Monday, July 22, 2019

What does it mean to become a steward of the Salish Sea? Part 3

In 2019, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center is spotlighting supporters who have become stewards of the Salish Sea. Read Part 1 and Part 2. You, too, can become a SeaSteward member by contributing monthly with a recurring payment. Please make a gift today to ensure that more people are inspired to conserve the Salish Sea!
What does it mean to become a steward of the Salish Sea?

For Tim Weissman, it was his internship with the Port Townsend Marine Science Center in 2016.

“When I graduated from college, I had no idea what I wanted to do,” Tim says. “I spent the next two years of my life doing environmental education in various forms. When I came to Port Townsend to work at the marine science center, I figured this was just another stop on the map during my journey around the country.
Tim Weissman as a PTMSC intern in 2016.


“I interacted with and taught thousands of people from all over the country ranging in age from 5 to 75, whether they were a part of a school group, a summer camp, or they were just visiting. I realized the Port Townsend Marine Science Center had me hooked. This is where I wanted to stay,” he says.

Tim’s first low tide walk was memorable.

“I was still learning about the flora and fauna of the area and I was a little nervous to be teaching others about things I was actively learning myself, but with the help of [former PTMSC Board Chair] Wendy Feltham and [former PTMSC Program Director] Karlisa Callwood, it made everything much easier,” he says. “However, I wasn’t quite ready for the nearly 100 people that showed up to join us on the walk! It was a great experience and ever since then I have been a proponent of trial by fire.”

Today Tim is an environmental health specialist with Jefferson County, but he still makes time to volunteer with the PTMSC.

“The countless ways that we can touch people and move them to feel a certain way about this very special place and our planet, leaves me hopeful for the future,” he says. “We can continue to provide life changing experiences to the next generation and continue being hopeful for the future for those who come after us.”

Through their support of the PTMSC for more than 15 years, Linda Martin and Mike Cornforth have helped nurture future ocean stewards like Tim.

Mike and Linda at the end of their regular Friday docent shifts.
“We have been docents, auction donors and ambassadors, and sustaining financial donors since 2007,” says Linda, who eventually became a PTMSC board member. “Mike and I knew we'd be supporting the PTMSC the first time we set foot in the Natural History Museum.

“Watching a visitor's face light up with glee when a touch tank resident responds to a gentle touch gives my heart a happy thump,” she says. “Seeing visitors from all over the world meet their first orca in our museum is a joy.”

Recently, Mike and Linda decided to become SeaSteward members, making their donation with an automatically recurring monthly payment on their credit card.

“The advantages are two-fold,” Mike says. “First, PTMSC has a steady, stable source of funding for day-to-day operations. And second, our charitable contributions are stable and predictable.”

Adds Linda: “Keeping the Aquarium and Museum doors open to the public is a service to the local and global community. We are honored to be a part of that effort.”



Monday, July 15, 2019

What does it mean to become a steward of the Salish Sea? Part 2

In 2019, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center is spotlighting supporters who have become SeaSteward donors. Read Part 1 here. You, too, can become a SeaSteward donor by contributing monthly with a recurring payment. Please make a gift today to ensure that more people are inspired to conserve the Salish Sea!

What does it mean to become a steward of the Salish Sea?

For Grace Johnson, the flame was lit as a member of the Northwest Watershed Institute's Youth Environmental Stewardship Program (YES!) in her junior and senior years of high school.

Grace Johnson, recipient of the
2019 Anne Murphy Ocean Stewards Scholarship
“When I first became a member of the YES! Program, our group attended a 30-minute class at the Marine Science Center where several of the staff shared with us the importance of learning [about] the harmful chemicals that are ingredients in many consumer products that are being used in our everyday lives. 

“The information presented in this class was astounding, I realized how extensive the issue of toxic waste really was, not only to marine life, but to the animals and humans who inhabit the Earth as well,” Grace says.

For the last year Johnson has volunteered at the PTMSC, caring for aquarium animals, cleaning tanks and interacting with the public.

At the annual PTMSC Benefit Dinner and Auction in March, she inspired the audience with a story of her interaction with a young boy.

“I told him that [sculpins] enjoy eating clams and small fish, that they prefer to live in inshore rocky and sandy areas, and how they usually swallow their food whole,” Grace says. “As I saw his excitement, I realized in that moment that, just maybe, I had stirred a curiosity within him that just might develop into a life-long passion.” 

For her dedication to the marine environment and instilling that passion in others, Grace was awarded the 2019 Anne Murphy Ocean Stewards Scholarship.

Ed Robeau is a longtime supporter who understands what it takes to create and nurture ocean stewards just like Grace.
Ed Robeau, docenting at the Aquarium.

“The mission is important for many reasons: education, research, monitoring, publicity and more,” he says. “I became a member in 2010, starting as ‘home crew’ cleaning tanks in the Aquarium. Then I became a docent in both exhibits. I am approaching 800 hours of service.”

Ed cited several meaningful examples of progress and success as a result of his work and other PTMSC supporters.

“Data gathered contributes to problem identification and solutions, there’s increased public awareness of issues, and PTMSC is a strong presence in discussions and decisions of other entities, such as Fort Worden State Park,” he says.

Asked why he supports the PTMSC with regular monthly donations, Ed was quick to respond.

