Friday, November 30, 2018

A stormy start to the season!

It was a blustery start to the week here at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. The morning started with an alert from my phone. There was a gale force warning out for my area, specifically for the east entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Conveniently, that placed the PTMSC right in the middle of the action!

I knew I was in for quite the day.

The view from the PTMSC pier Monday morning.
Some waves sprayed over the pier! 

I got another clue when I pulled into my parking spot at Fort Worden and immediately saw a wave spray over the side of the aquarium pier. Over the roar of the wind and waves, you could hear our floating dock making a valiant bid for freedom.

Kelp and driftwood pushed ashore by Monday's storm. 

After taking a moment to snap a few pictures, I headed out to the aquarium to start the day’s work. Fighting against the wind through the aquarium door was a two-person task. The aquarium building makes a wind tunnel at the head of the pier—one that our resident pigeons seemed to love—which just about cemented our outward-swinging door shut.

The fun didn’t stop once I was in the building. Judging by the clipboard swinging on its hook on the wall—PTMSC’s budget seismometer for these events—today the pier would be rocking and rolling with the best of us.

View from the pier on a foggy morning in  July 2018. 
View from the pier on Wednesday.  

Monday’s wind storm definitely left its mark on the beach. I’m always surprised by how much beaches change over the seasons. The gentle forces that build up our beaches in the summer tend to reverse in the winter as they increase in intensity, eroding away much of the summer’s growth.

The beaches at Fort Worden are no different—but Monday’s storm definitely helped the process along.

Berms like these probably won't stick around for long,
but are evidence of some serious wave power. 
Walking along the beach now, you can see all of the bumps and bruises left over from the storm. We’ve gained a great new collection of driftwood logs piled up near the top of the beach. Waves cresting over half-buried logs eroded canyons behind them, and tunneled beneath—all the better to move these logs entirely in the next big storm.

Water surging over half-buried logs dug deep canyons
in the sand. 

Winter has definitely knocked on our door, and with the seasonal changes come more big, landscape-altering weather events like this one.

I can't wait to see what the next storm brings!

Written by AmeriCorps Natural History Educator Ellie Kravets.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Eleanora the Octopus' Open House: PTMSC Members Only

Photo via Instagram @ptmarinescictr

December 14

3 PM

PTMSC Aquarium

This is a special event for PTMSC members only.

We will be opening the doors to members only for Eleanora's enrichment session. The Giant Pacific Octopus will be presented with several feeding puzzles or toys with Aquarist, Ali Redman, on hand to answer questions.

Some days Eleanora is excited to explore her toys and stretch her skills.
On others, she'd prefer to stay in her cave.
It's possible that she will not be active on the day of the Open House.

Please RSVP for the event.
Attendees will be emailed earlier in the day with an estimation of her eagerness to show off.

Monday, November 26, 2018

We Love Our Aquarium Creatures! (Part 1)

Fun Facts About Marine Life At The Aquarium

This is Part 1 of a two-part series, To read Part 2, go here.

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center Aquarium, on the pier at Fort Worden State Park. Staff photo.

In 2018, visitors to the Port Townsend Marine Science Center Aquarium, located on the dock at Fort Worden State Park, got a first-hand look at the facility’s re-imagined plant and animal displays, as well as a new conservation lab. 

Conservation Lab, newly established in 2018! Staff photo.

The exhibit redesign, overseen by PTMSC Program Director Diane Quinn with the support of staff and volunteers, showcases the typical plants, animals and underwater features found in a number of nearshore habitats.
Visitors learn about many nearshore habitats,
including plants and animals, at the Aquarium. 
Staff photo.

As a result, visitors who interact with the popular tide pool touch tanks and aquarium exhibits can better understand how these marine organisms thrive within the larger ecosystem of the Salish Sea.

Surge Zone 
Below the crumbling bluffs and along rocky points, waves crash relentlessly against the shoreline of the Salish Sea. The animals living here are tenacious, possessing an extraordinary ability to cling tightly to their anchor points to avoid being swept away.

