Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Wailing Seal

Back in November, I wrote about my first (and cutest) stranding response. Since then, It has been a quiet couple of months; a dead seal here, a dead whale there. Well … maybe not quiet. Now summer has arrived, and with warm weather comes Harbor Seal pupping season. That means cute baby seals will be littering our beaches to rest. I have already had a few calls about sleeping seals, but one call is worth mentioning.

Two weeks ago, I received a call about a young seal pup on a busy dock in Quilcene. After viewing photos sent by the caller, I was able to identify it as a lanugo pup. A lanugo pup is a premature seal pup; they have a silvery coat that is normally shed within the womb before birth. Sadly, because they are premature and thus underdeveloped, they do not normally survive. But like all other seals, the mother temporarily left it on shore while it went to forage.

A concerned citizen called in, and as I was talking to him, I could hear the pup in the background crying out for its mom. I would have raced down there and sat with the animal if I wasn’t backup for the exhibits that day. Luckily I have an entire database of volunteers who are trained to respond to calls like this one. I sent one of those volunteers to the marina to monitor the seal and educate anyone curious about the wailing animal. I only intended for the volunteer to be there for an hour, but she insisted on staying. She took five hours out of her Saturday to sit with the seal.

Eventually the mother did return, and she and her pup swam off together. I am very happy that we were able to get a volunteer to the beach to make sure no one interacted with the seal. Each time I interact with the Marine Mammal Stranding volunteers I am reminded how dedicated they are, not only to the health of the seals, but to the stranding network as well.

As mentioned in the first blog post, no matter how cute a seal may be, no matter how much your heart melts, please give them space. Pups may be seen resting on the shore in the same area for several days; this is a natural behavior and does not mean they are abandoned. Not only are these animals protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, but they can become aggressive if approached. Please Share the Shore — stay back 100 yards if possible, keep your dogs on a leash, and if the animal is injured, call our hotline at 360-385-5582 ext. 103.

In the past, the Marine Mammal Stranding Network Hotline and training for the team of Marine Science Center volunteer responders has been funded by a highly competitive grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Unfortunately, funds are very limited and this year our grant was not renewed. We urgently need your help to protect the future of our marine mammals in the Salish Sea. Please donate today to help us raise $10,000 for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network by August 31.

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

Photos 1 & 2 by William Clark | Photo 3 by Carolyn Avery

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Nominate Your Environmental Hero!

Do you know someone who has worked to conserve or protect the North Olympic Peninsula, taken steps to encourage community-wide environmental sustainability, or altered the way you consider your impact on your local environment?

Make that person the next Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award winner!

Last year's winner Jude Rubin dressed
 as the Plastic Bag Monster
at our annual Stewardship Breakfast
From the 1960s through the 1990s Eleanor Stopps was an active member of the Northwest conservation community. Eleanor founded the Admiralty Audubon Chapter and took over the work of Zella Schultz to protect the nesting habitat for 72,000 pairs of seabirds nesting on Protection Island. She was also a tireless educator working with groups of students and Girl Scouts to raise environmental awareness.

Eleanor Stopps 
Eleanor Stopps recognized the need to protect the uniquely important marine environment of the Salish Sea. With no special political base or powerful financial backers, she formed a coalition of grassroots supporters who worked to get legislation and public support for protection of Protection Island and the surrounding marine waters. She was a primary driver behind the establishment of the Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge, one of the few established by an Act of Congress at that time.

Today, Protection Island is a critical habitat link in the preservation of the whole Salish Sea region, providing breeding habitat for Pigeon Guillemots and Rhinoceros Auklets, Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons, Harbor Seals and Elephant Seals, and a myriad of other species.

The Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award is given annually to a citizen of the North Olympic Peninsula (Jefferson and Clallam counties) who, like Eleanor Stopps, has created a legacy of conservation.

Please take a moment to recognize your environmental hero by nominating them for the Environmental Leadership Award.

The winner of the award will join the visionaries and risk-takers before them with their name engraved on the Eleanor Stopps plaque as well as an official presentation of the award at the Marine Science Center's annual Stewardship Breakfast.

Everyone nominated for the award will receive public recognition on our blog, Octopress online, and in a press release to regional media.

Email your completed form to info@ptmsc.org.

Nominations must be received by August 23, 2016.

Honor your hero today ...

Monday, July 4, 2016

Ocean Acidification and Systems-Based Education: A Story of Service

The ocean absorbs a quarter of the annual carbon dioxide (CO2) humans release into the atmosphere through wave action (NOAA). Chemically, this forms carbonic acid, which ultimately dissociates into hydrogen (H+) and carbonate ions (CO3-2). Since the industrial revolution, the concentration of hydrogen ions in the ocean has increased 29%, lowering the pH of the ocean by a staggering 0.11 units (WHOI). This phenomena is called Ocean Acidification.

