Thursday, December 20, 2012

Last Chance for a Birding Cruise this Year

Ring in the new year by joining the Port Townsend Marine Science Center for an early winter bird migration cruise to Protection Island or south toward Port Ludlow, weather depending, on Monday, December 31st
The three-hour trip leaves from Port Townsend’s Point Hudson Marina at 1 p.m. This delightful boat expedition, in collaboration with Puget Sound Express, is an ideal way to spend New Year’s Eve with family and friends. Cruises are aboard a comfortable, enclosed, heated motor-yacht.
“Our New Year’s Eve cruise is an annual tradition for many people giving everyone a chance to see lots of birds and wildlife. Since we have naturalists from the PTMSC on board, they’re familiar with local bird populations and marine mammals, providing excellent commentary,” said Anne Murphy, executive director for the PTMSC. “It’s a fun trip for all ages.”
The trip offers a unique opportunity for an idyllic natural science adventure, enabling people to gain a better understanding of our marine ecosystems and interrelationships which abound in these waters. If the weather is good, the cruise will go to Protection Island—a National Wildlife Refuge located at the mouth of Discovery Bay—or it may head south toward Port Ludlow to remain in protected waters, if the weather is rough.
The New Year’s Eve cruise departs from Hudson Point Marina, in downtown Port Townsend, leaving at 1 p.m. and returning at 4 p.m. on Dec. 31st. Tickets are $55 per person ($50 for members of the PTMSC, Burke Museum, Audubon or the Washington Ornithological Society). Proceeds from the trip help to fund PTMSC programs.
Trips may include an additional stop at the Kilisut Harbor/Mystery Bay area (between Marrowstone and Indian Islands). On-board refreshments are available. For reservations, please call the Port Townsend Marine Science Center at (360) 385-5582 or 1 (800) 566-3932 or e-mail at for additional information.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Red Octopus hatch and Marine Exhibit Update

There has been a lot happening in the Marine Exhibit over the past few weeks. Since we have been closed to the public I thought I would make a blog post to inform you about recent events in the aquarium of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.
Emily and Amber removing Feather Duster Worms, Eudistylia vancouveri, from the Piling Tank

In the beginning of November we took down the piling and cluster tanks. Running a free circulating saltwater aquarium involves a lot of maintenance. The water you see in our tanks comes in unfiltered and contains many planktonic animals looking for a suitable surface to settle onto and grow. Every winter we take down our tanks and let them dry out so that we can thoroughly clean all the plumbing. You would be amazed at how much can grow inside all the pipes in just one season! All four of the AmeriCorps members worked together to clean out the tanks. We are able to get it done all in one day, and had a blast cleaning the tanks and releasing all the animals.

The 2012-2013 AmeriCorps crew, Emily Neal, Amber Heasley, Megan Veley and Danae Presler

After spending the summer months educating visitors about marine habitat, our resident fish and marine invertebrates are returned to their homes in the ocean in the same or similar place in which they were collected. Check out the video of one of the two Red Octopuses we had this year being released right off the PTMSC dock! For those of you that know the exhibit, this was the octopus that was in the rocky cluster tank, living in the empty barnicle.

Saturday homecrew volunteers with their cleaning tools

Wednesday homecrew goofs off before feeding the animals
There are a few animals that are year-long residents, but most only spend a few months of their lives here with us. We are currently running twice weekly homecrews where an amazing team of dedicated volunteers help clean the tanks and feed the animals that will stay with us this winter.
This picture was taken by Elise when R2's eggs were first discovered this July

