Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Rock, Paper... Skeleton?

Over the last couple of weeks many of you may have noticed a life size paper orca skeleton on the wall of Natural History Exhibit classroom. 

Where did it come from?  Why is it here?  Are we still working with the bones from the real killer whale?

The idea came from the creative mind of Libby Palmer, the skeleton drawing from The Whale Building Book by Lee Post, and tracing and cutting from the hands of a few skilled volunteers.

Orca Skeleton drawing from Lee's book

The first step was projecting a life size picture of Lee's drawing onto a wall in Libby's house.   We took turns tracing the bones onto heavy duty white paper, and then used razor knives to cut the bones out.  Hanging the paper skeleton was not an easy task, but after several brainstorming sessions our paper skeleton is now hanging!

Our finished skeleton is 24 feet long (the real skeleton is approximately 22 feet).  

In other Orca news:
Do you have a mystery bone you found on the beach, in the woods or in some other location?  Bring it in and learn from our bone experts what animal it may have come from.  Even if you don't have bones to share it is a great opportunity to stop in and learn something new! 
Check out our flier...
Work with the real bones is moving right along.  It has been great to have Lee Post , "The Bone Man", here all week to examine the bones and help brainstorm about our next steps.  I'm glad he is so open and willing to share his knowledge with us.  He has already shown and taught me a lot in his time here.  Lee will be heading up the articulation when the bones are ready and the time has come to put this skeleton together.

Funding for PTMSC's Orca Project comes from Institute for Museum and Library Services.

Thanks to the Port Townsend Paper Company for donating the high-quality white-faced cardboard paper for our skeleton.

Hope to see you at Bone Day!
Heather, Orca Project

Monday, March 29, 2010

Protection Island micro-plastics sampling

Twice a year, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center and partners across the Puget Sound participate in micro-plastics sampling. The study of plastics is relatively new to the science world and heightened when the 'plastic island' in the middle of the Pacific Ocean was discovered. This island of plastics is said to be the size of Texas! Local beachcombers at Fort Worden State Park found pre-production plastic pellets called 'nurdles' on the beach. The discovery lead to high interest from PTMSC and local volunteers and hence the plastics program was created and has grown over the years!

 Pre-production pellets

This year, plastics sampling took place on 33 local beaches! Each beach has three sampling sites where sand is strained through two sieves, one large and one small. The plastics are then sorted and weighed. PTMSC is looking for any patterns seen in the amount of plastic on local beaches and how much accumulate throughout the year.

We were so lucky to go to Protection Island to go sampling, check out our views!

Oyster Catcher

Pigeon Guillemots!

Protection Island has the largest colony of Glaucous-winged gulls in Washington State!

Rhinoceros Auklets burrow in the bluffs to lay their eggs!

Protection Island has the largest population of Rhinoceros Auklets, counting 38,000 pairs just last year!
A lazy Elephant Seal sunbathing!

Seattle PI article about our Plastics sampling that happened last week:

Want more information about plastics?

Want to see our data from the past 3 years of plastic sampling and learn more about plastics in the marine environment? Come to our Plastics Conference May 14-15 at Fort Worden State Park. For more information and registration go to our website:

Thanks for reading! Hope to see you at our conference!

Valerie Lindborg
Lab Coordinator

Friday, March 26, 2010

Free Science Classes: Orca Food & Habitat

Free Science Class season is over (as of the end of February..I've just been too busy to post!!) We had about 700 students attend the classes within the 1 1/2 months during which they were offered! A grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) enabled us to provide bussing stipends and offer the program free of charge. As a result, we've been able to schedule 4th and 5th grade students from public schools across the Northern Olympic Peninsula! Overall it all went very smoothly and we felt like the students had fun while also leaving with increased knowledge and curiosity about marine communities' conservation.

If you remember, I posted a blog about the Orca Communities class a few weeks ago.  This posting is about the second of the two classes; Orca Food and Habitat. Through exploring food web connections, the objective of this class is to have students realize the complexity and vulnerability of marine ecosystems.

We begin by discussing what a food web actually is and how it's connected to the geographic area it's found in (the watershed in particular). During this we remove elements of the web, such as plankton and speculate on how interconnected the web is. Students really seem to grasp the idea that giant mammals like Orcas are dependent on the health of plankton, even though they aren't directly consuming those tiny organisms. Some kids even made the connection that if we remove one animal from the web, not only will others starve, but the prey of the "extinct" animal will also experience a massive population boom!

Heather introduces the food web and watershed concepts
We then play a food web game where the kids all "become" animals in the Orca food web (herring, salmon, seals, orcas). There are two food webs being acted out- the resident killer whales (only eating salmon) and the transient killer whales (subsisting on seals). Each type of animal has a corner which has been decorated to represent their home habitat. The kids have wooden tokens that represent food and they tag each other to pass off their "stomach contents".  The game rapidly descends into a chaotic feeding frenzy.

