clean-up and even building an orca whale to scale on the beach! It was amazing to see this group work together and help each other to create such a beautiful sand orca. 
The whole group with our 24-foot sand orca

On our beach walk, the campers got really into looking for
nurdles (small pre-production plastic pellets)

Towards the end of the week, we took a field trip to the railroad trestle beach to explore the sandy tide flat habitat. Campers rotated through four different stations; beach seining for fish, clamming, sieving for worms and exploring the breakwater. 
Digging for clams

On Friday, we put all our marine life learning to the test! We explored the tidepools at Kinzie Beach and found all sorts of marine invertebrates including gumboot chitons, porcelain crabs, six-ray stars and even a striped sunstar! While eating snack on Kinzie beach, we were privileged to see a bald eagle swoop down right in front of us and catch a fish! After lunch, Chrissy led us in a beach seine. Chrissy set the 150-foot net with a row boat and then all the campers helped pull the net into shore. Even though some kelp got wrapped around part of the net, we were still able to catch a lot of fish. Campers helped to identify gunnels, sculpins, perch and crabs, as well as help release most of the fish back to their eelgrass habitat. 
Tidepooling at Kinzie Beach

Pulling in the seine net

Keeping the lead-line (bottom of the net) as close to the ground
and possible to keep the fish in the net

Admiring the fish we caught
Both campers and staff had an amazing week learning about the marine environment, playing games and exploring the beaches of Fort Worden.
The whole group on our beach walk

Julia Ledbetter
Marine Exhibit Education Coordinator