Why risk life in such a hostile environment? Because the cool, upwelling waters are full of nutrients and microscopic organisms that the tough residents of this dynamic zone filter out and feed upon.
Plumose anemone, staff photo.
Blood stars, staff photo

In the aquarium’s surge zone tide pool, visitors can see anemones, urchins and sponges “stick” themselves to rocks. Meanwhile, limpets and other snails seal themselves in place with a muscular foot, and blood stars use their tube feet to anchor themselves. Barnacles grow in large clusters by cementing themselves to hard surfaces. The clingfish lives up to its name, using its pelvic fins as a suction cup to hold tightly to rocks or blades of seagrass.

Rocky Intertidal 
At low tide, marine animals are exposed and the sun beats down, while seagulls, otters, and other scavengers patrol for a meal. Hermit crabs and fish take refuge in pools or under rocks to avoid exposure, while anemones and barnacles close up tightly for protection against both sun and predators. 

At high tide, the cool waters offer relief to those hardy enough to live in these extremes. Mussels and other sedentary filter feeders rely on these nutrient-rich waters to deliver their meals to them.

Living in the rocky intertidal tide pool are some of the aquarium’s most popular (with visitors, that is) creatures: fish-eating anemones, red and green urchins and mobile predators such as ochre stars, mottled stars, sunflower stars and crabs searching for mussels, limpets, chitons and other food among the rocks.

Filmed by PTMSC Intern Jonathan Crossman.

Rocky Reef 
Below the stresses of the dynamic rocky intertidal zone, but still within reach of the sun’s rays, rocky reefs are home to countless species of fish, invertebrates, and seaweed. Boulders and rocks create refuges from strong currents and provide the hard surfaces to which invertebrates attach.

Fueled by the sun, seaweeds and kelp wave in the strong currents while coralline algae create startling bright pink patches across the rocks.

Tubeworms and scallops grab small particles of food from the passing water. Leather stars scout for urchins and anemones while sea cucumbers scour away plankton and detritus. Fish, such as sculpin, feed among the rocks and take shelter from diving birds and mammals above.

Anemones and a sunflower star (do you see it?), staff photo.
The red sea urchin uses its tube feet, located between its spines, to help move across the sea floor in search of kelp. 

Fortunately in the aquarium, the hungry sea stars, anemones and urchins don’t have to move much to find a meal – they are fed by reliable human caretakers!

Seagrass Meadow and Eelgrass 
Visitors peering over the aquarium’s railing can view grass growing underwater. This zone – the seagrass meadow – is one of the most productive and valuable habitats in the Salish Sea, providing a nursery for numerous fish species and food for invertebrates. The grasses also stabilize sediment, filter harmful bacteria and absorb carbon and nitrogen. 
Red sea urchin, staff photo.

One of the most prolific species of seagrass is eelgrass. This perennial, flowering, narrow-leafed plant thrives in sandy sunlit shallows. Anchored by interlocking roots and growing up to six feet tall, eelgrass slows water movement and wave action, protecting the shoreline and capturing marine nutrients. In addition to providing habitat to diverse marine life, its decomposing leaves contribute significant amounts of organic nutrients, boosting productivity in surrounding areas.

Juvenile walleye pollock in the eelgrass tank, staff photo.

In the aquarium’s tanks, visitors can view some of the fascinating species of fish found in seagrass beds, including tubesnouts, pipefish (a close relative of the seahorse), prickleback, greenling, gunnels, sanddabs, tadpole sculpin and juvenile walleye pollock. Some feed on the algae that grows on the leaves, while others hide among the blades and await tasty morsels floating by.

This is Part 1 of a two-part series, To read Part 2, go here.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Whales of the Salish Sea Education Program

Salish Coast Elementary School students learn about stewardship 

Over three days this week, the AmeriCorps Team taught a group of fifth graders from Salish Coast Elementary School about whales of the Salish Sea. This education program is jam-packed with information, games, and activities about various species of whales. 

