Monday, July 25, 2011

The Other CO2 Problem

An animation about the issue of ocean acidification, produced by Ridgeway School (Plymouth, UK) and Plymouth Marine Laboratory ( Funded by the European Project on OCean Acidification (

Friday, July 22, 2011

Nudibranchs, Abalone, and Rockfish! Oh, my!!


As the new summer/fall intern here at PTMSC, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Chris Hays, and this is me:

Just kidding. Here I actually am:

You can see a resemblance, right?

Apart from introducing myself, I would like to thank everyone at PTMSC for being gracious, patient, and teaching me so much in such a small amount of time. Special shout out goes to the four wonder women: Heather, Valerie, Jess, and Julia. They are truly special, and they are pretty smart, too.

Next on the agenda, I would like to spread some of the frankly, quite amazing tidbits of knowledge I have learned in my first month here at PTMSC. I came here having dealt mainly with terrestial mammals and amphibians, so learning some marine ecology has really been enlightening!

First off, a little bit about nudibranchs (pronounced nudi-brank). Nudibranchs were the first animal that really caught my eye, because I had never heard of them before, they are particularly colorful, and incredibly voracious. Actually, let me back up a bit. Nudibranchs belong to the Class Gastropoda in the Phylum Mollusca. They are unlike many of their closer relatives in that they represent an evolutionary trend towards reduction, and eventually complete loss of their shell. Nudibranchs are mainly hermaphroditic and predatory... a particularly terrifying combination. In fact, the Shaggy Mouse Aeolid eats its own weight in Plumose anemones a day!

The first characteristic that most people notice about nudibranchs is their coloration, as seen here:

Clown Dorid
 And here:

Sea Lemon
And here:

White Dendronotid, or maybe a Variable Dendrotonid?
I am not sure. I am kinda new-to-branchs.

This type of coloration is called aposomatic coloration. So, much like Monarch butterflies, and Coral snakes, they are letting other potential predators know they are poisonous, or venomous through their dramatic coloration. Some nudibranchs rely on a different type of coloration, mimicry. Individuals who use mimicry tend to resemble a specific feature of the environment around them, or a co-occuring species in their area. It can be equally stunning: 

Not sea lettuce, but a Hedgpeth's Sapsucker. Got ya, right?

Currently, we have a few species of Nudibranch on display at PTMSC. These include the Leopard Dorid and Sea Lemon.

Next, I would like to talk about some of the rare species on display here at PTMSC.

I know personally I have a soft spot for a good underdog story, and there are few animals that fit this description as well as the Northern (Pinto) Abalone does. Northern Abalone are marine snails that range from Alaska to California. Unfortunately, their range has decline greatly in many areas, including Washington state, where they are functionally extinct in the wild. The reason for this decline is that Abalone are broadcast spawners, so they release their eggs and sperm into the water, and hope for fertilization. With fewer adult abalone present eggs and sperm just can't meet! So come see our abalone, which are hatchery raised, but still amazing nonetheless.

For clarification, in Washington state, Pinto abalone are being raised in hatcheries for reintroduction into Puget Sound, because it takes roughly 1.5-2 years for abalone to be large and resilient enough to survive in the wild. In fact, this year 2,500 abalone were introduced into the waters around Anacortes and Port Angeles. If you would like to learn more about the reintroduction efforts, visit
Our lonely abalone.

Another rare animal that we have on display here is the Brown Rockfish. There are about 30 species of rockfish in Puget Sound (Salish Sea), and 3 of these species are currently on the Endangered Species List: the Canary and Yelloweye are "threatened", and the Bocaccio is "endangered." One main cause for their predicament is that they are bottom feeders that tend to stay in one area all, or most, of their lives; so they are relatively easy to catch. Also, too many large female rockfish are being harvested which is limiting the number of eggs being introduced into the population. A large female can produce around 700,000 eggs, compared to a smaller female, who might produce closer to 5,000.

Our Brown Rockfish is feeling blue...

Come to PTMSC to find out more about our missing rockfish!

So that about wraps up my first blog. Lastly, I would like to thank Julia, Americorps extroidinaire, for her info on Abalone and Rockfish. I hope everyone is having a great July, and I look forward to talking to you again soon.

