Tuesday, December 29, 2015

New Content in the Natural History Exhibit!

Question: How do you balance a glacier?
Answer: Very carefully! 

Come learn more about the impacts of climate change on glaciers in Olympic National Park with a new interactive animation on Glacial Mass Balance.

How do glaciers respond to changes in the length of winter snowfall?
What causes glaciers to advance and recede?

Learn the answers to these questions (and more!) with this addition to our Climate Change display in the Natural History Exhibit.

This display was funded in part by the Public Participation Grant from the Washington Department of Ecology. Thank you to staff at Olympic National Park for providing the display content.

CAROLYN WOODS is the Natural History Exhibit and Volunteer Educator and an AmeriCorps Member serving at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Play the Game: How to Tell the Difference Between Seals and Sea Lions

Really think about it, if you were walking along the beach as the sun was going down and saw a marine mammal in the distance, would you be able to identify it? It is okay if you are quietly saying to yourself, "no," I am going to help with that!

I have created a matching game. I am going to introduce different marine mammals that look very similar to each other and provide information about how to identify them, life history, and some fun stories and facts. I will post pictures at the bottom and you must see if you can guess the correct species! Next month, I will post the answers along with a new set of species, so make sure you check back and see if you got it right! Come summer, you will all be experts at identifying marine mammals!  

A little information about marine mammals:

Marine mammals are mammals that live in the marine environment for the majority of their lives. These mammals get their food from the ocean and their water from their food. We have over 31 species of marine mammals that call the Pacific North West home. So let’s jump right in and learn about them!

Week 1: Seals vs Sea Lion

Do you think you know the difference between a seal and a sea lion? What key characteristics would you look for to tell them apart?

Our seals and sea lions are fin-footed carnivorous marine mammals within the suborder Pinnipedia (meaning “wing-foot” or “feather-foot”). This suborder, which includes Seals (Family: Phocids), Sea Lions (Family: Otariids) and Walruses (Family: Odobenidae), have the widest distribution of any other suborder and inhabit all the oceans. Pinnipeds main sources of food are fish and squid, however some will eat mollusks, crustaceans and much larger prey.

Photo from National Geographic 1987
So how can you tell them apart?

There are a couple of noticeable differences between Seals and Sea Lions. When I am differentiating between the two, I focus on two characteristics: their flippers and their ears. 

The forelimbs of sea lions are longer and more developed than those of seals. They use them to move through the water and to prop themselves up and move quickly on land. Another noticeable characteristic is that their hind flippers can rotate forward. In contrast, a seal uses its hind flippers when propelling through the water, cannot prop themselves up, are awkward when moving on land, and cannot rotate their hind flippers forward.  

Another way to differentiate between the two would be by observing their ears. Sea lions have external ear flaps where true seals do not. This is not something you would see unless you were standing over a dead individual or you had binoculars. Never go up to a seal or sea lion to see if it has ear flaps or not, I promise you, it will not end well.

From "Guide to Marine Mammals of Alaska" Kate Wynne

Below you can see some other characteristic differences between the two species:

Now that you have all the information do you think you can tell them apart? 

Who am I? 
Who am I?
Who am I? 
Who are we?
I am going to start off easy, just so that you can focus on noticing the differences. Don’t worry, the pictures will get more difficult. You can put your answers in the comment section below so I can see who gets them right! 

KATIE CONROY is the Marine Mammal Stranding Educator and an AmeriCorps member serving at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.  

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Rainbow Connection

Today through Friday, 12/18, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center is seeking to meet a $3,000 match challenge from a generous donor. Donate today and every dollar you give will go twice as far. With your help, we will meet our goal of raising $15,000 for our annual fund to double our impact next year. Thank you for helping to inspire conservation of the Salish Sea and monitor the health of our local ocean.