Ocean Acidification is a global problem that poses great threat to the future of the ocean; scientists estimate that without dramatic and collective change in human behavior and consumption, the ocean could drop another 0.3-0.4 pH units before the end of the century. To inspire such change, or collective action, communities must introspect and foster the education of their citizens — particularly youth.

Empowering communities with environmental education opportunities such as the NOAA Bay Watershed Education and Training program and citizen science can result in powerful learning outcomes that promote conservation and stewardship, informed advocacy, and science literacy. These learning outcomes formed the purpose of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center's Ocean Acidification Study through Systems and Inquiry Science (OASSIS) Project, which implemented a twelve-class, hands-on Ocean Acidification curriculum within a Chimacum High School AP Environmental Science classroom.

We adapted the curriculum for this project from the Baliga Lab at Institute of Systems Biology Ocean Acidification module (Systems Education Experiences). Unit lessons encompassed ecological networks, Ocean Acidification chemistry and sources of CO2, the scientific method and experimental design, and citizen science.

Field Trips
Figure 1. An adult geoduck (Panopea generosa), the world’s 
largest burrowing clam, responds enthusiastically to being 
handled. Taylor Shellfish raises and sells geoduck and 
geoduck seed. 
Students visited the Taylor Shellfish Quilcene Hatchery (Figure 1), and observed how shellfish farmers are working to offset and mitigate the economic consequences of Ocean Acidification on the industry. Ocean Acidification hinders larval shellfishes’ ability to form a protective shell and can corrode the shells of adults. Later, we visited the North West Fisheries Science Center's Mukilteo Research Station, a hub for international Ocean Acidification research. There, students learned about careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers from NOAA researchers and educators. Finally, the students visited the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, where they studied plankton collected from each field site and local marine fauna.

Population Surveys
(B) After digging the hole, students sorted the
clams from the hole by species.
Figure 2 (A) Students learn about
measuring local water quality parameters.
At each of the three field sites, students towed plankton, measured water quality parameters (Figure 2A), and performed a clam population survey (Figure 2B). We adapted the protocol from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife management surveys, which are used to determine seasonal take limits. Every 20 m along a 100 m transect parallel to the water, students dug three 1 ft3 holes. The holes were increasing distances from the water line. Students combed through each hole’s contents, noting substrate and identifying each clam (and whether or not it met the legal harvest size of 1.25”). 

Planning, Executing, and Presenting Cohesive Experiments
Figure 3. Ethan and Orion observe their experiment under a
fume hood. The inspiration for their project was born from
another class they were taking — Materials Science —
showing their ability to draw connections between
ocean acidifcation and other 
At the end of the OASSIS unit, students further investigated a component of Ocean Acidification of interest to them through research experiments. Project topics ranged from testing the combustive effects of various carbon sources (coal, wood, paper) on the pH of water (Figure 3) to comparing the dissolution of shells at varied pH levels. Students used Vernier LabQuest2s, which allowed them to collect data in real-time. The OASSIS unit culminated with a summit, at which students presented a scientific-style poster on either their research project or another significant unit component (Figure 4). Preparation for the summit fostered critical-thinking and a formal reflection of experiences; presenting the posters enabled students to communicate and share their knowledge of Ocean Acidification with their peers and broader community.

Figure 4. At the summit, Sean and Feam shared their results of
their shell dissolution project. 
One of the greatest personal challenges of being an informal environmental educator is that I frequently have only one interface with my students. Thus, there exists a fine balance between time spent developing interpersonal bonds and teaching content; learning is not achieved if these practices are left mutually exclusive. As the lead Marine Science Center AmeriCorps member on the OASSIS project, I had the unique opportunity to interact with students 12 times over a period of three months. Through this experience, I truly came to understand these students as individuals and better meet their needs as an educator and mentor.

The most meaningful part of this experience, though, was not personal. Rather, it was hearing students’ personal accounts of knowledge gained and inspiration piqued. Some students did not know how the impacts of Ocean Acidification encompass their everyday lives, and others now have deep interest in pursuing environmental science as a major in college.

Seven years ago, I had my first field-based marine science experience, Ocean For Life (OFL) which was also sponsored by NOAA. Upon competing OFL, I distinctly remember feeling intellectually and emotionally enriched. I sincerely wish these students too are able to capture and culture this same eternal wonder for our ocean.

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