Chris Hays
PTMSC Marine Naturalist Intern

For more information:
Eastern Pacific Nudibranchs: David Behrens, Alicia Hermosillo

Thursday, July 21, 2011

It's seal pup season!

Here at the Marine Science Center, we're responsible for managing the East Jefferson County Marine Mammal Stranding Network. This means that we serve as an educational resource and as the first responders in our area for any report of a stranded marine mammal. We have a fantastic group of volunteer responders that we dispatch after receiving a call reporting an animal. These responders either collect data (if the stranded animal is dead) or construct a barrier to protect the live animal from curious (but intrusive) humans on the beaches.
However tempting it may be, this little pup is not calling out for
you to comfort it! (Photo by Jan North)
In our region, harbor seal pupping season is from June to October and as a result, these are VERY busy months for us. During this time frame the pups are being born, learning how to forage on their own and being weaned from their mothers. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, harbor seal populations have recovered to healthy numbers. Still, they sometimes need our protection while they're hauled out on our beaches.
Seal pups seem to have knack for finding dangerous spots
to haul out on
The pups frequently come ashore to rest while their mothers are foraging and they need to be left alone during this time. If humans are nearby, the pups may not be able to sleep and the mothers are more reticent to return and retrieve the young seal. Unfortunately, only 50% of harbor seal pups will survive their first year. Causes for this high mortality rate include premature birth, disease, infection, dehydration and predation by marine and shoreline predators as well as domestic pets. A common misconception about the role of stranding networks is believing that we serve as “seal rescuers”. As a stranding network we hope to prevent any deaths related to human interaction or interference but this is not always possible. Our best tool is prevention through education and this is what our responders excel at.

The goal of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network is to educate beach goers about the ecological and behavioral needs of the seals while making sure they maintain the appropriate distance (the National Marine Fisheries Service recommends maintaining a minimum distance of 100 yards from any marine mammal). This distance minimizes the likelihood of disturbing a resting animal or stressing an animal that is recovering from illness or injury.
It's very easy to disturb a pup that's resting on the beach. Most of the
seals we encounter on our beaches are too young to have developed
"protective wariness" (they don't yet have an escape response when they are approached)
If you see any marine mammal on the beach PLEASE give us a call.

If you're in East Jefferson County (shoreline beginning at Discovery Bay, covering all of Port Townsend and extending down to Brinnon) call us here at the Marine Science Center:
The number for the east Jefferson County Marine Mammal stranding network hotline (checked 7 days a week) is:
360-385-5582 x103

If you're anywhere else along the shores of Washington or Oregon, the number for the Northwest Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline is:

Further, here are some tips courtesy of NOAA Fisheries:
Things You Can Do to Promote Responsible Wildlife Viewing
    1. Observe from a distance using binoculars or a spotting scope if you want to see the animal close up.
    2. Keep pets away. Dogs are naturally curious about other animals in their environment. Seals pups can easily fall prey to dogs, to avoid a negative interaction dogs should be leashed and kept away from the seals on the beach. Older seals may bite in self defense. Some diseases are infectious to both dogs and seals, and may pose a risk to humans as well, if they come in direct contact with an infected animal.

Thanks everyone who works with us to protect the welfare of local marine mammals!

Jess Swihart
Natural History Exhibit Education Coordinator

Monday, July 4, 2011


Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has teamed up with the Port Townsend Marine Science Center to monitor crab megalops during the summer again this year. Most of Puget Sound has a healthy population of Dungeness crab, but some places like Hood Canal and the Tacoma Narrows have shown a decline in their population. So what are crab megalops and how do we find them?

Megalops are one of the stages of growth in a crab. They go through a few different stages of growth before turning into a mature crab. We are able to find these tiny megalops (about the size of rice grains) by deploying mesh bags with an anchor that hang from local docks. The megalops that are floating around in the water column will get stuck in the sampler that we collect and count each week.
This research will hopefully provide more information about crab populations in the Puget Sound.

Growth stages of a crab

2010 Abundance of crab megalops at various sample sites 

Crab Zoea, the growth stage before megalops

A week ago at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center there were thousands of crab zoea in the water, check out the video below to see how they move! You can find crab zoea on Fort Worden beaches right now, they are the tiny poky guys that you might be feeling when walking on the beach. Take a closer look next time you are visiting.

Crab zoea in a plankton sample

Valerie Lindborg
PTMSC Lab Coordinator