Around 75 students split into three groups and rotated between a few different classes. 

Students in the "Orca Forensics" class
Photo by Carolyn Woods

While many of the students had visited the PTMSC prior to this week, very few of them had the opportunity to transform themselves into an orca whale, as they did in a couple of these classes.

The material ranged from learning about ocean acidification, to assembling a gray whale skeleton, to becoming orca whales finding their pod (signature whale calls and all). My personal favorite was the gray whale class, in which all students worked together to reassemble the vertebrae and ribs of “Spirit,” our full gray whale skeleton.

The last activity of the 3-day-long schedule was a “Town Hall” activity in which the students were split into four stakeholder groups: the maritime industry, the public, whale researchers, and the southern resident killer whales.

They discussed a few of the Orca Task Force recommendations recently proposed to the governor. Each of these recommendations were ideas for potential future laws and regulations protecting the southern resident killer whales.

Because this activity was concerning a real-time issue, I saw the students begin to think of the issue of environmental and noise pollution in a more tangible way. They began to see that their involvement could potentially make a difference.

The "Whale Researchers" preparing for the Town Hall Meeting
Photo by Carolyn Woods

In my experience, it can sometimes be a challenge to get all students engaged and interested in the importance of environmental education, especially coming from a variety of backgrounds. However, the accessibility and hands-on nature of these classes left me feeling impressed with the engagement of the kids, but also hopeful that they genuinely ended the program feeling more knowledgeable and responsible for the future of our oceans.

Overall, I’d say the program was a fantastic success!

Written by Marley Loomis, AmeriCorps Marine Exhibit Educator

Monday, November 19, 2018

New Volunteer Information Session

Saturday, December 8
10 - 11:30 am
Aquarium classroom
On the pier at Fort Worden

Volunteering with the Marine Science Center is a great way to get involved in your community, meet new people, and take action to help the Salish Sea.

There are many opportunities available, from interpreting and greeting in the Aquarium and Museum, working in the gift shop, to helping maintain the aquariums and touch tanks in the Aquarium. Learn about Citizen Science, and the opportunities available. Visit our Volunteering at PTMSC web page.

To RSVP or find out more, contact Gabriele at 360.385.5582 x120 or

Friday, November 16, 2018

Northern elephant seal stranding on Marrowstone Island

Marine mammal necropsied, skeleton preservation underway

Being the brand new Marine Mammal Stranding Network AmeriCorps at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, every stranding call is new and exciting. So when the line rang on October 31 for an approximately 14-foot long northern elephant seal that had washed ashore, I was more than thrilled for the opportunity.

This seal was originally reported the day prior on the smartphone app iNaturalist, which serves as an online social network for citizen scientists by creating a platform for sharing and mapping local natural observations. Shortly after this posting, our stranding line received a phone call officially reporting the animal to us.

Several hours later, the entire crew of new PTMSC AmeriCorps staff departed to learn and practice what to do with our first dead stranded mammal.

The animal was found north of Liplip Point on the southeast corner of Marrowstone Island. We determined it to be an adult male northern elephant seal with no obvious external injuries.

This particular area of beach is very remote and difficult to get to, but thankfully we had received permission to use the stairs of the land owner who reported the animal. Thus, on Halloween we began our trek down the excitingly precarious stairs you will see pictured to the right.

What truly amazed me (and I think I can speak for everyone else there) was the seal’s size. He measured 406 cm from the tip of his head to the tip of his tail. That’s over 13 feet! And that didn’t include his rear flippers.

Michael Siddel, Citizen Science Americorp member, and PTMSC 
Citizen Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson 
examining the front flipper
While there, we worked with the two PTMSC volunteers who were called to respond to the seal and the individual who reported the mammal. This work included collecting data on the animal, such as: observations, quantitative data (e.g. weight measurements), and looking for the possibility of human interaction (i.e. any indications human activities may have affected their life or death).