On the first Saturday of every month, I get to hang out on the beach with three of Port Townsend's finest birders. Surveying seabirds with these citizen scientists as part of the Seattle Audubon's Puget Sound Seabird Survey (PSSS) is a real treat. The PSSS has been a part of my service quite literally since Day 1. I arrived to my first day of service on the morning of October 1 completely unaware that I would spend my evening training on PSSS protocol until 7:30 PM, let alone leading my first survey two days later. These short, 30-minute surveys are now one of the projects I look forward to most each month as the AmeriCorps Citizen Science Educator at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. This month, we were graced with the presence of a full rainbow for the entire survey. It was truly remarkable!

PTMSC citizen scientists braving 30mph winds on December 5th, 2015, to conduct the monthly PSSS. We counted 39 individuals representing 8 species, and one double rainbow. (Pictured left to right: Bruce Marsten, Ron Sikes, and Bill Vogt. Photo credit: Zofia Knorek).

Rainbows are an optical illusion — they change based on the viewers' perspective. Since the rainbow lasted for over an hour, I was gifted with the opportunity to change my perspective numerous times. As a marine ecologist whose primary research interests are underwater, I spend a lot of time looking down and thinking about what lies below. This rainbow was a stark symbol of what glory there is to see if I remember to look up. Moreover, I now recognize the diversity of lenses — and hence, perspectives — I use at PTMSC to view and learn from the Salish Sea: my own eyes (and glasses), binoculars, spotting scopes, microscopes, cameras (digital and underwater!), and most importantly, the lenses of other organisms, human or not. To me, the processes of investigating (changing our perspectives) and communicating (sharing our perceptions) are what science and education are all about; I serve to embody and inspire these processes.

LOOK, A GIANT YELLOW GUNNEL! Or, AmeriCorps Marine Exhibit Educator Rebecca Mostow, living life from the perspective of our eelgrass tank inhabitants (while cleaning up their poop...nice multitasking!). (Photo credit: Chrissy McLean).

This season's sea star wasting survey (see Rebecca's blog report next week!) required climbing and crawling over and under barnacle rocks and peering into the smallest of crevices to observe our favorite five-armed phenoms. (Photo credit: Carolyn Woods).
In the holiday spirit of joy, light, and giving thanks, I would like to thank AmeriCorps/Washington Service Corps and PTMSC for this multifaceted rainbow connection (obligatory Kermit reference). Over the period of two short months, AmeriCorps and PTMSC have connected me to a phenomenal group of volunteers, visitors, students, colleagues, and scientists. It is quite fitting that my first taste of citizen science was ornithological in nature. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is renowned for pioneering the bridges (or, keeping in theme: connections) between citizen science and ecology. Further, seabirds are an important ecological connection between our ocean, land, and sky. Citizen science is not as prevalent in marine science as it is in other systems. I am thankful for the opportunity to serve at an organization that is at the forefront of marine citizen science, and studies such a wide array of subjects, particularly those that challenge me to think critically and broaden my interests.

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a talented birder. I don't even think I qualify as an "okay" birder. I have astigmatism, so trying not to trip over what is right in front of me is enough of a daily chore — one that is not eased with a pair of binoculars. However, like anything else, careful practice brings improvement. My ability to spot and identify our friends of flight has been greatly refined  — the majority of my bird sightings used to turn out to really be leaves (what I jokingly called a 'leafbird', not to be confused with real leafbirds). Our study site is the open water of the Straits of Juan de Fuca just north of Pt. Wilson. Thus, we do not count birds in trees, which relieves some obstructive difficulties (and eliminates the potential for 'leafbirds' altogether), but does not come without other challenges. The birds are often highly active and can fly away at any moment without notice. Seabirds can also disappear underwater to dive and forage fish. On windy days, high wave action can obscure our direct line of sight to the birds. Thank you to Ron, Bill, and Bruce for sharing your birding knowledge and braving gnarly winds with me every month. And, thank you to all of our citizen scientists for your continued devotion to, and incredible patience with, your respective projects. You strengthen the institution of science more than you will ever know.

Finally, I am overwhelmingly thankful that this refracted light ignited such deep reflection of the inspiration I receive from you, my allies in conserving the Salish Sea, every day.