“The PTMSC needs it, and I can afford it,” he says. “It’s easy for me with an automatic credit card charge and it gives the PTMSC a steady, dependable base income from which to pay its bills and staff.”

Thanks to ocean stewards like Ed, the PTMSC is transforming the lives of more and more young people like Grace. He encourages others to step up.

“Besides helping accomplish the mission of the PTMSC, this is a great organization to which to belong,” he says. “We work together to perform important services and we provide each other mutual support.”

Friday, July 12, 2019

A Whale of a Time

On May 31, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared the abnormal number of gray whale strandings along the West Coast as an Unusual Mortality Event, or UME.

A UME needs to “involve a significant die-off of any marine mammal population; and demand immediate response."
 
Americorps members, Michael Siddel and Ellie Kravets,  conducting our initial observations. 
The very same week, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center received a report of a stranded adult male gray whale floating in our marine mammal stranding network zone. Over the next few days, we waited for the whale to land and worked out what our plan would be once that happened.

Thanks to many local organizations, NOAA and PTMSC volunteers, we were able to construct a team to move the whale by boat to a more isolated beach location. There, a necropsy was performed in order to determine the cause of death.

Volunteers towing the whale to his new location. 
Finding an appropriate location is important because the remains need to decompose wherever the whale is necropsied. And let me tell you, a 30-ton decomposing whale does not smell pretty!

Would you have guessed a whale had so many intestines? 
As you can imagine, not everyone wants a decomposing whale on their favorite beach walk. In addition, most of Washington's coastline is privately owned. This means a location that isn’t heavily trafficked and one that we have permission to use can be extremely difficult to find.
Fortunately for us, two of our very own volunteers offered up their beach property: Stefanie Worwag and Mario Rivera. Their incredible generosity was reported by numerous news outlets.



As with most of the other gray whales that have stranded during the UME, our whale was found with nothing but some eelgrass and a fruit snack pack in his stomach -- he was extremely malnourished. Currently, NOAA is working to figure out what is the reason behind these increased numbers of emaciated whales.

Two theories are currently under consideration.

First, by studying the West Coast gray whale population trends over the past 30 years, it may be possible that the “carrying capacity” has been reached. In other words, there may be as many gray whales as the West Coast can sustainably support. Gray whale numbers have been increasing and with that comes an increase in competition for food and other resources. This could be the reason behind the spike in mortalities.

The second explanation looks into the possibility that the UME is a result of climate change. It may be possible that warmer Arctic waters are inhibiting the availability of gray whales’ main food sources in those northern waters. 

As more information emerges, we will be sure to update this blog for our supporters.

Written by AmeriCorps Volunteer Program Educator Mandi Johnson.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Keeping up with Eliza Dawson

Eliza Dawson, who grew up around Port Townsend, spent many days volunteering at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center and was awarded the 2018 Anne Murphy Ocean Stewardship Scholarship, has started a blog, Keeping Ice Cool, that describes her work as a geophysics Ph.D. student at Stanford University.

Eliza Dawson, posted on her Twitter account @keepingicecool. 
“I model and measure the evolution and stability of ice sheets,” Eliza writes. “Drawing on a multidisciplinary knowledge base across earth sciences and engineering, I am working to develop novel techniques to integrate ice penetrating radar observations with numerical modeling.

“My research works to advance our understanding of ice sheet basal thermal transitions and the onset of sliding, and improve projections of sea level rise,” she adds.

The latest entries on her blog, which was started in March, describe her time studying the Sermeq Kujalleq Glacier in Greenland.

You can keep up with Eliza’s blog via email, by subscribing in the left-hand column on her blog’s website. Or follow her on Twitter, @keepingicecool!



Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Grace Johnson awarded 2019 Anne Murphy Ocean Stewards Scholarship

$1,500 scholarship presented at Port Townsend Marine Science Center annual meeting


On July 9 at its annual member meeting, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center announced the winner of the 2019 Anne Murphy Ocean Stewards Scholarship: Grace Johnson of Nordland, Wash.
 
Grace Johnson, recipient of the 2019 Anne Murphy Ocean Stewards Scholarship.

Johnson, a recent graduate of Chimacum High School, has volunteered in ecosystem projects in the local community and recently participated in the Northwest Watershed Institute’s “YES! Leaders Program,” a hands-on environmental education initiative. For the last year Johnson has volunteered at the PTMSC, caring for aquarium animals, cleaning tanks and interacting with the public.

“When I first became a member of the Youth Environmental Stewardship Program, our group attended a 30-minute class at the marine science center where several of the staff shared with us the importance of learning [about] the harmful chemicals that are ingredients in many consumer products that are being used in our everyday lives,” Johnson said.

“The information presented in this class was astounding, I realized how extensive the issue of toxic waste really was, not only to marine life, but to the animals and humans who inhabit the Earth as well,” she added.

Johnson was also a featured speaker at the annual PTMSC Benefit Dinner and Auction in March, where she inspired the audience with a story of her interaction with a young boy. 

Grace Johnson, speaking to the audience at the 2019 PTMSC Dinner & Auction on March 16.


