Friday, January 3, 2014

End of Year Report

PTMSC Marine Mammal Stranding Network

Winter Update

With the help of volunteers and community members we achieved some great things this past year! 
Here's a recap of what happened in 2013.

Unexpected visitors!
Three juvenile male elephant seals joined the lot of window shoppers, gallery goers, and tourists visiting Port Townsend's downtown beaches this past spring. Volunteer responders put in more than 400 hours "seal sitting" the elephant seals, educating thousands of curious passersby, and ensuring the safety of citizens and seals alike. 

Necropsy Program 
We completed 5 necropsies (animal autopsies) in 2013, all on harbor seal pups. We examined cause of death, tested for phthalates and toxics such as PCBs, DDTs, and flame retardants, collected parasite samples, looked for signs of human interaction, and sent tissue samples to a histopathology lab to look for disease.

                                              Beach surveys begin
Back in May, volunteers and staff began conducting monthly surveys of Cape George and Marrowstone Island beaches looking for stranded marine mammals. The aim of this experiment is to better understand the distribution of strandings and to see if our network is getting reports of strandings in these less-visited areas. So far one decomposed adult seal was found. 

Record number of harbor seals!
There were 47 harbor seals reported this year, compared to an average of 32 in previous years (2008-2012). Of those 47, 43 were pups. Thank you to all those who reported them to us! Seal pups need time to rest ashore; more than half our calls come from citizens observing a resting seal pup. While these pups are not stranded, they may need protection from people or dogs off leash. 

Volunteer Responder Training
We welcomed 9 new responders to our network this year, bringing our total to a solid 45 volunteers. These folks would tell you it isn't all fame and glory. In fact, it's more gory than glory, but the work they do responding to marine mammals and educating the public is crucial to marine mammal communities in the Salish Sea.

                                             Marine Mammal Disease Seminar
Marine mammal veterinarian Dr. Stephanie Norman shared her knowledge of diseases of concern in marine mammals, including several zoonotic varieties. We invited our friends from the Central Puget Sound MMSN to join. Bringing the two networks together was fun and insightful.  

Save the whale!
An entangled gray whale was sighted on September 4th near Cape Flattery. NOAA, US Coast Guard, Canada officials, and the Makah Tribe worked together to finally free the whale on September 7th, removing 8 wraps of line around its caudal peduncle and tail flukes. Our network volunteers transferred the disentanglement gear (curved knives on long                                                                 poles) from Friday Harbor to Neah Bay. This success                                                             story is brought to you by the word teamwork! 
Webpage overhaul
If you haven't checked it out already, click here to see our revamped webpage. Also make sure to visit the links at the bottom- I especially love the ID guide (click on the Steller Sea Lion to see it).

What's in store for us this year? 

Mostly it's a mystery. We can't predict when or where or what will strand, but we're always on the alert. Keep your eyes peeled and if you spot a marine mammal that is dead, injured, or in a bad spot, give us a call!

Port Townsend Marine Science Center
Marine Mammal Stranding Network
360-385-5582 ext. 103

Other, more predictable, projects for the upcoming year include:
  1. Installation of 20 signs to raise awareness of marine mammals and our network.
  2. A brand new rack card, complete with handy pocket-sized ID guide
  3. More phthalate testing! We received grant money to collect several more blubber samples to be tested for those pesky plasticizers. Stay tuned for results (but don't hold your breath- it's a slow process).
  4. A short video highlighting our necropsy program, to be added to the website.

Thanks for the support throughout the year!

Danae Presler
AmeriCorps member
Marine Mammal Stranding Network Educator

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