Looks like I found a service (s)pot o' gold at each end of the rainbow! (Photo credit: Zofia Knorek).

ZOFIA KNOREK is the Citizen Science Educator and an AmeriCorps Member serving at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Whales of the Salish Sea: It's WOSSome!

As an AmeriCorps member serving at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, part of my duty is to provide educational opportunities to underserved communities, in addition to supporting our organizational mission of inspiring conservation of the Salish Sea. Our residential program, Whales of the Salish Sea (WOSS), is a perfect example of how these tasks combine and complement each other. For three days in November, almost fifty 5th graders toured the Marine Science Center and received hands-on lessons in marine biology and public policy. WOSS was also a chance for our entire AmeriCorps team to work together and learn from each other and experienced educators, including WOSS Coordinator (and past AmeriCorps member) Megan Veley.

On the first day, we introduced students to marine mammals and dove into the ecology of orca communities. Everyone received a hands-on lesson about the important role of blubber in insulating whales from the cold waters of the Salish Sea. I got the chance to coach several students through the process of scientific drawing when we observed marine mammal skulls as a class to identify their adaptation for living in the ocean. The students also answered questions including “how do researchers identify individual orcas?” and “what kinds of relationships exist between pods of orcas?”

Left: Students used an insulated "blubber glove" in a bucket of seawater to understand how whales keep warm Right: Gray whale skeleton articulation in progress

Next, students got an up-close look at the tiniest animals in the Salish Sea and a hands-on lesson with one of the largest when they examined plankton under microscopes and articulated Spirit, our gray whale skeleton.

Plankton collection on the dock also included a surprise visit from a juvenile harbor seal, an important illustration of the abundance of marine life in the waters around Port Townsend.

The program culminated in a mock Town Hall Meeting, a chance for all the students to synthesize the content they’d learned over the past three days and discuss the merits and drawbacks of a proposed tidal turbine in Admiralty Inlet. I was impressed at how confident and informed the students were in presenting their opinions. It was extremely satisfying to see how our work during the lessons had paid off with a greater understanding of the interdependence of humans and animals living in the Salish Sea.

Even more inspiring were the students who told me they were now interested in pursuing a career in marine biology!

The class was excited to share their opinions at the mock Town Hall meeting
In addition to providing valuable learning experience for our students, I had the chance to immerse myself in the curriculum that our team will be using in the coming months for our Free Science Classes. I look forward to continuing to improve my skills as an educator and working with more groups of curious students.

Thank you to Megan Veley, Nancy Israel, Amy Johnson, Susan Bullerdick, and Gabriele Sanchez for making Whales of the Salish Sea a success!

CAROLYN WOODS is the Natural History Exhibit and Volunteer Educator and an AmeriCorps Member serving at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Ocean Monitoring and Conservation Using Cabled Observatory Technology

The following is a guest post from Nam Siu, a marine biologist and Marine Science Center Oceanography on the Dock educator. 

Today through Friday, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center is seeking to meet a $1000 match challenge from two generous donors. Donate today and every dollar you give will go twice as far toward sparking curiosity and inspiring stewardship of the Salish Sea. With your help, we will meet our goal of raising $15,000 to double our impact next year and inspire more people like Nam to become passionate stewards of our marine environment.

Nautilus in Victoria

In August 2015, I returned aboard the E/V Nautilus as a data manager. The ship had just transited from San Francisco to Victoria to pick up crew and equipment in preparation for the last cruise of the expedition season. This last cruise was rather unique as Dr. Robert Ballard's Ocean Exploration Trust, the non-profit that operates the E/V Nautilus, was collaborating with Ocean Networks Canada to perform maintenance on their underwater observatory as well as various scientific missions.