“I told him that [sculpins] enjoy eating clams and small fish, that they prefer to live in inshore rocky and sandy areas, and how they usually swallow their food whole,” Johnson said. “As I saw his excitement, I realized in that moment that, just maybe, I had stirred a curiosity within him that just might develop into a life-long passion.”

A resident of Marrowstone Island, Johnson will attend Peninsula College in Port Angeles to obtain an Associates of Science Degree. She intends to use the $1,500 scholarship to supplement her tuition, books and room and board.

Her future plans?

“Although my future career path is not environmentally geared, I plan to continue to contribute in environmental conservation, specifically the marine environment by continuing to volunteer throughout college at centers, such as the Feiro Marine Life Center in Port Angeles, during my first two years of college, or possibly the Marine Life Center in Bellingham, while I finish my degree in kinesiology.

“By doing this,” Johnson said, “I can continue to gain and share my knowledge and experiences with others, in hopes of inspiring them to volunteer or even pursue a career in this area.”

She added: “Once my schooling is complete, and I’ve started my career, I plan to attend the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s annual fundraising event where I can donate to the program that helped me discover my new found love for marine life.”

The PTMSC awards the Anne Murphy Ocean Stewardship Scholarship annually to an East Jefferson County student or graduate who embodies the values that Murphy demonstrated in her 24 years as the organization’s executive director: curiosity, wonder and love of the marine environment.


Monday, July 8, 2019

What does it mean to become a steward of the Salish Sea? Part 1

In 2019, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center is spotlighting supporters who have become SeaSteward donors. Read Part 2 here. You, too, can become a SeaSteward donor by contributing monthly with a recurring payment. Please make a gift today to ensure that more people are inspired to conserve the Salish Sea!

What does it mean to become a steward of the Salish Sea?

Ella Piatt traces her first inspiration to the time she came to the Port Townsend Marine Science Center as a child to work with co-founder Libby Palmer on a fish seine.

Ella Piatt at the 2019 "Enchanted Salish Sea" Dinner & Auction.
“I loved every bit of it,” Ella remembers. “We would all wait eagerly to see what the haul would bring us. We would get nudibranchs, crabs, starfish, sculpin, gunnels and so on.”

That excitement brought her back for a high school internship in 2009 to work on the Orca Project. The story of “Hope, the orca that stranded and died due to a high level of toxins in her body, was profoundly moving to Ella.

“The public was allowed to put together the skeleton, like a giant jigsaw puzzle,” Ella says. “I remember a young boy in particular who would work on the orca skeleton as much as he could. There was so much passion and determination in this young man to finish the orca skeleton.”

Ella went on to earn an Associate of Arts degree in marine and environmental conservation, followed by a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and anthropology. She is currently working in Maine on a study of saltmarsh sparrows.

At the 2019 “Enchanted Salish Sea” Dinner & Auction on March 16, Ella addressed the audience, giving voice to the inspiration that motivates everyone who works, volunteers, funds or otherwise supports the PTMSC.

“I want to restore a world that was once beautiful and pollution-free, back to the way it should be,” she said. “I want to find ways to encourage the whole world to take a different path that's less harmful to nature. I want to make a global change. It's a huge goal but together it can be done."

This human-to-human sharing of passion and excitement is at the heart of how the PTMSC creates ocean stewards and transforms lives.

Linda Martin and Mike Cornforth have supported the PTMSC for more than 15 years.

Mike and Linda at the end of their regular Friday docent shifts.
“Mike and I knew we'd be supporting the PTMSC the first time we set foot in the Museum,” says Linda, who eventually became a PTMSC board member. “It was 2004 and our first visit to Port Townsend while searching for the perfect retirement location. A friendly volunteer staffer found out we were docents at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in La Jolla, California, and she told us we'd be most welcome as volunteers at the Marine Science Center. We took the first interpretive training as docents while river otters raced around the beach, screeching and rolling around.”

Describing the thrill of interacting with the public, Linda says: “Watching a visitor's face light up with glee when a touch tank resident responds to a gentle touch gives my heart a happy thump. Seeing visitors from all over the world meet their first orca in our museum is a joy.

“We have been docents, auction donors and ambassadors, and sustaining financial donors since 2007,” she says.

More recently, Mike and Linda decided to become SeaSteward members, making their donation with an automatically recurring monthly payment on their credit card. Mike explains it this way.

“The advantages are two-fold,” he says. “First, PTMSC has a steady, stable source of funding for day-to-day operations. And second, our charitable contributions are stable and predictable.”

Adds Linda: “Keeping the Aquarium and Museum doors open to the public is a service to the local and global community. We are honored to be a part of that effort.”







Thursday, July 4, 2019

Summer Low Tide Walks


Sunday, July 14th

9 am - 11 am

Saturday, August 3rd

11 am - 1 pm

Saturday, August 31st

10 am - noon


All dates: meet at PTMSC Museum Portico entrance

Free with price of admission
(members always free)

Meet at the Museum exhibit portico entrance for a guided Low Tide Walk on the beach with PTMSC naturalists. Explore tide pools and learn about how marine organisms are adapted for the challenges of living in the intertidal zone.

We recommend weather-appropriate clothing and shoes with good traction for moving around on wet slippery rocks.


Please RSVP to Carolyn Woods at cwoods@ptmsc.org or call
(360) 385-5582 x 109

BARSTOOL BINGO at Hilltop Tavern

Wednesday, July 31st

7 - 9 pm


Hilltop Tavern


Join us as we ink up some cards for the Salish Sea!

