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!

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