Nam and his colleague, Katie, on deck
Nam with Dr. Robert Ballard

Ocean Networks Canada operates and maintains both the Victoria Experimental Network Under the Sea (VENUS) and North-East Pacific Time-series Undersea Networked Experiments (NEPTUNE) observatories providing real-time in situ data from various scientific instrument platforms through the Salish Sea (VENUS) and Northeast Pacific (NEPTUNE). The scientific instrument platforms on these ocean observatories monitor everything from hydro-acoustics for marine mammal and shipping traffic research, to bottom pressure sensors as a part of the earthquake and tsunami early warning system, to HD cameras recording the succession of hydrothermal vent tubeworm communities, and much more.

Onboard observation room
Nam and a small octopus

It was a real privilege to work on both the VENUS and NEPTUNE observatories in our own backyard of the Salish Sea and Northeast Pacific. Moreover, for someone like me, who regularly SCUBA dives in this area and is usually restricted to the shallow water environment down to a maximum 30 m of depth, it was absolutely amazing to explore the deepest parts of the ocean here. For instance, the deepest site on this cruise, the “Endeavor Hydrothermal Vent Field” was at a depth of approximately 2,300 meters! This is a good time to clarify that no, I was not SCUBA diving on this research cruise and no, I did not go down in a submersible. The E/V Nautilus hosts two remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), Hercules and Argus, that we remotely operate from the comfort of the control room on the ship. It was with these two ROVs, especially Hercules, which was the business end of the system with manipulator arms that we used to perform maintenance of instrument platforms and surveys on the seafloor.

Hercules front view
Hercules in the vent field

The highlight of the cruise for me was when we finally transited 400 km offshore to dive on the Endeavor Hydrothermal Vent Field at the Juan de Fuca and Pacific plate spreading ridge. This was the deepest site at 2,300 m below the surface of the Northeastern Pacific. Here we found gigantic hydrothermal vents, black smoker chimneys, and spires that rose up to 30 m above the sea floor.

The spreading ridge
Smoke and mirrors

As a marine biologist, the most interesting thing to me, besides the giant hydrothermal vent spires, were the vast tubeworm communities hosting a diverse array of chemosynthetically dependent organisms.


The data collected by Ocean Network Canada is available to the public and anyone can go to www.oceannetwork.ca to make an account and start viewing the data and video streams. Moreover, videos and pictures from this expedition and previous ones can be seen on www.nautiluslive.org.

NAM SIU is a Marine Biologist and Project Manager at Marine Surveys & Assessments where he conducts scientific SCUBA surveys throughout the Salish Sea and assesses the environmental impact of various marine related projects. Occasionally Nam goes to sea with Dr Robert Ballard’s Ocean Exploration Trust aboard the exploration vessel Nautilus to explore hydrothermal vents and the deepest parts of the ocean with remotely operated unmanned submersibles. Nam has an M.Sc. in biology with oceanography emphasis, as well as a dual B.Sc. in Marine Science and Biology. He is a district one representative on the Jefferson County Marine Resources Committee serving on several subcommittees dedicated to protecting and restoring the marine resources of Jefferson County. Nam also works part-time at the Jefferson Community School as a marine science educator and dive master for their overseas diving expeditions. Above all, Nam volunteers at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center mostly helping out with the citizen science program Oceanography on the Dock.

Help create more stories like Nam's. Donate today!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

"Zella" the Seal Pup

Yesterday I responded to my first Marine Mammal Stranding Network call! Luckily for me, I didn't have to travel far to see this marine mammal because she was hauled out on the beach right next to the PTMSC pier.

Zella, the harbor seal pup, resting on the beach

Maybe she'll come tour the exhibit next weekend!

Around 1 o'clock on Saturday, a harbor seal pup climbed up on the sandy, protected shore right in front of the Marine Exhibit. She looked healthy, chubby, and relaxed. I think this is the same pup we've seen playing and hunting by the pier for the past month or so. On Friday, one of our smallest visitors decided to name her Zella. All the visitors to the Marine Exhibit on Saturday got to see her resting on the beach from the safe distance of the pier. We reminded everyone to admire her from afar and not to approach her.

REBECCA MOSTOW is the Marine Exhibit Educator and an AmeriCorps member at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.