Because the Marine Mammal Stranding Network works with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to collect and manage data on stranded marine mammals along our coasts, this information gathering process is crucial.

Almost immediately upon our return, rumors began floating on the possibility of gaining permission to do a necropsy and preserve the full skeleton as an education tool. By the following afternoon, this became a reality and plans were in the works to begin as soon as the next day.

Friday morning, the small team assembled and began a necropsy and flensing procedure under the guidance of Dyanna Lambourn, our go-to pinniped person at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Necropsies give us the opportunity to gain a better insight on the cause of death by acquiring samples to send to a lab, and the ability to look at the conditions of the internal organs.

The team of PTMSC volunteers and staff participating in the necropsy.
Currently, the bones have been moved to beneath our pier to begin the process of soft-tissue decomposition under water. Now, we wait until the bones are ready for processing before we can begin articulating the skeleton for exhibit. Stay tuned for exciting developments!

Volunteer Bruce Carlson transporting the seal to its new temporary resting place. Photo credit: Wendy Feltham 

Written by Mandi Johnson, Americorps Volunteer Program Educator

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Gift Shop Sale

This Thanksgiving weekend, shop local at our Gift Shop and support local artists and PTMSC programs.

10% off
all purchases

PTMSC members get 15% off!
Join Today

November 23 - 25
Friday, Saturday & Sunday
noon - 5pm

photo by Wendy Feltham

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Lecture: The Octopus Learning Project

photo of Eleanora the octopus by Florian Graner 

Sunday, December 9

3 pm

Florian Graner, SeaLife Productions

The Fort Worden Chapel

Admission: $5

(students, teachers FREE)

photo by Wendy Feltham
Florian is a cinematographer, diver and environmental advocate. His cinematography assignments have taken him all around the world on world-class film productions including work for National Geographic and on the Blue Planet Series. He is currently initiating a project with the Port Townsend Marine Science Center on Octopus Learning for German Public Television.  Graner is a rebreather specialist: since 1995, this has given him a unique, bubble-free presence close to our skittish creatures. His DVD Under the Salish Sea is a comprehensive and inspiring journey through the 3-dimensional world of Puget Sound, filmed in the waters near Port Townsend. A 30-minute DVD, Return of the King, tells the story of the salmon-orca connection, while A Seal’s Life is the story of the remarkable elephant seal, who travel farther than any other mammal in their annual migration across the North Pacific. His web presence, SeaLife Productions, has a strong ethical mission. Florian is committed to using his work to bring issues to the public that would otherwise be difficult to visualize.

More Info:

Contact info:

This is the third installment of The Future of Oceans lecture series.

This event is offered with generous support from the Darrow Family.

Assisted Listening Devices available

Monday, November 5, 2018

Cruise Protection Island Aquatic Reserve This Holiday Season

2 Dates:

November 24


December 31 

Participants will enjoy the amenities of Puget Sound Express’s heated, fully enclosed whale-watching boat, including 360-degree windows, wrap-around observation decks and a cozy 
Just outside of Port Townsend is an amazing National Wildlife Refuge — Protection Island. Nearly 70 percent of the nesting seabird population of Puget Sound and the Straits nest on the island, which includes one of the largest nesting colonies of rhinoceros auklets in the world and the largest nesting colony of glaucous-winged gulls in Washington. The island contains one of the last two nesting colonies of tufted puffins in the Puget Sound area. About 1,000 harbor seals depend upon the island for a pupping and rest area.

Cruise trips will go through the Protection Island Aquatic Reserve and circumnavigate Protection Island, a National Wildlife Refuge located at the mouth of Discovery Bay. This 364-acre island is covered by grass and low brush, with a small timbered area, high sandy bluffs for seabird nesting, and low sand spits on two ends of the island. 

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center – in collaboration with Puget Sound Express – hosts special expeditions to Protection Island.