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Port Townsend Marine Science Center




From left to right: the marine exhibit; a baby sea cucumber; one of the touch tanks in the marine exhibit


The Port Townsend Marine Science Center (PTMSC) is a rather extraordinary place. Despite being a small local organization in my hometown, it manages to get about a million different projects done--largely through its extensive web of volunteers. In addition to the marine exhibit and natural history museum, they run science camps, conduct workshops for teachers, hosts cruises to the wildlife refuge Protection Island, offer various education programs for local schools, respond to reports of stranded or injured marine mammals, foster young girls' interest in science through the GIRLS project, are currently reassembling an orca skeleton (the Orca Project) as well as hosting a string of 'Citizen Science' projects ranging from monitoring orcas with the Salish Sea Hydrophone Network to water quality, crab larvae, plastics, and sea birds.


While I was at PTMSC, I was a docent (an exhibit guide). I spent my time interacting with visitors and helping out with other little things like feeding the animals and cleaning tanks. Most of the people who came in were families on vacation or children visiting their grandparents. The crucial task here was to find ways to engage children and adults alike. With three touch tanks within easy reach, convincing a kid to touch a sea cucumber or let a sea urchin 'hug' their finger (a sea urchin has really long spikes that will wrap around your finger when you poke it, thus 'hugging' your finger) is usually the only obstacle. Parents on the other hand, want to hear about conservation issues or other little pieces of trivia. 


Volunteering at PTMSC was the best decision I made in the summer 2011. Most of my hometown friends adopt a fairly lackadaisical attitude towards marine biology simply because a lifetime of staring at starfish tends to make the subject tiresome. It was nothing less than completely awesome to watch a kid from a distant land-locked state walk in and see their trepidation ferociously transform into wonder. 

Another great benefit was the knowledge I gained. While I had taken an oceanography class during my freshman year and had learned a lot from my parents and their oyster farm, volunteering at the marine science center forced me to connect everything I had learned in order to effectively communicate with every age group that came into the center. I also discovered  little pieces of trivia such as:


  1.  The fastest starfish is the sunflower star. It can move at nine feet per minute. 
  2. Rockfish and abalone are in grave danger in the Pacific Northwest.
    • Rockfish are bottom feeders, which means they frequently become 'bycatch'--the animals that commercial fisherman accidentally catch and throw overboard.
    • Abalone reproduce by spawning. However, they will only spawn when a large number of other abalone are present. Not only does this mean that a single abalone will have difficulty finding the right conditions to reproduce if the population dwindles, but it is absurdly easy to catch abalone if they are about to spawn. Right now, it is illegal to catch and eat abalone in Washington, but poaching still threatens the fragile abalone population.
  3. I now have a favorite fish and it's called the grunt sculpin. It likes to live in barnacles and is incapable of swimming. It sort of hops around instead.

Sunflower Star


Yellowtail Rockfish





Grunt Sculpin




For more information about the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, vist their website at: http://www.ptmsc.org/ or read their blog at:http://ptmarinesciencecenter.blogspot.com/


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