Fun and prizes!

Proceeds go to support our programs. We'll see you there!

Monday, June 17, 2019

Washington couple sets example with whale carcass ‘experiment’

UPDATED June 19: NOAA Fisheries seeks others to volunteer waterfront property for whale decomposition


The following gray whale stranding story, reprinted with the permission of NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region, first appeared on June 14 and featured Port Townsend Marine Science Center Marine Mammal Stranding Network volunteers Stefanie Worwag and Mario Rivera, and PTMSC Citizen Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson. The story also aired on Seattle's KING 5 News and local public radio affiliates. On June 15, the Associated Press picked up the story and it went viral, appearing on more than 300 media websites in the following 24 hours, and the New York Times followed up with its own story on June 17.  It was even mentioned on June 18 on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and the Port Townsend Leader ran an update on June 19.

A dead 40-foot gray whale drifted ashore north of Port Ludlow, Wash., on May 28. Photo courtesy Mario Rivera.

The waterfront property that drew Mario Rivera and Stefanie Worwag to the Pacific Northwest about three years ago now has an extra special attraction: the 40-foot carcass of a stranded gray whale.

The whale did not end up on the couple’s rocky beach south of Port Townsend on its own. Rather, marine mammal stranding responders towed it there at the owners’ invitation. The couple volunteers for the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, responding to stranded marine mammals, and decided it would be interesting to see the whale decompose and be recycled back into the marine ecosystem.

“That’s the primary reason we did it,” Rivera said. “How many opportunities do you get to watch something like this happen right out in front of you?”

A stranding response team measured the whale as part of an examination that found it to be skinny and 
malnourished, like many other gray whales that have stranded on the West Coast this year. 
Photo courtesy Mario Rivera.
NOAA Fisheries is seeking other waterfront landowners willing to follow the Washington couple’s example and volunteer their properties for the decomposition of other gray whale carcasses washing up at an unusual pace this year. About 30 gray whales have stranded in Washington so far in 2019, the most in about 20 years.

Several of the enormous animals have stranded in the inland waters of Puget Sound and the Salish Sea, exhausting most of the known locations where they can be left to decompose naturally. NOAA Fisheries works closely with local, state, and other federal agencies to identify suitable sites, but is seeking additional options this year.

By volunteering sites, landowners can help support the natural processes of the marine environment. Skeletons remaining after decomposition may be used for educational purposes, but must be registered with NOAA Fisheries.

“We’re grateful to Mario and Stefanie for supporting our stranding network and helping us find a location that works for everyone,” said Kristin Wilkinson, Northwest Coordinator for the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

NOAA Fisheries has declared the more than 70 gray whale strandings on the West Coast this year an Unusual Mortality Event (UME), prompting a scientific investigation into the cause. Many of the whales have been skinny and malnourished, suggesting some may not have consumed enough food during their last summer feeding season in the Arctic.

The whale decomposing on Rivera’s and Worwag’s beachfront was emaciated, so it fit that pattern. Worwag is a veterinarian and assisted with a necropsy on the animal.

Landowners Stefanie Worwag and Mario Rivera volunteered their waterfront property south of Port Townsend, Wash., as a site where the whale can decompose. Worwag, a veterinarian, assisted with the necropsy of the gray whale. Photo courtesy Mario Rivera.
The gray whale population last estimated at about 27,000 animals remains strong, but an earlier UME in 1999-2000 lasted two years. Strandings continued throughout that period.

While the UME designation helps provide funding to investigate the gray whale strandings, it does not pay for handling or disposing of carcasses that can weigh up to 40 tons. That is typically the responsibility of landowners where the carcasses end up. In the absence of alternative locations, the stranding network will have little choice but to leave carcasses where they land, which can create local concerns about smell and related impacts.

The whale first drifted ashore in front of houses north of Port Ludlow, Washington, before a stranding
response crew towed it to the site where it will be left to decompose. Photo courtesy Mario Rivera.
The 40-foot male gray whale that Rivera and Worwag agreed to take had first drifted ashore in front of three beachfront homes near Port Ludlow. They understand the reluctance of some homeowners to have a decomposing carcass nearby, but they have found the smell less than they expected.

“Actually, it’s not too bad,” said Rivera, a retired police officer. The stranding network is testing the use of hydrated lime to speed decomposition and mask the smell, but it’s too early to tell if it’s working, he said.

He is not sure how long the whale will take to decompose, but he is interested to find out. The couple has already noticed eagles in the area, possibly scouting for food.

“This is all a big experiment for us,” he said.

Willing landowners should contact Michael Milstein at michael.milstein@noaa.gov or 503-231-6268.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Summertime, and the learning just got easier!

Great news! Scholarship funds are still available for PTMSC’s day camps, so don’t let tight funds put the squeeze on the summer fun! Apply here.

It's summer camp season at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center! Although many of the PTMSC’s summer camps have already sold out, we still have some wonderful openings. Here’s a rundown of two classes that still have availability.