The "animals" during their feeding frenzy!

After two rounds of the game we discuss who survived, who starved to death and then we count the number of tokens in their "stomachs" that have black "x"s on them. These represent TOXINS! During the game the toxins move through the food web, accumulating in each organism and magnifying in quantity as they travel up the food chain. Mimicking a natural food web, animals at the top (Orcas) have the highest concentrations of toxins, a phenomenon called "biomagnification".

a sample "stomach" with toxins

To avoid a "doom and gloom" conclusion, since the poisoning of Orcas is a rather shocking and saddening occurence, we brainstorm with the students about how the toxins got into the water to begin with and what THEY can do to prevent further contamination of Puget Sound.  We focus on three easy actions promoted by Puget Sound Partnership.  To learn about them yourself, check out their website:

Natural History Exhibit Education Coordinator

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Plankton Rap

Check out this fun and creative video from the Swan School Adventurers! This group of kids came for several weeks in row this fall to learn more about our local marine environment. As an educator, it's always great to see what students learn and retain from classes here and these kids make me proud.

I hope you enjoy this catchy and educational tune!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Snorkel adventure!

It's almost spring time which means we are decorating our tanks for the re-opening of our marine exhibit! Each winter, the acrylic tanks are emptied and cleaned inside and out. The tanks are then designed and we go out and collect animals to go in each tank. This year we decided to go snorkeling under our pier! There are lots of pilings around our pier that make great habitats for sea anemones, sea stars, crabs, and fish. Here is a video of what we found! We look forward to showing these new tanks and critters to the public starting April 2nd!

The sunflower star that we caught lost a few legs in the process so we decided to dissect them...don't worry sunflower stars can re-grow their legs!

What crazy and cool critters we have in our Puget Sound area!

Lab Coordinator

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Athena's Release

 Athena was caught right off the PTMSC dock back in October 2009. It was great having her in our aquarium; everyone instantly fell in love with her. Our staff and volunteers continually talked to her and played with her. She seemed to adjust well and enjoyed eating everything in sight, even some of her fish friends that she shared a tank with! Recently she started to get a bit restless, Athena was beginning to get a little too friendly with some of our volunteers as they tried to clean her tank. She would reach her tentacles out of the tank trying to explore what was going on. We tried to give her toys and jars with food in it to keep her entertained, but in the end we decided it best to release her back into the wild where she could eat all day long. Athena was a great addition to our home on the pier and she will be greatly missed, but we know she is enjoying her time out in the open waters of Puget Sound. Good luck Athena!

Enjoy the video below of Athena our Giant Pacific Octopus as we released her back into the wild.

Valerie Lindborg
Lab Coordinator

Monday, March 8, 2010

PTMSC's Contribution to Eagle Scout Project

Meet Penn Wright, a seventeen year old Eagle Scout from Renton, Washington.

For his Eagle Scout Project, Penn and his fellow scout members conducted underwater identification surveys for the grassroots organization REEF.  The group completed 66 REEF surveys totaling 380 volunteer hours at Edmonds, Redondo and Saltwater State Park. 

Where did Penn learn the identification skills needed to conduct these underwater surveys?  Here at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center at a Nichols' Fish and Invertebrate ID course.  This course provides free fish and invertebrate identification techniques to help increase volunteer involvement in REEF surveys.  The course is also designed to help scuba divers increase their interest in marine conservation.  It is great to see PTMSC contribute to some of the amazing things individuals are doing in our region!

"The Reef Environmental Education Foundation is a grass-roots organization that seeks to conserve marine ecosystems by educating, enlisting and enabling divers and other marine enthusiasts to become active ocean stewards and citizen scientists".  Check out more about this organization at

What a neat story!

Heather Jones
Orca Project Coordinator-AmeriCorps

Friday, March 5, 2010

Tubesnout Feeding Frenzy!

Yesterday, Chrissy and I noticed a lot of tubesnouts around the pier. Tubesnouts are elongated fish that use eelgrass beds. We went down to the floating dock to look more closely, and saw that there were hundreds of thousands of tubesnouts feeding on millions of larval shrimp!  The tubesnouts were swimming under the mass of shrimp and would swim up to the surface, grab a larval shrimp and swim down again. Each time the fish would come up to feed, they would break the surface creating a small ripple. It was so fascinating to watch! Check out the video!

Marine Exhibit Education Coordinator

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Athena and her toy!

Athena our Giant Pacific Octopus was brought to us back in October. She adjusted pretty well to her new home and seemed to enjoy human company. Lately however, she has been more active. We thought she might be bored, so we started giving her toys to play with and food in jars so that she would have something to do. Below is a video of Athena playing with her toy ball trying to get the food out.

Valerie Lindborg
Lab Coordinator