As many of you have seen on our facebook page, our little Red Octopus’s eggs began to hatch while a volunteer was cleaning her tank during homecrew last week. Our Red Octopus, Octopus rubscens, named R2 was collected by a diver on March 31st, 2012. Her eggs were first discovered on July 14th, 2012 and they began hatching on December 1st, 2012. After mating, the Red Octopus is able to hold sperm until it is ready to lay eggs. This means that our octopus had mated before she was collected. They lay a few thousand to tens of thousands of eggs (I have found 4,000-45,000 and 1,000-19,000 and 2,000-3,000 in different scientific papers.) Hatching usually occurs over a week or so. It took our octopuses eggs 20 weeks or 140 days to hatch. After hatching, the octopus larvae live planktonically, meaning they are drifters in the ocean. Because of this, raising baby Red Octopus in captivity is incredibly difficult and has never been successfully done. After our octopus eggs hatched, we removed the babies and released them into the ocean so they would have the best chance at survival. A few were kept for observation in a planktonkriesel tank, which is specially designed to hold planktonic organisms. R2’s eggs should continue to hatch for about another week or so. After they have all hatched, R2 will die. Octopuses lay only one clutch of eggs in their life. After laying eggs, the females stop eating and spend all their time guarding and tending to the eggs. After the eggs hatch the mothers die. Red Octopuses live for only about 2 years.
Emily and Danae worked together to get some amazing microscope pictures of the newly hatched octopus larvae.
Check out those Chromatophores!!
 The Red Octopus hatchlings are about the size of a grain of rice and have visible chromatophores, the specialized cells that give octopuses their spectacular color-changing ability.

Check out our YouTube video of the Red Octopus eggs hatching!

Our Giant Pacific Octopus, G3PO, spreads out upon first being released into the round tank.
 We have also recently moved our Giant Pacific Octopus to the large round tank since it has been growing so fast. She seems to be right at home in her new tank and has a new favorite food of choice, Scallops! She went on a rampage right after moving in and devoured most of the Scallops in the tank. This move required a little bit of shuffling around, the Puget Sound King Crab is back in the wall tank and the Rock Fish and Red Irish Lord have been given a temporary home in a large fiberglass tank in the middle of the exhibit. They will have to share their old tank with the GPO for a few more months until the GPO grows too big and will be released to find a mate and continue her life in our wonderful Salish Sea!

Come by and check out the changes to the Marine Exhibit the weekend after Christmas, December 28th,29th, and 30th from 12-4 with the public feed at 2pm Saturday. It will be your last chance until the exhibit re-opens April 5th 2013!

Please continue to follow us on our facebook for more updates from the Port Townsend Marine Science Center!
Amber Heasley
AmeriCorps Marine Exhibit Educator

Friday, November 30, 2012

New Year's Eve Bird Migration Cruise

Monday, December 31st

1:00 - 4:00 p.m.

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center invites you and your family to experience the beauty and wildlife of Protection Island.  

The three-hour cruise departs from Point Hudson Marina in downtown Port Townsend. (DISCLAIMER: Depending on weather conditions, the cruise may go to either Protection Island or Oak Bay/Port Ludlow area.)

"For 18 years we've featured Protection Island as the primary destination for our wildlife cruises," said Anne Murphy, executive director for the PTMSC. "We may also explore other parts of the central Salish Sea too, depending upon the weather. The trip lets guests discover birds in different niches, including shell beaches and gravel spits, tidal channels, and natural harbors, as well as rocky points and wide meadows of eel grass."

Roger Risley, PTMSC naturalist adds, "Protection Island seems exotic with its juvenile eagles and elephant seals, semi-desert and dry forest landscapes. It is less typical of the inshore world we glimpse through the ferry window."

Tickets are $55 per person ($50 for members of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, Burke Museum, Audubon or the Washington Ornithological Society), $10 less for children 2-10. On-board refreshments are available.

Reservations are required and may be made by phone at 360.385.5582 or 800.566.3932 or e-mail:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Meroplankton versus holoplankton and other planktons

Plankton comes in many shapes and sizes – from organisms so small you’d need a microscope to see them to large jellyfish! As we mentioned in the last post, there are zooplankton (animal-like plankton) and phytoplankton (plant-like plankton). But there are lots of other subgroups of plankton! There are meroplankton and holoplankton and diatoms and dinoflagellates…but what do all these words mean?