Is it a Barnacle? Is it Plankton? Yes, it’s Marine Biology!
July 15-19, Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Ages 10 - 12

Get up close and personal with the incredible creatures of the Salish Sea! Campers sieve through goopy sediments to find sea stars and other mysterious sea critters, articulate a 29-foot gray whale skeleton (think HUGE), and use a microscope to visit an entire world of microorganisms completely invisible to the naked eye.

Just Add Waves: An Adventure on Longboats 
July 23-26, Tuesday – Friday, 9 am - 4 pm
Ages 13-15

Dive into some Salish Sea fun this summer as a junior ecologist! On two different days, hop aboard one of the Northwest Maritime Center’s historic longboats and journey to places only accessible by water to collect scientific data. Learn why marine ecology is vital to the survival of the Salish Sea, and what we can all do to preserve its future. (Note: On Wednesday and Thursday, camp starts at the NWMC.)

For questions about these day camps, please email camps@ptmsc.org or call (360) 385-5582 ext. 120.

And remember -- Scholarships are still available to qualified applicants, but don’t delay, as funds are limited! To apply for a scholarship, please fill out this online form.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Orca & Salmon Festival

Saturday, June 15

11 am to 3 pm

Fort Worden Beaches and
Port Townsend Marine Science Center

Summer Kick Off and Beach Party!

Celebrating our relationship to the iconic species
of the Salish Sea, orca and salmon

Kids activities - Live Music - Celebration - Free Ice Cream Sandwiches!!!

Free PTMSC admission ALL DAY!
(11 am to 5 pm)


check out Thunderbull Productions website for more details

Friday, May 31, 2019

Fossil finding fun!

Softball-sized concretions hold treasures


You never quite know what you’re in for when you work at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. Sometimes, the day will get totally away from you - and you just have to go along for the ride.

As part of our responsibilities for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, PTMSC has been tracking a deceased gray whale first seen floating off Indian Island at the beginning of the week. On Tuesday, we got a report that the whale had landed in our response zone and so little time was wasted before a crew of staff and AmeriCorps were piling into a car and driving out to respond to the stranding.

The particulars about this stranding are still being pieced together, and will certainly warrant its own blog post once more information comes to light. For now, I’ll end this part of the story by saying that gray whales are having a particularly rough year up and down the West Coast. More information on the current increase in gray whale strandings can be found here.

But here’s where the day took a sharp turn toward the unexpected. (And, yes, I recognize that getting to see a gray whale up close is the “expected” part of this story. Such is the life of a PTMSC AmeriCorps member.)

As we were packing up our stranding gear and getting ready to hike back up the bluff, I glanced down and saw - lying in a pile of dull, unassuming beach pebbles - a dull, unassuming, but perfectly spherical rock.

I was immediately suspicious. I pointed it out to Citizen Science AmeriCorps Michael Siddel, and then again to Education Coordinator Carolyn Woods, and then (for good measure) Citizen Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson.

We all agreed: this softball-sized rock was a concretion.

Dull and unassuming, concretions stand out only due to their shape. They are almost perfect spheres!
Take a fresh piece of prehistoric plant or animal, bury it in sediment, let it cook for a few years, and eventually that piece of organic matter might become the center - or nucleus - of a concretion. Today, these orb-like formations are harder than the surrounding rock, and so are easily eroded from our bluff faces and deposited on our beaches. Crack one open, and that organic nucleus is still there - a fossil, in a perfect geologic gift box!

Once we spotted one concretion, we started noticing that the stretch of beach we’d been working on was littered with them, ranging from baseball- to soccer ball-sized formations.

So, like good scientists, we got cracking.

One of the best fossils of the afternoon, found by the beach's landowner. Check out the carapace on the crab in the center! Photo by Betsy Carlson.

In a few short minutes, we had quite the collection going. We found fossilized snails, wood fragments, leaf impressions, and one very nice crab. It had quickly turned into an incredible learning opportunity for the landowners who had initially reported the stranding - they had no idea their beach was full of potential fossils!

Eventually, we left the landowners to their newfound hobby and went a few miles up the road to two of our stranding network volunteers’ home. Our intention was to explore potential necropsy sites for the gray whale (again - more details to come in a later blog post). Of course, Michael and I were immediately distracted when we started seeing even more fossils on this stretch of beach.

Checking to see if any fossils were exposed after
a few good hammer smashes. Photo by Carolyn Woods.
This time, we were prepared. We brought a hammer.

An hour or so of rock smashing later, we found more wood fragments, leaf imprints, and a handful of additional shells. We even found a few non-concretion fossils, embedded in large boulders at the surf’s edge!

All in all, it was a pretty spectacular day. Getting to see a mature gray whale up close was one of those awe-inspiring moments that will last a lifetime. And the fossilhead kid in me - who happily watched Jurassic Park on constant rerun throughout her childhood - is having a blast trying to identify some of her fantastic new paperweights.





Another incredible find: a marine snail shell, preserved in a
rock totally exposed to the beach! No concretion needed!

Written by Ellie Kravets, Natural History AmeriCorps Member 




Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Update on the future of the PTMSC Aquarium!

Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission to hold public meeting on Monday, June 10


The Washington Parks and Recreation Commission will hold a public meeting on Monday, June 10, 6-7:30 p.m., Room A the Commons Building at Fort Worden, that has direct implications on the future of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center Aquarium.

The boat launch, dock and pier on which the PTMSC Aquarium is located, viewed from above.
Photo courtesy of Washington State Parks and Recreation
The primary purpose for the meeting is to present plans to replace the boat launch ramp -- adjacent to the pier on which the PTMSC Aquarium is located -- with one that is more compatible with the shoreline ecology.

Also planned is a discussion on the future of the pier itself.

Because the PTMSC has a facility located on the pier, a new proposed location will be presented.

This meeting follows the public meeting held on April 18, when various proposals were discussed and public input was documented

This is the first phase of the project, which requires State Parks to prepare a predesign report for the Washington State Office of Financial Management. The report compares alternatives with each other. 

Many factors will be analyzed during this process including constructibility and costs, compatibility with the natural environment, recreational access improvements, and consideration of aesthetics within the historical context of Fort Worden.

The commission is requesting public comments at the meeting on its preliminary recommendations. Please consider attending the meeting and also commenting on alternatives presented at the meeting!

More information can be found here.

For more information about the June 10 meeting, contact Michael Hankinson, 360-725-9756, or send an email at Michael.hankinson@parks.wa.gov.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Apply Now for 2019 PTMSC Anne Murphy Ocean Steward Scholarship


The Port Townsend Marine Science Center is pleased to announce the annual $1,500 Anne Murphy Ocean Stewardship scholarship for a graduating East Jefferson county senior. 
Applicants should be graduating seniors from a public or private school, or a home-schooled student who expects to complete high school level instruction by June 2019.  The person who wins this scholarship will be selected on the basis of his or her demonstrated interest in science and the environment. Having volunteered on behalf of education about or conservation of the Salish Sea is especially desirable, particularly at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. The scholarship may be used for tuition, books, or living expenses while pursuing higher education.

To apply for the scholarship, please go to https://thewashboard.org and search for Anne Murphy Ocean Stewards Scholarship. Questions, please contact Liesl Slabaugh, Development and Marketing Director, at lslabaugh@ptmsc.org or 385-5582 x101.

Applications are due by May 22, 2019. The winner will be selected and notified by May 30, 2019.  The award will be given at the PTMSC Annual Meeting on Tuesday, July 9th.


Friday, May 10, 2019

UPDATED May 9! Two PTMSC volunteers join a NOAA Ecosystem Assessment Cruise

PTMSC volunteers Frank Handler and Melody Stewart were selected for an 11-day voyage aboard a NOAA research vessel to collect samples for marine toxins. Frank's periodic messages and smart phone images appear below, scroll to the bottom for the latest!

“I’ve always wanted to be a marine biologist,” Frank Handler once told his friend, Port Townsend Marine Science Center Citizen Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson. And yet his professional pathway took him elsewhere.
PTMSC voliunteer Frank Handler

Now, retired, Frank has the chance to fulfill a life-long dream. With security clearances, medical office approvals and bags packed, Frank and his neighbor, PTMSC volunteer Melody Stewart, arrived in Newport, Ore., on April 28 to start an 11-day voyage aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research vessel, Bell M. Shimada.

Frank and Melody will be alternating 12-hour shifts on the state-of-the-art fisheries survey vessel, collecting samples for marine toxin and harmful algal species analysis during the 2019 Northern California Current Ecosystem Assessment Cruise.

The trip came together quickly.

In March 2019, the Northwest Fisheries Science Center Harmful Algal Bloom team sent out a request for volunteers to participate in a series of cruises along the Washington, Oregon and California coastlines. The request was shared with PTMSC SoundToxins volunteers.

Melody and Frank, prepping for departure
For Melody and Frank, it was a perfect fit. Both have spent many hours looking through a microscope as part of their volunteer work with the SoundToxins project. They are skilled with plankton nets and have practice identifying plankton. So, the duo took the initiative, contacted NOAA to volunteer and were accepted!

Here is the project description sent from NOAA:
“The project will be conducting 24-hour operations, sampling stations on the continental shelf and out to 200 nm along transects from 38°N to 45.5°N [see map below]. At each station a CTD (with rosette, fluorometer and DO) and plankton nets (bongo and vertical net) will be deployed for the primary project. The NWFSC Harmful Algal Bloom team is seeking volunteers to participate in the cruise to collect samples for particulate and dissolved toxins (e.g. domoic acid), macro-nutrients, chlorophyll, DNA, and cell counts from the Niskin bottles on the CTD rosette at the stations on the map below. A hand deployed phytoplankton net tow will also be conducted at each station to collect a concentrated sample for phytoplankton ID."

News from the ship

At first, the PTMSC staff didn’t expect any news from Frank or Melody because of security concerns. So, it was a great surprise and relief when Frank sent his first message while underway. The images are small (apologies for their low resolution), so just consider this a teaser for when we can hear more about their experiences: How they adjusted to life on board, what they did, what they saw and where they went.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Stefanie Worwag and Mario Rivera: new, old hands for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network

Throughout the 2019 GiveBIG campaign, we are showcasing the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s long-standing commitment to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Plan your donation now -- we have a dollar-for-dollar matching fund of $8,000 -- to support this crucial program that is so vital to the well-being of the marine mammals that make the Salish Sea their home.

Stefanie Worwag and Mario Rivera started volunteering for the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network just over a year ago. Stefanie is a veterinarian and Mario is a retired police officer and retired military. 