Meroplankton are plankton for only part of their lives (usually the larval stage). Common examples are the larvae of sea stars and urchins. Some meroplankton, like polychaete worms, go back to being plankton later in life!

Holoplankton are plankton for their entire lives. They can be either phytoplankton or zooplankton. One well-known example of this is the Portuguese Man-of-War.

Diatoms are a type of phytoplankton that are encased with unique silica cell wall called a frustule. They are mostly unicellular but can exist as colonies. They usually have two asymmetrical sides with a split (hence the name).

Dinoflagellates are protists that often have two flagella (whip-like appendage), allowing them limited movement. They have a sheath-like covering called a theca.

So as you can see, there are LOTS of different types of plankton. Any given plankton can be a meroplankton or a holoplakton; a zooplankton or a phytoplankton; a diatom or a dinoflagellate! Next time you’re near the water just think about what different creatures might be drifting by!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thanksgiving weekend activities at the PT Marine Science Center

If you’re looking for unique and fun things to do with family and friends over the Thanksgiving weekend, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center (PTMSC) has something for everyone, including a children’s event, holiday sale and annual holiday cruise.

A sing-along, children’s book reading and fun activities will be offered on Saturday, Nov 24th at 1 p.m. in the Natural History Exhibit. Steven Urbanc, a PTMSC volunteer, will sing his song, "Scoop the Poop," followed by an interactive reading of the children's book, Granny's Clan: A Tale of Wild Orcas, by author Sally Hodson. Copies of the book will be for sale and a book signing will follow the program.  

Get your shopping done early at the annual holiday gift shop sale located in the Natural History Exhibit. The holiday sale is Friday, Nov. 23rd through Sunday, Nov. 25th, from noon to 4 p.m. Discounts will be offered on all regularly priced items. Gift certificates will be available for the gift shop as well as PTMSC memberships, with all proceeds supporting PTMSC educational programs.

Take a late fall/early winter bird migration cruise on Saturday, November 24th or on Monday, December 31st. The trips leave from Port Townsend’s Point Hudson Marina at 1 p.m. and return at 4 p.m. Depending upon the weather, the cruise will go to Protection Island or south in the Oak Bay-Port Ludlow direction. These special boat expeditions, in collaboration with Puget Sound Express, will give you an opportunity to see and learn about numerous bird species as well as other wildlife. Cruises are aboard a comfortable, enclosed motor-yacht.
“Our holiday cruises are an annual tradition for locals and visitors alike, giving people a chance to see lots of birds and wildlife,” said Anne Murphy, executive director for the PTMSC. “Since we have naturalists from the PTMSC on board, they’re familiar with the local bird populations and marine mammals, giving excellent commentary.”
The trips offer a unique opportunity for an idyllic natural science adventure, enabling people to gain a better understanding of our marine ecosystems and interrelationships which abound in these waters. These cruises are part of the educational program at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center and are fun for all ages.
Tickets are $55 per person ($50 for members of the PTMSC, Burke Museum, Audubon or the Washington Ornithological Society). For reservations, please call the Port Townsend Marine Science Center at (360) 385-5582 or 1 (800) 566-3932 or e-mail at for additional information.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Zooplankton and Phytoplankton in Puget Sound

Getting to know the noble plankton of the Pacific Northwest:

What is it?
It's meaning is derived from the Greek adjective planktos and plankton is simply put- a drifter.  There are two major types of plankton: Zooplankton and Phytoplankton...

What's the difference?  
Great question!

Zooplankton are animal-like and depend on phytoplankton as a food source
Phytoplankton are plant-like and photosynthesize- producing their own food

There are millions of this ocean species out there. They are subject to ocean currents and tides and unable to move about on their own.  Plankton are also the building blocks of life in the ocean and ultimately life on earth.  Providing countless ecosystem services, zooplankton and phytoplankton are pretty much the coolest thing out there.

Picture the iconic image of Atlas holding the world on his shoulders… now replace that with a Plankton species and you have:  duu dah dahhhh…. 

Where do you find it?
In fresh water AND sea water. For the purpose of this series, we will learn about plankton found in Puget Sound and the Pacific Northwest. 

It is difficult to say exactly what species of zooplankton or phytoplankton you will find where, since they are subject to the flows of ocean currents and tides (hence: drifters).  Therefore, you may find yourself towing for plankton in your spare time…

(PTMSC's Citizen Science AmeriCorps, Emily Neal, towing for plankton... In her spare time!)

And find a typically tropical species in Puget Sound!

This tropical species, Dinophysis tripos was found at 
Port Townsend Marine Science Center last year!

What purpose does it serve?
Basically, plankton is the coolest thing out there. If you don’t believe me, check out this four minute video and you will be convinced:   

With the ability to photosynthesize, sequester carbon dioxide from the earth's atmosphere, and produce nearly 90% of the oxygen coming from the ocean... You can't deny it!

If you still beg to differ that plankton is most definitely the coolest living thing on planet earth… drift your way through the upcoming installments of this blog series and I have no doubt you will come to agree.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Lecture - "Understanding the Science of Climate Change"

Thursday, October 18
JFK Building at Fort Worden State Park
$5 members, $7 non-members  

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center is sponsoring a lecture on the science behind the complex nature of climate change on Thursday, October 18th at 7 p.m. at the JFK building at Fort Worden State Park. Admission is $7, $5 for PTMSC members and free for ages 18 and younger.
"We're honored to have Laura Tucker speak about the Earth's climate and how it's changed throughout history," said Anne Murphy, PTMSC Executive Director. "She's worked for 35 years in science education, with the last 20 at UC Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science and was recently certified as a Leader for Al Gore's Climate Reality Project."
In the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago, marking the beginning of the modern climate era - and of human civilization. This lecture will take a critical look at the evidence supporting the current understanding of global warming and climate change.
A group of local students from Port Townsend High School will be participating in the presentation. They will be sharing ways they are actively involved with the Port Townsend Climate Action Committee, and plans they are implementing at the high school to reduce their carbon footprint.
Tucker will share slides and information gained at the training with Al Gore and she'll tie in some of our local issues such as sea level rise and ocean acidification.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Port Townsend Marine Science Center opens new exhibit

Chloe and Eliza Dawson use clues to find 
out what killed the orca named Hope.
Photo credit: Wendy Feltham
The Port Townsend Marine Science Center (PTMSC) is thrilled to announce the opening of a new exhibit, "Learning from Orcas—The Story of Hope," which will be the centerpiece in the Natural History Exhibit in Fort Worden State Park. The exhibit opens Saturday, September 29th at noon. Admission is free to the public on Saturday and Sunday of that weekend, and open from noon to 4 p.m.
The new exhibit tells a story that started in 2002 when a transient orca called CA 189—later named Hope by PTMSC students—beached herself and died in the Dungeness Spit area. Her story continues to the present day through the work of scientists, community members and PTMSC staff and volunteers.

Glen Dawson crawls out of the
Storm Drain Exhibit under
the gaze of the orca skeleton.
Photo credit: Wendy Feltham
Hope’s skeleton has been articulated and will be hanging in the Natural History Exhibit. "The exhibit title exemplifies the process we've been through –a voyage, with Hope at the helm,” said Anne Murphy, Executive Director for the PTMSC. “We've learned so much about the health of food webs, toxics in the ocean and most importantly about our ability to make a difference. This exhibit invites you to help turn the tide on the declining health of our marine environment."
Through video, a computer kiosk, a storm drain that visitors can crawl through, a bone table and other hands-on activities, visitors can learn about and feel the connections between people and orcas. For the first time, scanned digital images of the bones and skeleton of an orca can be examined on the web at A collaboration between the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, NOAA and the Idaho Virtualization Laboratory at the Idaho Museum of Natural History resulted in the development of this free online research and education tool.

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