“What drew us to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network is the strong desire to help animals,” said Mario, who has also volunteered for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Mario Rivera and Stefanie Worwag, right, with the northern elephant seal stranding team.
“We both have a great passion for animals, and the aspiration to learn more about marine life.”

Because Mario and Stefanie are new to the program this season, they have only responded to five or six stranding call-outs. A typical call-out can last anywhere from 1 ½ to 4 hours depending on the situation and location.

“Something we also do before responding is to do a quick research of the type of animal we’re going encounter, to have a working knowledge of the animal,” said Mario.

Despite their relative lack of experience with marine mammals, they have jumped in with both feet.

“On two call-outs, Stefanie assisted with performing necropsies on two mammals, one being a [northern] elephant seal and the other a Steller sea lion,” recalled Mario, who added that the necropsy of the sea lion was a memorable event for Stefanie because they determined the actual cause of death.

“A Ratfish spine had lodged in the animal’s esophagus and migrated into a large vessel in its chest,” said Mario. “He bled out and was septic.”

An unforgettable experience for Mario was the stranded elephant seal.

The team of PTMSC staff and volunteers examine the
stranded northern elephant seal. Staff photo.
“It was huge, about 14 feet long and it weighed approximately 4000 pounds!” Mario exclaimed.
 
The project took on added importance because the PTMSC was allowed to preserve the full skeleton as a tool for future study, education and display. 

Above: Mario in action, left; Stefanie, right, checking on the decomposition 
with with PTMSC's Citizen Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson. Staff photos.

Besides the MMSN program, Stefanie and Mario volunteer for home crew (tank cleaning), beach surveys and public events. On Sunday, April 21, they staffed a PTMSC table at the Finnriver Earth Day Expo, where community organizations showcased their programs in support of environmental protection and stewardship. About 40 people stopped by to learn more about upcoming programs, volunteering and membership. 

Staffing the PTMSC table at the 2019 Finnriver Earth Day Expo.
The PTMSC is very grateful for Mario’s and Stefanie’s support and the ways in which they have rolled up their sleeves – literally – as citizen scientists and volunteers.

“Volunteering for the MMSN is a wonderful opportunity to learn about the marine mammals in this area and possibly be a crucial link in the survivability of the animals,” said Mario. “It is a very rewarding experience.”

To learn more about the Marine Mammal Stranding Network and other volunteer opportunities at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, visit https://ptmsc.org/get-involved/volunteer.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Citizen Science Day BioBlitz 2019

On Saturday, April 20, local volunteers gathered at Port Townsend Marine Science Center to conduct the second annual BioBlitz of Fort Worden State Park in celebration of both Citizen Science Day and Earth Day.

A BioBlitz is a 24-hour intensive study that aims to document as many species as possible for a given area. Our goal was to find and identify as many plants, birds, mammals, invertebrates, fungi and more as we could during the event.

Pacific blood star (photo by Wendy Feltham)

All of this was made possible with the use of iNaturalist. iNaturalist is a social network for naturalists, and it allows its users to document and upload sightings of any living thing that they encounter in the wild. Anyone can click on these observations to view photos as well as see where and when it was observed. Other users can also suggest identifications, which is very helpful when the person uploading the observation doesn’t recognize what they saw.

Rockweed (photo by Wendy Feltham)

Using the iNaturalist mobile app, volunteers photographed, identified and uploaded every living organism they encountered in Fort Worden to our iNaturalist project page, which is available for anyone to view online here.

All members of the public were welcome to attend. This year we had 22 participants, many of which were local students from Port Townsend High School. It was wonderful to have them all become engaged in citizen science and discover more about the organisms that live in their local area.

A purple shore crab observed by
 Port Townsend High School students (photo by Claudia Garfias)

In total, our participants made 344 observations of 150 different species. Of those 150 species, the three most common groups were plants (62 species), birds (22 species), and mollusks (20 species). The information that we gathered during the BioBlitz will be especially useful to visitors of Fort Worden State Park, as it will give them an idea of what organisms they are likely to find during their visit.

A map displaying all of the observations made during the BioBlitz

Many of the organisms that were observed during the BioBlitz have yet to be identified. If you would like to help us identify these species, or simply get started on making your own observations, go to https://www.inaturalist.org/ to sign-up for a free account.

Written by Michael Siddel, Citizen Science Educator AmeriCorps Member

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Marine Mammal Stranding Network - science, and a love of animals

Throughout the 2019 GiveBIG campaign, we are showcasing the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s long-standing commitment to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Plan your donation now -- we have a dollar-for-dollar matching fund of $8,000 -- to support this crucial program that is so vital to the well-being of the marine mammals that make the Salish Sea their home.

Underlying the strong commitment of volunteers to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network is their love for the warm-blooded inhabitants of the Salish Sea.

Wendy Feltham, former PTMSC Board Chair, citizen scientist
and photographer extraordinaire! Image by Champion Productions.
Former PTMSC Board Chair and longtime MMSN volunteer Wendy Feltham speaks for many when she says: “I volunteer for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network because the seals, sea lions, elephant seals, and other marine mammals need and deserve to be protected. We are lucky to live by the Salish Sea with so many remarkable animals!”

The love for marine mammals has no age limits. In 2013, Ella Ashford, then age 12, wrote about her encounter with a stranded northern elephant seal pup in downtown Port Townsend.

One summer day while walking with her mother, the couple spotted something unusual on the driftwood-covered beach at Adams Street Park.

“Then to my surprise, one of the logs moved! That’s when I realized it was a very sandy seal,” Ashford wrote. 

A very sandy seal! Photo by Steven Urbanc.


Little did she know she was about to embark on a weeklong vigil to protect the young mammal from harm.

“I was there every day and a few nights, too,” Ashford wrote. “The community became so attached to the seal we even named him. His name is Star. I felt like the name fit, he was the ‘star’ of Port Townsend, that’s for sure.”

Star and Ashford were written up in the local newspaper and many townspeople stopped by to see the young seal.
 
"Star," the northern elephant seal pup that captivated downtown Port Townsend in 2013.
Casey Gluckman, an 11-year MMSN volunteer, recalled another stranding episode in downtown Port Townsend, when two several-hundred-pound northern elephant seals chose the city’s beachfront as their molting spot.

“They kept us hopping,” remembered Gluckman, “especially the one that went for a stroll in the middle of Water Street and had to be ‘encouraged’ back to the beach.

Marine Mammal Stranding Network volunteer Casey Gluckman
“I love helping with the stranding program,” Gluckman says today. “Every call is a different chance to learn more, and answering questions from the public is always rewarding for both the questioner and for me.”

In 2015, AmeriCorps Marine Mammal Stranding Educator Katie Conroy described her first stranding response.

“As we walked up to it, my heart started to melt,” Conroy wrote. “It was the cutest thing I had ever seen! It was not more than two or three months old and it was just resting so peacefully on the beach.”

One of the most important decisions for MMSN responders is to remember their training and give stranded animals space and time to return to their natural habitat. In fact, the Marine Mammal Protection Act protects marine mammals from any human interaction.

“My maternal seal instincts kicked in and all I wanted to do was make sure this adorable sleeping seal pup would be okay,” Conroy continued. “I wanted to protect it from any sniffing dogs and curious children. After about 30 minutes of setting up a barrier of driftwood pieces, I finally said my goodbyes and went home.

Harbor Seal pup sleeping on the beach! Photo by Katie Conroy.
“The next day I checked where the seal had been, and it was gone,” Conroy wrote. “It must have woken up from its slumber and gone back to the sea where its actual mother was waiting, too scared to come ashore.”

When describing the joys of being a MMSN volunteer, former PTMSC board member Jan North says it best.

Former PTMSC board member and citizen scientist Jan North.
“By volunteering with the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, I am constantly learning about the lives and behaviors of the seals, sea lions, harbor porpoises, and whales which share our Salish Sea waters and shores. Whether I’m ‘seal pup sitting’ in a public area or measuring and recording a deceased sea lion, it’s so much fun to share ideas with others when I'm on one of our wonderful beaches.”

More...
Interested in learning more about the Marine Mammal Stranding Network and becoming an on-call stranding response volunteer? There are two upcoming training sessions:
  • Tuesday, April 30 in the PTMSC Museum classroom from 1-5 p.m.
  • A May training in the Brinnon/Quilcene area, time and location TBA.

MMSN training includes:
  • Marine mammal stranding network history and purpose
  • Marine mammal species identification
  • Your role as a responder to both live and dead animals
  • How to be a “seal sitter”
  • Practice responding to stranded animals

For more information, contact Mandi Johnson at mjohnson@ptmsc.org or Betsy Carlson at bcarlson@ptmsc.org.



Thursday, April 25, 2019

2019 GiveBIG campaign supports the Marine Mammal Stranding Network!

Throughout the 2019 GiveBIG campaign, we are showcasing the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s long-standing commitment to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Plan your donation now to support this crucial program that is so vital to the well-being of the marine mammals that make the Salish Sea their home.

One of the first efforts to aid a stranded marine mammal was documented by the PTMSC in 1986, when a stranded harbor seal pup, nicknamed Itti-Vik, was cared for by a group of 20 PTMSC volunteers.
Itti-vik, meaning “spirit of the sea,” was brought to the PTMSC in 1986.
That same love for animals and dedication to science has fueled the PTMSC’s volunteer-driven MMSN program ever since.

Not all stranded mammals are found alive. But even in death, stranded marine mammal bodies can provide important information about the Salish Sea ecosystem.

Such was the case with a male northern elephant seal that was reported on Marrowstone Island on October 31, 2018.

Michael Siddel, Citizen Science Educator AmeriCorps Member, and PTMSC 
Citizen Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson examine the front flipper of the
northern elephant seal found on Marrowstone Island in 2018.
Measuring over 13 feet from the tip of his head to the tip of his tail – not counting his rear flippers – the size of the animal was impressive. In addition to collecting quantitative data, the team of PTMSC staff, AmeriCorps and volunteers sought clues for the cause of the elephant seal’s death.

Permission to conduct a necropsy (an autopsy performed on an animal) was given by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a team was immediately assembled under the guidance of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The scientific value of a necropsy is indispensable in the evaluation of an animal’s life cycle as well as its death.*

As an added benefit, the PTMSC was allowed to preserve the full skeleton as a tool for future study, education and display.